Classic Summer Recipes: Baked Beans and Deviled Eggs

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Classic Summer Recipes: Baked Beans

Happy Fourth of July! I don’t know what you’re doing this weekend, but I bet it involves food. There’s so much summer food to enjoy it’s hard to know where to start your holiday menu planning. This year I’ve chosen a couple of enduring summer favorites to feature at our sizzling Palm Springs holiday house party. Burgers and Ice Cream always make an appearance on this very American holiday. I’ve got several recipes for both of these must-haves on this blog. But there are other classic summer recipes I’ve neglected to bring to these pages and I’d like to correct that omission for this Independence Day celebration.

Starting with Deviled Eggs and Baked Beans. Both of these classic summer recipes have been seasonally appropriate longer than the rocket’s red glare has been blazing across our sunny suburban backyards.

Baked beans go all the way back to the Puritans of New England. I’m not sure if they knew they were starting a new country, but I’m quite sure they knew that aromatic beans and sweet pork would would feed Americans for generations to come.

Deviled eggs are a more modern national trend, and they’ve become a picnic staple since at least the beginning of the twentieth century.

Classic Summer Recipes

I think you’ll see I haven’t strayed too far from the expected in either of these versions. After all, the best of these classic summer recipes are time-tested. So I’ve kept the recipes familiar and simply emphasized their simplicity and fresh flavors by choosing the best whole food ingredients.

Classic Baked BeansBaked Beans: In the winter I actually bake my “baked” beans. In the summer however I find that this stove-top version takes half as long and doesn’t require turning on the oven. This recipe still has intense flavor from molasses and pork. It’s also just as thick and ruddy as its oven-baked counterpart – as good as American Baked Beans should be. It’s the Fourth of July after all, don’t settle for those soupy, bland beans the Brits serve on toast. The war is won! You don’t have to eat that stuff.

Deviled Eggs with Fresh HerbsDeviled Eggs: Deviled eggs can go in any direction you like. Creative versions show up on trendy restaurant menus. Home cooks (and quite a few bloggers) are inventing all sorts of devilish combinations. However, when the weather heats up I think we should all take it a bit easy and look to the roots of these classic summer recipes. To me “deviling” an egg usually means seasoning the cooked and mashed yolks with some mayo, grainy mustard and just a few herbs. Paprika makes them pretty, but it’s completely optional. This is how my mom made them in the 1970s. Except I’m fairly sure she used dried herbs. GREG

Classic Baked Beans (Shortcut Method)

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8-10Source Adapted from Melissa Clark and Martha StewartPublished

Yes I call this a “shortcut” method, but it’s still going to take you at least 5 hours so plan accordingly.

Classic Baked Beans

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried navy beans
  • 4 ounce thick cut bacon
  • 1 onion
  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 3 cup tomato juice
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoon molasses
  • 3 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)

Directions

Put beans in a large bowl; cover with cold water by 2 inches. Loosely cover beans with plastic wrap, and let soak at room temperature 7 to 10 hours. You can alternatively parboil the beans in water enough water to cover by 2 inches then cool in liquid 1 hour. Drain once cooled and set aside.

If you soaked the beans then drain them now; transfer to a large saucepan. Cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, covered, until beans are very tender, about 1 hour. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid; set beans and liquid aside. If you did not soak them, then cover the parboiled and drained beans with enough water to top them by 2 inches. Simmer beans, partly covered, until just tender, about 1 to 2 hours depending upon age and size of beans; do not overcook.

Cut bacon crosswise into ½-inch slices. Transfer to a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is browned and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl using a slotted spoon, leaving rendered fat in the pot. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the beans, reserved bacon, and about 4 cups reserved cooking liquid.

In a medium bowl, mix together tomato juice, ketchup, vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, brown sugar, mustard powder, turmeric and cayenne pepper (if using). Pour mixture into beans and stir well.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover, and cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 1 hour. Uncover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. If not serving immediately, let cool completely, and refrigerate in an airtight container, up to 2 days. Reheat beans over medium-low heat before serving.

Classic Deviled Eggs with Fresh Herbs

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6-8Published

You will probably have extra yolk filling. I like to be generous because it makes the job of piping so much easier. You can save the extra to spread on toast with avocado.

Classic Deviled Eggs with Fresh Herbs

Ingredients

  • 8 extra-large eggs
  • ⅓ cup mayonaisse (I use a heaping ⅓-cup, but use your judgment)
  • 1 teaspoon grainy mustard (you can substitute a smooth mustard if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (or any flavorful vinegar)
  • 3-4 teaspoon mixed minced fresh herbs (such as parsley, thyme, chives and chervil)
  • Kosher salt and white pepper (to taste)
  • paprika (to taste, optional)

Directions

Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Put eggs in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring gently as water begins to boil. Once boiled turn the burner to very, very low. Simmer the eggs 10 minutes exactly. Transfer to ice-water bath to cool.

Peel eggs; halve lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks; set whites aside. Using the back of a spoon, push yolks through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl.

Stir mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, mixed herbs into yolks. Season with a pinch each salt and white pepper.

Transfer yolk mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a pastry tip with at least a ¼-inch opening. Pipe mixture into whites, filling to ½ inch over surface. Garnish with herb sprigs and a light sprinkle of paprika (optional).

Eggs can be covered and refrigerated up to 3 hours.

 

 

Potluck Salad: Orzo and Roasted Carrots

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Potluck Salad: Orzo and Roasted Carrots

Summer is here and the invitations are already arriving. I’m talking about the casual summer parties we all get invited to. The whole idea behind these parties is they’re supposed to be simple. So they’re usually potluck parties and they’re usually outdoors. This combination does make the host’s job easier because a good bit of the cooking is handled by the guests. Clean up is usually easier too. In fact I’ve been known to throw all the plates in the pool and leave them til morning. Which is why I find these events so stress-free as a host. But as a guest it takes some pre-thinking to get things to go just as smoothly. I usually bring the simplest style of dish in my repertoire. I’m talking about the Potluck Salad.

The Potluck Salad is different from other salads because at its best (in my mind) it’s not a green salad.

When I’m invited to someone’s house – and I’m only responsible for one dish on the buffet table – I want it to be special. Perhaps something colorful. Maybe I’ll feature a special or seasonal ingredient. Mostly I want to be sure that my Potluck Salad is full of fresh, interesting flavors.

Of course there are other factors to consider when planning a Potluck Salad. These factors may not be as sexy as color or flavor, but they’re vital to success. Primarily your Potluck Salad should hold up well – both in the car and on the table. Also, you always want to make sure there’s plenty to go around. These events usually draw a crowd (when you’re cooking 😉).

As for my current summer invite, I’ve chosen a Orzo-Roast Carrot Salad with Roast Garlic & Dill. However, there are plenty of other great options. Just make sure to build the salad around sturdy ingredients like pasta, grains, legumes or boldly-colored vegetables. If there’s cooking involved, make sure it can be done well in advance. Your host planned this simple outdoor get-together because he or she wanted the guests to be outdoors – not in the kitchen. Though I do think it’s fine to bring the dressing and any fresh herbs or garnishes packed in separate containers. A little last minute plating shouldn’t upset the equilibrium too much.

Oh yeah – don’t forget to serve your Potluck Salad on chlorine-proof platters, plates or bowls if you’re attending a pool party at my house. GREG

Potluck Salad: Orzo and Roasted Carrots

Orzo-Roast Carrot Salad with Roast Garlic & Dill

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12Source Adapted from Martha Stewart LivingPublished
Orzo-Roast Carrot Salad with Roast Garlic & Dill

Ingredients

  • 3 pound carrots
  • 3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
  • 10 clove galic
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • 1 pound dried orzo pasta
  • 2 lemons (zest and juice only)
  • 4 very thinly sliced scallions (whites and light green parts)
  • ½ cup roughly chopped loosely packed fresh dill
  • freshly cracked black pepper (as needed)

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the lower shelf. Cut the carrots diagonally into 2-inch pieces that are about ½-inch thick (if the carrots are large, cut them in half lengthwise, too). In a large bowl toss the carrots and garlic with 3 tablespoons oil and a big pinch of salt. Spread the carrots onto 2 parchment-covered rimmed baking sheets in as close to a single layer as possible. Use more baking sheets if necessary. Roast until the carrots are very tender and beginning to char, about 25 minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool. Pick out the garlic and squeeze it from their skins into a medium bowl; mince to form a coarse paste. Set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add salt. Stir in the orzo; cook until al dente, according to package instructions, about 7 minutes. Drain; while still hot, transfer the orzo to a large bowl, and toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Let cool slightly, and add the roasted carrots.

Make the dressing: Meanwhile, add the lemon zest, lemon juice, scallions, and dill to the medium bowl with roasted garlic. Stir to combine; season with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad, drizzle with olive oil, serve immediately.

You may cover the salad and store it in the refrigerator up to one day. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Crab Tacos with Jicama “Tortillas”

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Crab Tacos with Jicama "Tortillas"

It’s summer in North America. What summer foods come to mind? Watermelon? Popsicles? Burgers? For me it’s tacos. Especially seafood tacos. Fish Tacos. Shrimp Tacos and lately – Crab Tacos! I first recall eating fish tacos in the early-’90s in Baja, Mexico. We were strolling the back streets of Rosarito Beach when we stumbled onto a crowd of happy locals gathered around the back window of a small building. The unmistakeable aroma of fried fish lured us in. After a short wait in line we found ourselves enjoying the catch of the day wrapped in corn tortillas, topped with a bit of lime juice, cilantro and not much more. It’s hard to find fried fish tacos that good anywhere but Baja. Still, I continue my search – in fact I’d call it a passion.

Typically I like my fish tacos fresh fried, topped with cabbage, crema and some handmade salsa (just as hot as I can stand it). Ricky’s Taco Truck comes as close to Baja perfection as I’ve ever found in Los Angeles. They’re so good that I don’t even attempt to make fried fish tacos at home. However, I’m constantly looking for other creative versions and new ways to fuel my desire to have constant access to the taco flavors of my favorite season. I’ve tried Mushroom Tacos, Pan-Fried Catfish Tacos, and even Tempeh Tacos. I’ve topped them with flavorful salsa that runs the gamut from spicy ghost pepper to sweet papaya.

Wine Pairing

Santola "Crab Wine" Vinho Verde

Caves Messias Santola "Crab Wine" Vinho Verde
Ken Eskenazi

Price $9

Pairs well with shellfish, salads, fish, Mexican food, or on it’s own as an aperitif

These are all great ideas, but I recently noticed that all my taco trials focused on what I could pile on top or slip inside a tortilla.

Maybe the next task in my taco tests should be the tortilla itself. In fact why does the wrapper need to be a tortilla at all? I could shake up crab tacos by serving them inside jicama “tortillas”.

Crab Tacos on Jicama “Tortillas”

I was very excited by the idea. Naturally I Googled around and came across several recipes for Crab Tacos that were served inside a jicama tortilla shell.

I soon found problems with most of the recipes for Jicama “Tortillas” that I came across. The thing about jicama is it’s quite crisp. Even when sliced into thin rounds, jicama doesn’t bow in quite the right way. I know because I tried and soon had to clean Crab Tacos off the floor. You see jicama doesn’t bend, it snaps.

So I needed a way to get the jicama pliable enough to be a suitable stand-in for the tortillas in these crab tacos.

The answer is pickling. I quick pickled jicama slices and added a pinch of turmeric to the brine. Which had the additional benefit of coloring these Pickled Jicama “Tortillas” the same golden hue as traditional corn tortillas – win/win! GREG

Caves Messias Santola "Crab Wine" Vinho Verde. Crab Tacos with Jicama "Tortillas"Crab Tacos with Jicama "Tortillas"

Crab Tacos with Pickled Jicama “Tortillas”

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 16Published

I’ve used pickled jicama slices as tortillas but you may serve the crab salad on corn or flour tortillas if you prefer.

Crab Salad Taco with Pickled Jicama "Tortillas"

Ingredients

  • 1 jicama (at least 4" in diameter)
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ pound lump crab meat
  • ½ cup tiny diced mango
  • 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon thinly sliced green onion
  • 3 teaspoon thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
  • ½ teaspoon pico de gallo powder (plus more for sprinkling)
  • 16 whole fresh mint leaves (as garnish)
  • 16 lime wedges (for serving)

Directions

Make the jicama “tortillas”: Halve the jicama and make 16 very thin center cut slices. A mandoline is very helpful for getting thin, uniform slices. Use a 3 ½″ round cutter to cut each of the slices into uniformly sized rounds. Place the rounds in a shallow, heatproof bowl. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, stir the apple cider vinegar, water, salt, sugar and turmeric until the salt and sugar dissolve. Place the pan over high heat and bring the brine to a boil.

Pour the brine over the jicama slices, making sure some liquid gets between all the slices. Set aside to come to room temperature.

Make the crab salad: Place the crab meat, diced mango, rice vinegar, thinly sliced green onion, thinly sliced mint, and ½ teaspoon pico de gallo powder in a medium bowl. Gently fold the mixture together until well incorporated, taking care to keep the lump crab meat from breaking up too much.

Make the tacos: Drain the pickled jicama slices and gently pat them dry with paper towels. Lay the slices onto a serving platter and divide the crab salad equally between each of the slices. Garnish the taco with a sprinkle of pico de gallo powder and a mint leaf. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

 

 

Santola “Crab Wine” Vinho Verde

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Caves Messias Santola "Crab Wine" Vinho Verde

Sometimes it’s OK to take the easy way out. Greg asked me to choose a wine to go with his Jicama Crab Tacos and I just happened to have a bottle or two of crab wine chilling in the wine fridge. Done! Sporting a big red crab on the label, it’s a Vinho Verde called Santola “Crab Wine”.

No, the wine isn’t made from a particularly crabby grape varietal. Vinho Verde is made from a happy blend of any or all of the following: Alvarenho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro, Pederña and Trajadura. It’s a zesty, often slightly effervescent dry white wine that comes from a DOC viticultural area in coastal northwest Portugal. Fresh and tart on the tongue, the wine is meant to be drunk young. Hence the “verde” or green. (It would be a bonus if that “verde” meant sustainable practices as well.)

It’s a great party wine. It’s inexpensive – the New York Times has christened it “cheap-and-cheerful” so you can stock up. It’s low in alcohol – registering a mere 9% ABV, so you can drink up. And it’s adequately complex and balanced so you don’t have to fess up to buying (or bringing) a bottle of wine that cost less than $10.

As a complement to Greg’s Jicama Tacos, the Santola Crab Wine’s lively acidity and “sea breeze” minerality bring out the crab’s essence. Texturally, the wine’s faint fizz complements the crunch of the pickled jicama “taco.” On the palate, the wine’s apple-y sweetness makes the crab’s inherent sweetness pop. The spritz of lime on the taco is mirrored in the lemon-lime overtones in the wine. I’d say that the Crab Wine is as refreshing, light, crisp and succulently delicious as the Crab Tacos.

And at just under $9 a bottle you have no reason to crab about price. KEN

Pairs With Crab Tacos with Jicama “Tortillas”

Caves Messias Santola "Crab Wine" Vinho Verde

Hilliard Bruce Wine Tasting Dinner

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Hilliard Bruce Wine Tasting Dinner

I’m not a big drinker. Seriously, in spite of my great love of complex, beautifully crafted wine, I only imbibe in social situations. This is why I have such a yummy collection of favorites to share on special occasions. What better way to present my latest Santa Barbara discovery, Hilliard Bruce, than at the birthday dinner hosted by Greg and Ken for our good friend Peter? I didn’t have the inventory for a vertical or horizontal tasting but I had enough varied bottles that I could still showcase different aspects of the Pinot Noir grape as defined by the winemaker. Greg and I put our heads together and as I described the characteristics of each wine, he came up with small plate recipes that he thought might best compliment each one.

Hilliard Bruce is a spectacularly beautiful winery located near Lompoc in the Santa Rita Hills. Date palms line the road up to the winery and tasting room. Roses bloom on the edge of certain rows of vines. A breathtaking unicorn (oh, ok…) white Arabian horse, canters around a paddock. A building of glass, steel, LED light and color sparkles like a magical Apple Store or Charlie’s chocolate factory beckoning the golden ticket winners. Inside, chairs around a large dining table laden with wine friendly snacks facilitate conversation and intimacy, whilst the pouring counter suggests that you have wandered into your friend’s kitchen at a party. You can stroll around the upper floor where the grapes are pressed and catch your breath with the gorgeous views.

John Hilliard and his wife, Christine Bruce, care passionately about their grapes, their wines, their land, the workers on their land and the environment. The resulting wines are glorious. Hilliard Bruce has both LEED silver and SIP (Sustainability In Practice) certifications to acknowledge their green building and sustainable farming practices. They strive for a minimum and benign environmental impact. This is different from organic farming and I’ll let John tell you about it in his own words (see video).

Hilliard Bruce Chardonnay

Christine crafts the Hilliard Bruce barrel fermented Chardonnays the same way each year, allowing natural malolactic fermentation to occur, so that the personality of the vintage shines through. Our Birthday Boy Peter maintains that he isn’t a fan of Chardonnay, so when I tasted the 2011 product of a chilly growing season, I knew this wine had to be included in our dinner to show him how fresh and elegant a 93 point (Wine Spectator) Chardonnay can be. This wine is not the heavy, oaky, buttery pour of apple pie that Peter generally associates with this grape. As I predicted, Peter liked it!

Hilliard Bruce Pinot Noir

John oversees the Hilliard Bruce Pinot Noirs. An artist at heart, he experiments and explores the different expressions that can be coaxed out of the grapes: Earth, Sky, Sun and Moon. The wines are small production and the bottles are numbered on the top right of the labels so you really feel like you are holding a limited edition numbered print in your hand. Though technically sold out at the winery, I stumbled upon a couple of bottles of 2011 Earth at The Wine House and bought number 1999 to serve at Peter’s party, along with a 2011 Sky and 2010 Sun. Alas, no Moons in sight and I gather they only get made if the vintage is right.

Ken thoughtfully marked the names of the wine on the glasses so that we would not mix them up. However, as I began pouring the wines to air, it was obvious that the wines could easily be told apart on color alone, Earth being the lightest with a lovely, transparent garnet hue and Sun being the darkest ruby.

Earth contains the earliest grapes of the harvest, picked before the brix (sugar) levels get too high. The 2011 presents a classic Burgundian smile on the tongue; the acid is high but not cheeky, the bright berry fruit is present but not pushy and the more it breathes, the lusher it becomes. Greg paired Mushroom and Burrata Tacos with the Chardonnay, but I guzzled ahead and loved the way the Earth tasted with them too. Much to my surprise, the Birthday Boy, who typically prefers his wines big and bold, absolutely loved Earth as the perfect accompaniment to the Warm Plum Bread Salad second course.

2011 Sky:  I love this wine, I cannot better the tasting notes of the winery, so I am going to borrow them, “Aromatically, Sky offers notes of plum and dried cherry underpinned by rose petals and rosemary.” Stop reading for a moment, take a deep breath and just think about those notes playing in your nostrils.  This is a sensual tour de force! “On the palate, it exhibits a beautiful balance of both substance and lightness; a velvety mouthfeel of supple tannins juxtaposed by fresh acidity. Cola and white pepper carry over to an incredibly long finish.” Now, imagine all this in conjunction with Pumpkin Ravioli in a Brown Butter Sage Sauce – would you mind turning a year older? By this point, I think Peter was thinking that age could not wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety (thanks, Shakespeare).

The 2010 Sun was the wine I predicted would resonate best with Peter and his husband, Jeff. This wine is a lush, ripe fruit forward powerhouse of blackberry and plum in the voluptuous style of a Californian Pinot Noir. My tasting notes say something about razzamatazz roundness and then reference Angelina Jolie’s lips, need I say more? Being a vegetarian, I have it on good authority that the wine stood its ground when offered with Lamb Meatballs in Chimichurri (see recipe below). For my part, it was lovely with the lentils!

Hilliard Bruce Wine Tasting DinnerLamb Meatballs in Chimichurri

I tried to get a poll going around the table to see which of the Hilliard Bruce wines had been best enjoyed, but by this time, our senses were all but overwhelmed (we were merry), so it was difficult to get a true consensus going. If memory serves me correctly, Jeff loved Sun, Peter loved Earth, Ken and I loved Sky, Sharon, Rocco and Greg loved them all… or did Rocco settle on Sun? Did I mention how much I loved Earth? Did the Chardonnay surprise us all with its backbone? How much do we love each other? What better way to celebrate a birthday than with fabulous food, a family of wines and a family of friends? How lucky we are to have the finest of each! HELEN

Hilliard Bruce Small Plates Menu Small Plates Dinner Party Hilliard Bruce Wine Tasting Dinner

Cumin-Spiced Lamb Meatballs in Chimichurri

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 18Published

Verjus is the pressed juice of unripened grapes, and can be red (made from either purely red grapes or a red-white mix) or white (made from white grapes). While acidic, verjus has a gentler flavor than vinegar, so I chose it here so that the chimichurri would be more compatible with the wine. You may substitute an equal amount of any vinegar you like.

Lamb Meatballs in Chimichurri

Ingredients

  • 2 cup flat leaf parsley (leaves only)
  • 1 cup mint leaves
  • 6 clove garlic (peeled, minced and divided)
  • 3 small shallots (peeled and minced)
  • 2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (divided)
  • 2 teaspoon lemon zest (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoon smoked paprika (divided)
  • 2 teaspoon ground cumin (divided)
  • 2/3 cup red verjus (see notes)
  • 1 ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 2 pound ground lamb
  • 2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (not dried)

Directions

Make the chimichurri: Place parsley, mint, half the minced garlic, all the minced shallots, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, sugar, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon cumin, and red verjus into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10 or 12 times, then run the machine while drizzling in the olive oil until you achieve the desired consistency. You might not use all the oil. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and stir in the dried oregano. The chimichurri should be made up at least 1 hour and up to 3 days in advance. Mix well before serving.

Make the meatballs: Place the oven racks in the center and top positions then preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a small bowl combine salt, chili powder, remaining 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, remaining 1 teaspoon cumin, remaining minced garlic and cayenne and mix well.

Place ground lamb in a medium bowl and add eggs, breadcrumbs, remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, remaining 1 teaspoon lemon zest and the spice blend from the small bowl. Mix well with your hands.

Use a 2-inch scoop to divide the meat into 18 equally-sized portions. Roll each portion between your hands to form a ball. Arrange them 2 inches apart on 2 baking sheets. Bake on a middle and top rack, rotating the sheets halfway through cooking, until meatballs are browned and cooked through; 12 to 15 minutes. Move the sheets to a wire rack to rest about 3 minutes, then place the meatballs into a large bowl and toss them with about ½ cup chimichurri until well-coated. Pour the meatballs onto a serving platter and serve immediately with the remaining chimichurri on the side.

Serve with chimichurri sauce. Serves 5-6 (makes about 16 meatballs).

Chorizo Burgers with Slow Tomato-Bacon Ketchup

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Chorizo Burgers with Slow-Cooked Tomato-Bacon Ketchup

I can’t decide if this post is about chorizo burgers, or the bacon-tomato ketchup I served with them.

Chorizo Burgers

The chorizo burgers themselves I adapted from a NYT recipe by Suzanne Goin (chef/owner Lucques, AOC in LA). They’re everything (and more) of what I like from a burger – “spicy, warm, and sloppy to eat.”

The basis of these burgers is ground pork which gets spiced with chorizo flavors like cumin and dried chiles de árbol. Mexican chorizo is also added to the meat mixture, as is raw bacon, chopped into tiny bits. These additions make the burger highly aromatic and quite juicy. Which means you really have to take care to cook these burgers all the way through. Pork should be pink inside, but not at all rare. To help accomplish this I made these chorizo burgers a bit smaller and a bit thinner than I usually do. I had no problem getting them cooked through on the stove. However, Ms. Goin suggests finishing them in a hot oven if they’re getting too brown before they’ve reached an interior temperature of 140-160°F. Use your own judgement.

Suzanne Goin serves her chorizo burgers with aioli and romesco sauce. Sounds delish. But I went a different route. I chose a bacon-tomato ketchup that took 4 hours to make!

Which is why I want to spend some (more) time talking about the ketchup.

Tomato-Bacon Ketchup

I call the sauce for this burger bacon-tomato ketchup, because burgers and ketchup go together like monkeys and bananas, or Lucy and Ethel. However this ketchup is really a bacon-laced soffritto. All good soffrittos take hours to cook, so in this regard my bacon-tomato ketchup isn’t so unexpected.

Soffritto is an onion-based “building block” that is often the backbone of Mediterranean recipes. In my version the onions (and bacon) are cooked slowly in olive oil until they’re deeply golden brown and quite jammy. Smashed tomatoes are added to the mixture and it continues to cook for another couple of hours until it transforms itself into a deeply rich sauce that can be used as a flavor base in pasta, rice dishes and rich braises. It can also be a condiment slathered onto Chorizo Burgers. GREG

Chorizo Burgers with Slow-Cooked Tomato-Bacon KetchupChorizo Burgers with Slow-Cooked Tomato-Bacon Ketchup

Pork Chorizo Burger with Bacon-Tomato Ketchup

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Burger adapted from Suzanne GoinPublished
Pork Chorizo Burger

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 ¼ pound thick cut bacon (finely chopped and divided)
  • 2 white onions (peeled and chopped)
  • 8 clove garlic (peeled and chopped)
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 (12 oz) cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 4 teaspoon canola oil (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-2 dried chiles de árbol (thinly sliced crosswise)
  • 2 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 3 ounce raw Mexican Chorizo
  • ¼ cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 4 slice provolone cheese
  • 4 soft burger buns (sliced crosswise and toasted on the insides)
  • 4 slice red onion
  • 4 red lettuce leaves

Directions

Make the ketchup: Place a large dutch oven over medium heat, add the olive oil and 1-pound chopped bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon begins to become crisp; about 8 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and reduce the heat to very low. Stir frequently until the onions caramelize and become the color of golden raisins; about 2 hours depending on water content of onions.

Add the sugar and cook 5 more minutes until dissolved, but not burned. Add both vinegars and cook, stirring frequently, ½ hour.

Add the tomatoes and basil and continue to cook, stirring and crushing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon frequently, until the mixture is thick and saucy; about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Set aside to cool.

Blend in small batches. The ketchup may be covered and and refrigerated up to 5 days. Makes about 2 cups.

Preheat oven to 400°F (optional).

Swirl half the canola oil across the bottom of a heavy bottomed, non-stick or cast iron skillet. Place over medium-low heat, and add shallots. Once the shallots soften add the cumin and chopped chiles. Stir, then season with salt. When shallots become translucent, stir in thyme leaves, and turn off heat.

In a bowl, combine pork, chorizo and remaining ¼-pound chopped bacon. Add shallot mixture and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, lift and fold ingredients together until blended. Do not overmix.

Form the meat into 4 equally-sized patties about 3/4-inch thick.

Swirl the remaining canola oil across the bottom of a heavy bottomed, non-stick or cast iron skillet. Place over medium-high heat. Sauté burgers until browned on bottom. Turn them, basting with fat in pan. When browned on both sides, check the interior temperature of the burgers with an instant-read thermometer (140°F for medium-rare to 160°F for well done). Place a slice of cheese on each burger just before they are finished cooking, let it melt slightly before removing burgers from the skillet. If the burgers begin to get too brown before the desired temperature is reached finish them in the heated oven (optional).

Spread some of the bacon-tomato ketchup onto the tops and bottoms of the toasted buns. Lay a burger on each bun; top with red onion and red lettuce. Place the bun top onto the burger; serve warm.

 

 

Lemon Verbena Lemonade with Pineapple

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pineapple lemon verbena lemonade

Welcome to summer! Time to start thinking about lemonade. But I don’t mean just any lemonade. Save the overly sweet, watered-down stuff for the kids and their lemonade stand. To honor the change in season I rummaged around the garden and came up with pitcherful of Pineapple Lemon Verbena Lemonade. I often add other fruit to lemonade for an extra touch of summer sweetness (such as blueberry and pear).  After all, why settle for the same old puckery summer sip? Exotic flavors, unlikely combinations, and a splash of ingenuity can reinvigorate the summer’s classic beverage. All you need is a pitcher, plenty of lemons and inspiration.

Pineapple Lemon Verbena Lemonade

I often get my inspiration from the plants in my garden. A recent addition to my collection of perennial herbs is lemon verbena.

I planted lemon verbena for its seductive floral-citrus scent. It’s a graceful herb that makes a lovely cuppa tea. However, it’s too hot for tea, so I turned my attention to Pineapple Lemon Verbena Lemonade.

The herb is a natural addition to lemonade because it adds a complex grassy note that’s lemony – but barely so. Lemon verbena has a distinct lemon lilt, though I don’t consider it a replacement for the lemon in this Lemon Verbena Lemonade. In fact it doesn’t taste like any of the other lemon-based herbs you may be familiar with, like lemon balm, lemon mint, lemon thyme and lemon grass. It has a lighter, less aggressive flavor which can be best described as lemon perfume. It has none of lemon’s astringency, its clean, herbal taste evokes warm weather – powerfully fragrant with no hard edges.

If you want to make your own Lemon Verbena Lemonade (with pineapple or without) I must warn you, it’s almost impossible to buy as a cut herb. Growing your own is your best bet. Once it’s established in a semi-sunny spot, it should flourish in most gardens. Here in California it slows down in the winter, losing most of its leaves. In colder climes it may die back entirely but return in the late spring (provided it’s well-mulched). Just to be clear, the herb you’re looking for is Aloysia triphylla (not to be confused with a common flowering plant, also called verbena). GREG

pineapple lemon verbena lemonadepineapple lemon verbena lemonadepineapple lemon verbena lemonade

Pineapple Lemon Verbena Lemonade

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8-10Source lemonade base adapted from The Lemonade CookbookPublished
Pineapple Lemon Verbena Lemonade

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ pound peeled, cored and chopped fresh pineapple
  • 2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 ½ cup granulated sugar (or less to taste, depending on sweetness of pineapple)
  • 40 large lemon verbena leaves
  • 4 cup water

Directions

Place the chopped pineapple, lemon juice, sugar, lemon verbena leaves in the jar of a large blender. Put the lid on and pulse the mixture 10 or 12 times, then run the blender until the mixture is smooth. Work in batches if necessary.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and into a 2-quart or larger pitcher, pressing the solids through with the back of a spoon. You should have at least 4 cups liquid. Pour in the water and stir to combine. Serve in glasses filled with ice cubes, garnished with lemon verbena sprigs.

 

How to Make Chocolate Curls for this White Chocolate Cake

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How to Make Chocolate Curls for this White Chocolate Cake

I don’t like cake decorating. It’s not that I don’t like decorated cakes it’s just that I find all the tips and techniques necessary to master cake decorating to be tedious (or perhaps simply beyond my skill level). Still there are times in your life that call for cake. I’ve tried birthday pies and anniversary Rice Krispies Treats and have noted the crestfallen faces around the table. I get it. Cookies with candles are a no-go. So to keep the birthday boys and girls in my life happy – and to avoid tedium in my own – I’ve learned how to make chocolate curls. They’re all the decoration this Orange-Scented White Chocolate Cake with Strawberries needs.

How to Make Chocolate Curls

Chocolate curls are easy to make. They dress up a cake in a simple yet sophisticated manner. They look sensational pressed into the sides of a frosted cake. There’s some tedium involved with this direction, so I typically prefer a big luscious mound of chocolate curls piled onto the center of the cake. The more curls you pile on the more festive the occasion.

There are several methods I’ve discovered to make chocolate curls. The most professional chocolate curls are made by tempering chocolate, or purchasing specialized modeling chocolate and pouring it onto the back of a sheet pan. Knives or specialized tools are used to form big, soft curls. The result is impressive, but the process is (guess what?) tedious.

For me the best (least tedious) way to make chocolate curls is to use a stainless steel vegetable peeler and a big brick of chocolate.

There is a learning curve, but it’s in no way tedious. First find a peeler with a swivel blade. It really makes a difference in just how curly your chocolate curls turn out.

Really good curls are made with a good-sized block of chocolate, so you’ll need to get yourself a good hunk from a gourmet shop or baking supply store. Choose something between 8 and 10 ounces. This is way more chocolate than you’ll need for the curls in this white Chocolate Cake, but the large size will give you a lot more grip and a lot more control. The chocolate doesn’t have to be thick, but if you want big curly curls, thicker is better. An inch to an inch and a half will give you respectable looking curls.

After you’ve chosen an appropriately sized piece of chocolate the only real trick you need to know concerns temperature. To check the temperature, try making a few curls. If the chocolate is too cold and hard the chocolate will flake rather than curl. If the chocolate is to warm and soft, the chocolate will clump and get stuck between the blades of the peeler. When the chocolate is just the right temperature well-formed curls easily roll off the block. Keep in mind that white and milk chocolate are softer than dark chocolate, they should be ready to make chocolate curls practically at room temperature. If not hold the chocolate between the palms of your (gloved) hands for 2 or 3 minutes. Darker chocolate or curls made on chilly days may require some heat to get the block to just the right temperature. I find that a 3 to 4-inch chunk of chocolate will lightly soften in the microwave on low (30% power) in 5-second intervals until it’s barely warm.

When you’ve gotten the chocolate temperature just right and you’re ready to make chocolate curls hold the block of chocolate in one (gloved) hand. Moving the peeler away from yourself scrape the curls from the block in a single layer, using a long, slow stroke of 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Let the curls fall onto a parchment-lined tray. After a while you’ll find that you begin to form a divot in the chocolate that may make additional curls more difficult. When this happens simple turn the block to a fresh side and continue. When the block of chocolate becomes to small or oddly shaped to make chocolate curls, save the remaining chocolate for another use.

The curls will vary in shape and size. I find that a slight shake of the pan will allow the small unattractive bits and pieces settle to the bottom of the pile leaving the bigger more well-formed curls more visible. At this point put the tray into the freezer for about 30 minutes. When you’re ready to decorate use a slightly chilled spoon to place the curls onto the top (or sides if you’re very patient) of your frosted cake. If you’re particularly anal (and who isn’t) you can save the nicest looking specimens for last. I like to use a long wooden skewer to place the last few crowning curls in just the right place. Remember your body heat will melt a chocolate curl almost instantly.

That’s how you make chocolate curls! GREG

White ChocolateWhite Chocolate CakeWhite Chocolate Cake

Orange-Scented White Chocolate Cake with Strawberries

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12Source Adapted from Elinor KlivansPublished
Orange-Scented White Chocolate Cake with Strawberries

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup unsalted butter cut into 8 pieces
  • 16 ounce chopped white chocolate (divided)
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour (scooped and leveled)
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar (plus 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract (divided)
  • 2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 2 cup cleaned, stemmed, and chopped strawberries
  • 4 cup cold heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cup white chocolate curls (optional)
  • 12 large whole strawberries (cleaned and trimmed)

Directions

Make the white chocolate cake: Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9-inch pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper and butter the paper.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk, butter, and 8 ounces chopped white chocolate over low heat. Use a large spoon to stir constantly until the butter and white chocolate are melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside in a warm place.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat eggs and 1 3/4 cup sugar until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. Mix in the vanilla and orange zest. On low speed, mix in the flour mixture in three or four divisions until incorporated. Slowly add the hot milk and white chocolate mixture and continue mixing until the batter is smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly.

Bake the cakes until the tops feel firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool the cakes for 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack.

Use a small sharp knife to loosen the cake from the sides of each pan. Place a wire rack on the top of each cake and invert it onto it. Carefully remove and discard the parchment paper. Allow to cool completely. You can make the cake 2 days ahead to this point. In which case carefully return the cooled cakes to the pans and cover with plastic wrap. Store at room temperature.

Make the frosting. In a large bowl, stir the chopped strawberries and remaining 2 teaspoons granulated sugar together. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Put remaining 8 ounces chopped white chocolate in a heatproof bowl or the top of a double boiler and place it over, but not touching, a saucepan of barely simmering water (or the bottom of the double boiler); the water should not touch the bowl. Stir constantly until the white chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to beat the cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until firm peaks form.

Put the melted white chocolate into a large bowl. Whisk about 1 cup of the whipped cream into the melted white chocolate. Use a rubber spatula to fold the remaining whip cream into the white chocolate mixture.

Use a long serrated knife to cut both of the cooled cakes horizontally into four even layers. Use the removable bottom of a tart pan to lift up the top halves of the cakes and move them to the side

Place one of the layers on a serving platter. Tuck several parchment paper strips just an inch or so under the bottom of the cake all the way around to keep the plate clean.

Drain any juice from the reserved chopped strawberries.

Leaving a ½-inch plain edge, spread about 1-cup of the frosting over the bottom layer of the cake. Spread ⅓ of the drained, diced strawberries over the frosting as evenly as possible. Slide a second layer carefully over the strawberry covered frosting, centering it over the bottom layer. Spread this second layer with another 1-cup of frosting and half the remaining strawberries.

Repeat the process with a third layer using 1-cup of frosting and all the remaining diced strawberries, then place the final cake layer on top.

Chill the cake at least 1 hour before continuing. You can make the cake one day ahead to this point. Cover carefully and refrigerate overnight.

To finish the cake: Use a thin metal spatula to spread all but about 1-cup of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake in an attractive manner. Use the remaining 1-cup frosting to make a decorative mound on top (optional). Arrange the whole strawberries around the top of the cake in a decorative manner. Spoon the white chocolate curls into the center of the cake (if using). Carefully remove the paper strips and discard them. The cake can be covered and refrigerated overnight.

 

A Great Dinner Party Starts with “Wow”

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Blue Cheese-Walnut Shortbread with Chutney

Put down the bag of chips. Don’t open that jar of bean dip. Quit buying red Solo cups. I hate to be the one to tell you, but you’re a grown-up now. It’s time you embraced the dinner party – the kind that includes appetizers.

I consider the dinner party a rite of passage. It’s as important as a first kiss and as inevitable as a drivers license. You kinda get the idea you’re grown up when you throw your first dinner party. It might start out as a simple affair – a few buds, brews and boxed pizza – but as life and the years start to creep up on us it seems our dinner parties become more and more elaborate. They become laden with social and professional importance. They begin to mark meaningful events in our lives. Pretty soon the dinner party will emerge as a family tradition.

Once this happens (and it always does) it’s time to put aside the Cheez Whiz and learn a few tricks that make your dinner party easier (or at least less stressful).

I’ll admit, I’m probably older than you and I’ve had decades on the front line as a party planner. I have quite a few dinner party tricks up my sleeve. But let me pass on just one great dinner party tip: wow them at the beginning. You can accidentally serve overcooked chicken as a main course, but if you impress your guests at the very start of the evening they’ll just assume everything you do after that is magic.

Really. Even if the idea of a dinner party is new to you. Even if you are still trying to tackle a few other grown up milestones – like buying car insurance, owning a sofa, or wearing big-boy underpants – there’s one sure fire way to get a dinner party rolling. Simply get a drink (of any kind) into your guest’s hand within moments of their walking through the door and have a plate of tasty tidbits waiting. Choose something pretty. Something that makes a strong statement. Something that seems fancy, but can be made hours in advance.

I recently served these Blue Cheese-Walnut Shortbreads. You can make the shortbread the day before. They’re boldly flavored with blue cheese and have that buttery texture that’s sure to impress your guests at the very first bite. Once baked, they’re simply topped with plain cream cheese and a dollop of jarred chutney. Best of all they can be assembled a few hours before the guests arrive. They’re just the “wow” you need.

Dinner Party AppetizerDinner Party Appetizer

Once you’ve gotten the party off to a great start with you can simply relax into the rest of the meal. Everyone in the room will be rooting for you. Because the biggest obstacle a host faces is not a fallen soufflé or a backed up toilet. Nope, it’s the hosts or hostesses themselves. We can be our own worst enemy. So take a good long look in the mirror ‘cuz I’m talkin’ to you (and me!).

Tell me if you recognize any of these characters:

The Absent Host

Having failed to organize your time, or worse having decided to make a flourish of complicated, last-minute changes– you find yourself in the kitchen all alone, all night long. Sound the buzzer. Clear the plates. Your party is a flop. You failed. Sure your guests expect a great meal, but they’re hoping you’ll be in the room as they enjoy it.

The Nit Picker

I’ll admit I have ruined a few parties myself by becoming this guy. So I feel qualified in helping you ban him from the kitchen by passing along this tip. Do not tell everyone at the table what’s wrong with the food before they even pick up a fork. Maybe the chicken is too salty and you know it. Maybe the guests know it too. But by pointing it out, all that’s left for your guests to do is offer uneasy objections, making everyone in the room look like a liar. Besides it’s always possible (likely even) that it’s not nearly as bad as you think.

The Wishful Thinker

No, it won’t just miraculously work itself out. You have to be present and accountable. If the roast is burnt. You have a problem on your hands, so have a back up plan. A box of pasta and some frozen marinara can be your friend. Because if you have a back up plan it quite plainly means that you are an organized cook, so there’s not a chance in hell you are even gonna need that backup plan!

The Impossible Dreamer

You saw a great recipe for Thai-style noodles on your favorite blog but couldn’t get a hold of lemongrass. You thought about making apple pie, but changed it to tarte tatin – then went with tiramisu in the end. Don’t tell people what they could be eating. Most guests will love whatever dish you put in front of them, as long as you don’t start gushing about the Tangerine-Glazed Pork Belly you almost made.

The Insufferable Food Network Star

Speaking of pork belly, if the dishes being served are very well executed and the wines very well chosen, it’s natural for the host to expect a little recognition. But please, no bombarding the guests with television-style gourmet commentary, boastful patting on the back, or exaggerated tales from the front line. Let the guests notice this for themselves. Believe me, it’s far more satisfying to accept a compliment gracefully, than try to wrest one out of everyone at the table in alphabetical order!

GREG

Blue Cheese-Walnut Shortbread with Cream Cheese & Chutney for a dinner party

Blue Cheese-Walnut Shortbread with Cream Cheese and Chutney

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 36Source adapted from Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening WhitefordPublished

The shortbread dough can also be rolled and cut out with 1 ½ inch cutters for a more formal presentation.

Blue Cheese Shortbread

Ingredients

  • 3 ounce blue cheese (such as Maytag)
  • 1½ ounce unsalted butter
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour (scooped and leveled)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch (scooped and leveled)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 ounce chopped walnuts (lightly toasted)
  • 2 ounce cream cheese (or to taste)
  • 36 walnut halves (lightly toasted)
  • chutney (such as Major Grey's)
  • 36 fresh thyme tips

Directions

Combine blue cheese and butter in a food processor; process until smooth and creamy. Add flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper to the blue cheese mixture; pulse to combine. Add the chopped walnuts and process until just incorporated into a dough that pulls away from the sides in jagged clumps. Do not overprocess.

Remove the dough from the food processor and shape into 2 logs about 1-inch in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic and chill at least one hour.

When ready to bake preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Unwrap and slice each log into eighteen ⅓-inch thick discs and place each disc onto parchment covered baking sheets about 2-inches apart. Use the bottom of a glass to press each disc into a 1 ½-inch round about 1/8-inch thick. You may need to use an off-set spatula to loosen the discs if they are sticking.

Bake in the heated oven, rotating halfway through, until lightly browned; about 15 minutes. Remove sheets from oven and let them cool on a rack. The shortbread made be made up to 3 days in advance. Store covered at room temperature.

To assemble: Spread a small dollop of cream cheese onto each shortbread; top with a walnut halve, chutney and a tiny sprig of thyme.

 

Anderson Valley American Viticultural Area: AVAVA

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Lula Cellars

I love a good palindrome. You know, a word or phrase that reads the same forward and backward. “Able was I ere I saw Elba” is a classic example. My new favorite? AVAVA. Technically it stands for Anderson Valley American Viticultural Area, but to me it stands for great wine paired with farm fresh food, natural beauty and a welcoming community.

Greg and I recently returned to the Anderson Valley for a long holiday weekend. This trip was even better than the last: we were invited to stay at a winery– the bucolic Lula Cellars– and attend a couple of screenings at the Cinema in the Vineyards portion of the Mendocino Film Festival.

At the risk of making you very jealous (sorry!) I’d like to offer up a few tastes of my experience:

Film: “Finding Gaston” shown at Balo Vineyards. Gaston Acurio’s cuisine put his country on the international food map– he translated French cuisine techniques into a Peruvian pastiche featuring his passion for local ingredients, his support for indigenous farmers and fishermen and his mentorship of young culinary talent. Admirable and sustainable, as well as enjoyable. Greg and I have recently returned from Lima, Peru where we were fortunate to Find Gaston’s food for ourselves.

Wine and Filmmaker Dinner: Farm-to-table family style feast hosted on the grounds of the fabulous Madrones supporting the Anderson Valley Foodshed and Farmers Market. Food picked that day paired with local world-class wines capped by the dramatic presentation of a whole (lovingly raised) suckling pig. I was lucky to be seated between Todd Darling, whose documentary “Occupy the Farm” captures an East Bay community’s fight for food equity and Jason Drew, whose high elevation winery produced the highly distinctive Syrah that accompanied our main course.

Lula Cellars: On our previous visit, winemaker Jeff Hanson said “hey, next time you’re in the area, you’re welcome to stay in my guest house.” It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Imagine a a cozy cottage tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Boonville, a rooster alerting you to a new day rife with wine tasting possibilities, a stroll through fog laden vineyards to get your circulation going and a Honey of a dog guiding you down to Lula’s rustic-modern tasting room for a guided tour of expressive terroir-driven wines delivered by her master, culminating in my personal favorite, the 2012 Lula Cellars Costa Vineyard Pinot Noir. Priceless. (see video below)

Film: “A Year in Champagne”. Follow French family winemakers through a challenging vintage– but don’t feel too sorry for them because they have Champagne with breakfast and serve impossible to get verticals at their casual get togethers. Fortunately the film was followed by generous pours of Anderson Valley sparkling wine including Roederer Estate Hermitage from a magnum, Scharffenberger Rosé and Signal Ridge Brut.

Anderson Valley VineyardsMore wine discoveries:

2012 Maple Creek Estate Chardonnay – Ripe pear, tinge of vanilla, just enough oak. Can’t say that Chard is one of my favorite varietals, but I loved this one, so deep and elegant! Winemaker Tom Rodrigues is also an avid artist and master mushroom forager.

2014 Balo Vineyard Pinot Noir Blanc – Never had a still white wine made from Pinot Noir before (certainly had some sparkling Blanc de Noir!), the Balo is crisp, slightly herbal and a wonderfully earthy companion to salad.

2014 Meyer Family Cellars Rosé – An atypical rosé made from Syrah and made by Matt Meyer, scion of the Meyer family famous for Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry, with watermelon and strawberry flavors and a touch of vanilla from barrel aging. Great with seared scallops and fennel.

2014 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc – Organically farmed, tangy and bright, this limited-production Sav Blanc from winemaker John Fetzer and his wife Patty Rock is the perfect citrusy companion to the local oysters we enjoyed at the bar of Little River Inn.

No doubt we’ll be making another trek up to the Anderson Valley sometime soon. There just wasn’t enough time to visit the tasting rooms at Baxter, Champ de Rêves, Edmeades, Handley Cellars, Phillips Hill Estates. The list goes on… “Dammit, I’m mad!”  KEN

Drew Pinot GrisMendocino Film Festival BannerLula Cellars_Honey the Winery Dog in Lula Car #2

The first and last photos were supplied by Lula Cellars who also provided our accommodations. All opinions are my own.