Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seriously Citrusy

I never thought I'd be one for seasonal cooking, mostly because when I first started cooking, I was completely ignorant of what the heck foods you get in what the heck seasons. I know this will make some people want to reach through their computer and smack me, but living in California, I've always lived in close proximity to produce grown here in my state, as well as the stuff grown down in Mexico and Chile and other South American regions in our off-season. Blueberries, for example, never leave the grocery store. Sure, in the middle of January they cost $6 for the tiniest of containers, but they're there. When I wasn't cooking, I wasn't buying as much fresh produce, so I never really noticed when the produce was cheap vs. ridiculously expensive in the context seasonality. It's a bit pathetic, I know, but I have since developed a healthy respect for summer fruits, winter leafy greens, and everything in between.

What does that have to do with anything? Well I've been having a serious hankering for citrus the last few weeks, which, you'd never guess, is in season right now! Or at least, it was when I was actually making the things I'm about to share with you.

candied orange peels

First, I saw recipe after recipe for candied citrus peels, and decided to try it. Apparently the natural pectin in citrus peels, when cooked with lots and lots of sugar, become like a gummy candy. Neat, huh? I had to try this with orange peels because I used to love the orange gummy candies my grandma kept in her candy dish when I was a kid (you know, those ones that are shaped like an orange slice?), and it worked out because I also was making orange chicken later that day, so I used both the juice and the peel from the oranges. I'm so green!

Candying orange peels is quite an undertaking! I used this set of instructions, courtesy of I made that! First I peeled and cut the peels from about 8 oranges (it took a long time). Then, I boiled the peels in water and a ton of sugar. Now be careful here. Keep it at a very very gentle simmer. I let my liquid boil too violently and ended up with a hard sticky mess (which I rectified by adding more water to thin it back out). Then I parked the pot of peels in the fridge for 2 days (it took up more room than I would have liked). When they were good and soaked I dried them in the oven, over verrrrrry low heat. Then tossed them with sugar, and voila! Candied citrus peels!

I will say, this was not an easy recipe. There were a lot of steps, and as I found out, doing things not just so resulted in not exactly pristine results. But that's ok. I learned some valuable lessons I can employ next time around.

Overall these turned out pretty good. Texture-wise, they were perfect: soft and chewy. Taste-wise they were good, but some of the peels still hung on to a bit of their bitterness. I think that could be remedied with cooking the peels longer, and soaking them in the right consistency liquid. Basically, if I don't mess it up next time, they should come out a little better. Since it's the pectin in the peels that makes them gummy and delicious, fruits with a thicker peel come out yummier. I hear pomelos are actually the best citrus to candy.

meyer lemon marmalade over Greek-style yogurt

Next, when I saw the recipe from Simply Recipes on meyer lemon marmalade, I knew I had to make it immediately. First off, I am completely in love with meyer lemons. They are so sweet and mellow and citrusy and just delicious! Now jams vs. jellies vs. preserves vs. marmalades, etc. always confuses me a bit, but marmalade is made from citrus and includes the peels, so can have a bit of a bite to it that some don't like. But I like it just fine! Unlike my candied orange peels, this marmalade was easy and came out delicious! I've been enjoying a few spoonfuls on some Greek-style yogurt, and together they are heavenly! I highly recommend.

In this cold winter weather, I love the bight, light flavors of citrus to bring sunshine to my day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Recipe: White Whole Wheat Bread with Wheat Germ and Rye

White whole wheat bread with wheat germ and rye, one baked, one rising

I have stumbled upon a major pet peeve. In my daily perusal of the interwebs I often see baked goods advertised as whole wheat. I get excited, go to the site to check out the recipe, and 9 times out of 10 I am disappointed to learn the item in question is not, in fact, "100%" whole wheat. Sometimes it's a sprinkling of whole wheat flour, and sometimes it's just a sprinkling of AP flour, but to me it doesn't matter how much whole wheat flour you work in, if you still us AP flour in the recipe, I don't think you should call it "whole wheat". Is it better to replace half the flour in a recipe with whole wheat rather than none? Totally. Can you still boast that it's a healthier baked good? Sure, why not. But if I'm going to be healthy, I want to go all the way. And if I'm not making something already sinful, like dessert, I like to eliminate the processed starches where I can. Ok, I'll get down off my soapbox now.

So a few weeks ago I attempted my first loaf of whole wheat bread. I started with this whole wheat with wheat germ and rye recipe, courtesy of Annie's Eats, because, well...the picture just looked really good. I'm a consumer whore, I know. But I also liked the use of honey instead of sugar, and the wheat germ. I've had a big bag of wheat germ in my refrigerator for months, and I'm always looking for good ways to use it. But I did something I don't normally do. I deviated. *gasp!* I know! I planned to follow it to the letter, in the hopes of getting a loaf that looked as pretty as Annie's, but the recipe was lacking in one area. That dang 2+ cups of AP flour. At the very last minute I decided I didn't want it in there. So I modified. And you know what? I conquered! I don't know what took me so long, but this was actually my first loaf of bread. You know, like sandwich bread, in a loaf pan and all. And really, it was easy!

For my modifications I used white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat flour. If you don't already know, white whole wheat flour is just as healthy as regular whole wheat flour. It's just made from white wheat, rather than red wheat. I find it lighter in both taste and texture. The only place I've found it is Trader Joe's, but it's also readily available online (King Arthur's Flour is always a good resource). Also, I nixed the AP flour entirely. I was afraid this might make the dough too heavy, so I added some vital wheat gluten. I found this at my local natural food store months ago, I've not seen it at the big grocery stores, unfortunately. I'm really not actually sure exactly what it does, but I think it's supposed to give a little help to more robust flours to help their gluten develop, which is how they rise and get all delicious. I honestly have no idea how this recipe would turn out without it. It would probably be fine. Worst thing, it would be a bit stubby of a loaf. Perhaps adding a bit more yeast would be in order? As you can tell, I am by no means an expert on bread baking...yet.

Anyway, this bread was faaaaantastic! It had a great crust on the outside, nice and crunchy, but thin like a sandwich loaf crust should be. The bread was sweet and nutty, yet light. I wish I had gotten a picture of a slice of the bread. Next time. I definitely can't boast that baking my own sandwich bread is just as easy as buying it at the store, but it wasn't traumatic, so now I cringe a little every time I buy a loaf. Heh. That's ok though, I don't eat bread very often, so I actually need all those preservatives they put in. Plus, Husband, always supportive of my baking, downed both of these loaves in a week. Ok, I helped. But he seems to feel the need to destroy everything that comes out of the oven. I'm ok with that.

I also found out my bread slicing skills are dismal! They were too thick, too thin, slanted, ugly. I need one of those bread slicing machines, like they use at California Pizza Kitchen. Or, you know, just learn not to be completely inept. So practice, or winning the lottery...whichever comes first.

I was just planning on linking the recipe, but I think I actually modified this recipe enough to post it here. I can't call this 100% whole wheat either, because technically there's rye flour and wheat germ in it too, but I'm comfortable calling it whole wheat bread without feeling like a total hypocrite.

Not the best picture, but one dang good loaf of bread

White Whole Wheat Bread with Wheat Germ and Rye
adapted from Annie's Eats

Yield: two 9-inch loaves


2 1/3 cups warm water (about 100 degrees)
1 ½ TB instant yeast
¼ cup honey
4 TB unsalted butter, melted
2 ½ tsp salt
¼ cup rye flour
½ cup toasted wheat germ
5-6 cups white whole wheat flour
4 TB vital wheat gluten

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the water, yeast, honey, butter (make sure the butter is also under 100 degrees so you don't kill your yeast) and salt with a rubber spatula. Mix in the rye flour, wheat germ, 2 cups of the white whole wheat flour, and the vital wheat gluten.
  2. Add 3 cups of the white whole wheat flour, attach the dough hook and knead at low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Add more flour as necessary to get the dough to the right consistency. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead just long enough to make sure that the dough is soft and smooth, about 30 seconds.
  3. Place the dough in a very lightly oiled large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until the dough has doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  4. Heat the oven to 375°. Gently press down the dough and divide it into two equal pieces. Gently press each piece into a rectangle about 1-inch thick and no longer than 9 inches (width-wise, so it will fit in your loaf pan). With a long side of the dough away from you (hot dog, not hamburger), roll the dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing down to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn the dough seam-side up and pinch it closed. Place each cylinder of dough into a greased 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, seam-side down, pressing the dough gently so it touches all four sides of the pan. Cover the shaped dough; let rise until almost doubled in volume, 20 to 30 minutes.
  5. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted at an angle from the short end just above the pan rim reads 205°, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer the bread immediately from the baking pans to a wire rack; cool to room temperature.

A few notes on the recipe:
  • If you can't find white whole wheat flour, you could certainly just use regular whole wheat flour. Next time I think I'll try this, just to see how much the loaf differs in taste and consistency.
  • To toast the wheat germ I just spread it evenly over some foil and put it in my toaster oven until it smelled done (maybe 5 minutes).
  • I only have one loaf pan (another thing to add to my always-long kitchen list!), so I baked the loaves one at a time. Obviously, the second loaf didn't do it's full rise in the loaf pan. I just left it out on the counter to rise, and when I transfered it to the loaf pan, I made sure to be gentle so I didn't press out any air.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Am Here To Corrupt Your Waistline

Here's the thing. I love baking. I'm all about it. I see a ton of delicious recipes everyday with all these dang food blogs I read. When I have time over the weekend, I make a recipe or two. Then I eat a small portion of it, and then I give the rest to Husband, or occasionally bring what's left to work, if Husband will spare it, which he usually won't. ("You want to give my dessert away to those people? Heck no!") Heck, sometimes he won't even share with me! ("My muffins!") So of course, when Husband is feeling overweight, he blames me and my waistline-corrupting ways. He's right...but at the same time, he doesn't have to eat 4 pumpkin muffins as soon as they come out of the oven. He would argue that he does. Heh.

Anyway, if you couldn't already tell, I'm going to share with you some of the baked goods that came out of my kitchen a few weeks ago. Be warned, they were all delicious and completely bad for you in excess amounts!

Meyer lemon bars, or as I like to call it, a slice of heaven

Meyer lemon bars, courtesy of, who else, Smitten Kitchen. I knew I wanted lemon bars. I knew I wanted to use Meyer lemons. As soon as I saw that Deb had used an Ina Garten recipe, it was like the planets aligned. These were heaven in my mouth. They were sweet, but not too sweet. I always trust Deb's recipes on the sugar because she seems as averse to overly sweet desserts as myself. They were just the right touch of sour, and the shortbready crust was buttery and divine. I'm sure they would be just as heavenly with regular lemons, but I really love the mild and slightly sweeter flavor of meyer lemons. I did the full-size lemon layer. I wanted lemon not lemon, after all. This recipe made a big 9x13 pan of bars, so some of these actually made it into work for my co-workers and they were quite a hit. With everyone lamenting the weather at the moment, these are a great way to brighten anyone's mood.

Ugly, hideous, delicious best cocoa brownies

The best cocoa brownies, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. I didn't intend to make these. But then Deb posted the recipe, and I happened to have all the ingredients, and they happened to look very simple to make. And dang it, I can't resist chocolate! Oh my word these may have just been the best brownies I have ever had. So dense and moist and fudgey and rich, but on top of all of that, they weren't overwhelmingly so. They weren't too rich (though it's hard for chocolate to ever be too rich for me), or too dense. Substancial, but not heavy. And keeping them small made them a perfect bite when I wanted something sweet and bad.

You may have noticed that my brownies turned out...quite ugly. That's a story I can hardly recall without bitter anger. Ok, not really. Ok, maybe just a little bitter anger. So I baked and baked (see items 1 and 2 above), then I let everything cool and went to take a shower. Husband came into the bathroom a few minutes later to let me know the brownies were good. Aw, that's nice. I figured he had cut a corner out of the pan to try. That's what I normally do when I can't wait for something to cool. But when I got back to the kitchen, all squeeky clean, I found that someone had obliterated my brownies. They were ragged and crumbled everywhere. I may have pulled my hair while screaming NOOOOO!!! at the top of my lungs. My beautiful brownies! Who would do this to you! I try not to get mad at people when they have good intentions, but I was mad. I attempted to calmly tell Husband that next time I would prefer if he would not "helpfully" cut my entire pan of brownies, as he had ruined my whole batch. And then he got all offended and tried to act like I was being irrational and mean.

And then I really got mad and told him he had totally ruined my entire batch of brownies! And, being Husband, he refused to admit he had done anything wrong because he had accomplished what he wanted, which was cutting the brownies into HUGE pieces (that way he wouldn't feel like a total pig when he ate just one piece). They were cut, they tasted good, he didn't see the problem. I could have divorced him right then and there. Uggggh! And top it all off, because my life wouldn't be mine without a cherry on top, he cut the brownies in the pan. As you can probably surmise, sharp knife + metal pan = scratched pan. Yes, there is now a permanent reminder of brownie-gate. To his credit, Husband did actually feel bad and apologize (for scratching the pan at least, I honestly don't remember if he begrudgingly apologized for the brownies themselves), and promised not to mess with my baked goods again.

There's a lesson to learn here, people! When letting brownies cool and you have a chocoholic husband on the premises, guard them with your life!!! Or you'll be in danger of the monstrosity you see above. They're so ugly and hideous! But really, they tasted awesome. I am totally going to make these again soon and see if I can't get a descent picture out of them. I know they don't look like much, but I highly recommend this recipe!

Cara cara orange curd on no-kead walnut bread

Cara cara orange curd, courtesy of The Kitchn. I don't know how long cara cara oranges have been around, but I just discovered them. I'm pretty sure they're a recent development. This is why I love the natural food hippie store where I like to shop. They don't just have awesome fresh and local produce, but they actually cut up samples for you, and will talk with you about what it is, if you ask. And I'm talking persimmons and cara cara oranges, not granny smith apples and navels, like they do at the grocery store next door. A few weeks ago they had a ton of cara cara oranges, which someone (another shopper, not a produce person) told me was a cross between a grapefruit and an orange, but wikipedia says otherwise. But I can see where people would get that impression, since their pinkish-orangey flesh looks very much like that is the case.

Anyway, when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it. I've always wanted to try lemon curd, and this sounded just so much better. It was so good. Heaven in your mouth good. It was sweet, and tangy, and sour, and creamy, and just about any other delicious adjective you can think of. Check curds off the list of things I am afraid to make. This was easy. I wouldn't call it simple, as there were a number of steps, but there were no tips and tricks to keep in mind. Just followed the instructions, and deliciousness ensued. I love it when that happens!

I enjoyed the curd most on this no-knead walnut bread, also courtesy of The Kitchn. It's just Jim Lahey's classic bread with some extra goodies thrown in. I'm not usually a fan of raisins in bread, but I used golden raisins, and with the walnuts and cinnamon, together they gave the bread a sweeter, more desserty quality, which went great with the orange curd. I would definitely add this bread into my usual rotation. Raisins and all!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy New Year!

Er, Lunar New Year that is. Speaking of which, I had the best dim sum I have ever had last weekend. We were seated in a main drag rather than the wasteland that is reject cart area. And the quality of bbq pork and shrimp was just out of this world, melt in your mouth delicious. My only complaint was that the pork bao cart didn't come by until the very end when we were stuffed. Almost unforgivable! I say almost because we forced ourselves to eat two orders of it anyway.

But I have a confession to make. This post has nothing to do with Lunar New Year. I just thought it was appropriate to point out a New Year holiday, while I blog about another one past. That's right, it's time I finally got around to telling you more about the meals I was eating around the new year. You may remember from my Year in Review post a few weeks ago I talked about the two most delicious meals I ate were right before the new year. Well here they are!

A few days before New Years Eve I took advantage of my week off from work to make bagels. Why? Well here's one of the things I love about Husband: he is endlessly supportive of my cooking, and especially my baking. It's not surprising since he obviously benefits big time from the effort, but he never tires of telling me how proud he is. Even better, there are a few items Husband will no longer buy and insists that I make myself, bagels being one of them. Husband is also a man of tradition like myself (erm, a woman of tradition in my case), few traditions, but traditions none the less. A big one with him is smoked salmon from Seattle. I'm not talking lox, people. I'm talking salmon that is actually smoked. I've only ever seen it in fish markets in Seattle, and it is definitely worth the hassle that is trying to get ice on a plane nowadays (here's a tip: bags of ice are not allowed, they could leak and ruin other people's luggage, but cores that come with coolers that have caps, or I would assume other sealed vessels, are allowed. But you have to check it. If some idiot at the check-in counter tells you ice is flat out not allowed, ask to talk to her manager because she's a frakking liar). Anyway, every time we go to Seattle, we come home with smoked salmon, and it goes in the freezer until it is consumed by the appropriate method, which is on a bagel with cheese of some kind and slices of apple. So freaking good.

So that's how I ended up with bagel attempt number two (my first attempt was blogged here), and I am happy to report it was a resounding success! Whereas last time there were pretty good, this time they were great. I've definitely still had better at bagel shops, but I've also had worse, so that's pretty darn good, right? Not to mention these blow those icky store bought bagels out of the water. I stuck with Peter Reinhart's recipe, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen (though I could have just looked it up in my Peter Reinhart cookbook, but I like Deb's notes).

I took Deb's advice and did the egg wash. I like the texture an egg wash gives, and since I did poppy seeds and sesame seeds, I wanted to make sure they would stick. I generally prefer my bagels denser and chewier (I boiled them extra which supposedly made them chewier, but not quite dense-chewy), but they had a great crust and the flavor was...well, you just can't beat that fresh out of the oven flavor. I unfortunately didn't get a picture of the finished salmon-bagel sandwich because, well, when faced with such deliciousness I just can't wait.

My bread doughs have been coming together much better ever since I excepted the fact that my doughs always seem to require more flour than recipes call for. You know when something says to add 6-8 cups of flour, depending on what you need to keep it soft and elastic without being tacky? Yeah, I usually get to about seven, and then after kneading for a few minutes it gets sticky again, so I add more, etc., etc., that I usually end up with over 8 cups. I just don't pay attention to the recipe and try to listen to my dough instead. It works out much better that way.

I remembered this being very labor intensive, and even though it's a two day process, it really wasn't that bad this time around. Yay for my Kitchenaid mixer which does all my kneading for me! Gotta love it. I don't know how often I'll make bagels just because I try and limit my carb eating (not in an Atkins way), and these aren't whole grain, but I will definitely add this recipe to my special occasion bread mental list.

My other success at the end of last year was my New Years Eve dinner. It was kind of accidentally fancy. Really we were supposed to hang out with friends on New Years Eve, but after spending the week running around trying to accomplish a year's worth of ignored errands in the span of 3 days, we were exhausted and just wanted us time. So we flaked. I'm a bad person. I know. It's ok though, I made them brunch the next day.

Also, we had this fish. See, the night we got back from visiting Husband's parents, Husband was watching that show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on Food Network, and the episode on ended up featuring a place in our city, so I sat and watched the segment with him. It was this fish joint owned by two brothers who are deep sea fishermen. One brother does the grilling, the other brother runs the seafood counter. Everything is fresh, made to order and looked delicious. It looked so good, in fact, that we decided to trek over there for lunch the very next day! Man oh man is that show good for business. On a Tuesday at 11:30am it was packed, and it stayed packed until we left about 75 minutes later. But the food was great. We've already been back there this year. But the best part is their fish counter. There are slabs and slabs of fresh caught fish! Nom! So Husband and I got some to take home and make ourselves. We ended up, among other things, getting some escolar, a fish I'd never heard of but looked delicious (and it was!).

So long story long, we had this escarole we really needed to cook or it was going to spoil, so we stayed in and cooked rather than going out and partying. Heh, me party...yeah right. I had no idea what I was doing. When I was shopping for ingredients at the store I had no idea what I was doing either. I just grabbed ingredients that called out to me and didn't question it. When I was cooking in the kitchen I just kind of started putting those ingredients together and didn't question it. What I got was this:

Don't ask me how! It just happened! Like magic! The fish is the escolar, grilled with meyer lemon and orange garlic butter. To the bottom left is a shaved fennel and raw beet salad with walnuts and a meyer lemon, truffle oil, and champagne vinaigrette. And to the top left is a roasted cauliflower puree topped with small pieces of roasted cauliflower and sauteed leeks. It was amazing. By far one of the best meals I've ever cooked. And I didn't use a single recipe. How could I when I didn't even know what I was making? Go figure. The fish was so buttery it just melted in your mouth. Husband was making all sorts of groaning noises while he was eating, he was so happy. And no, I did not eat that huge piece of fish. I ate half of it...and Husband ate the other half on top of his huge piece. Yeah, he really liked it.

Phew! Slowly, but surely, I'm getting all caught up! Is anyone tempted to attempt bagels, or have you accidentally made a gourmet meal before?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Christmas Time In Napa

Cakebread Cellars barrel rooms.

Hey, did you know I went to Napa for the weekend while Husband and I were visiting his parents in the Bay Area for Christmas? We had an absolutely fabulous time. As I observed to Husband on our drive home (he was lamenting that we were leaving so soon), Napa is a vacation spot where basically all your do is drink wine and eat really great food. It's accepted. And really, that's what Husband and I like to do when we're on vacation. When people ask how a trip was I tell them whether the food was good in that area. When people ask what we did, I tell them all about the great places we ate. For example, France? Amazing. In Paris we could fall out of our hotel and and find a bakery selling chocolate croissants for next to nothing that were the most amazing things we've ever tasted. In Normandy the food was heavy and rich without being heavy and rich, which is all I know how to describe it. Delicious and comforting! Our honeymoon in Hawaii? Great, amazing fish. Had to seriously scout out places to find a sliver of vegetable, and they usually cost up the butt if we did find any. Seriously. We ate at one place that had meat on one side of the menu and fish on the other. No sides, no salads, no fruit cup. After a few days of eating like this, I felt completely disgusting. So yeah, I'd say Napa is the ideal vacation spot for us! Especially since I am a self-admitted lout!

Anyhoo, we drove up Saturday afternoon, myself, Husband, his parents, and the dogs, and checked into our hotel: the Napa River Inn. Can't recommend this place enough. It was clean and quaint (and I don't mean that as a nice way of saying small). The staff was very friendly (the bell hop gave the dogs treats). We got adjoining rooms without having to ask, and we found in one of them a little dog welcoming package, including food bowls, treats, and a towel for the floor for each of the dogs. The rooms were spacious, and it was right in the center of town. You could walk anywhere. And let me tell you about the breakfast! There is a bakery right next door. It's amazing. When you walk in your room there is a card to fill out for your complimentary breakfast the next morning. You fill out what you want from 3 categories and what time you want it delivered to your door. The next morning I got a scone, a breakfast sandwich, and a fruit cup. Husband got the same, but paid a bit extra for a cinnamon bun instead of the scone. Image the hugest scones and cinnamon buns you've ever seen, and now double it. That's what we got. I ate the fruit cup, about 1/3 of the scone, a few bites of cinnamon bun, and half the breakfast sandwich and I felt like I would be stuffed for days. And it was so good I didn't want to stop eating it!

After we checked in, we were hungry, so we went straight to a winery I heard had a great deli (thanks for the tips, Kelly!). V. Sattui winery definitely had its good points and not so good points. The grounds were gorgeous and their large stone buildings were beautiful to look at. They had a ton of picnic tables outside, so there was plenty of room to sit and eat. Their deli and shop had some really great items, cheeses and meats that went on for days. Unfortunately, I was under the impression that they would actually make you a sandwich from all the breads, meats, and cheeses they sold. Not so. They have a ready-made food "deli", and that's it. You don't want mayo on your sandwich (I try not to touch the stuff)? I guess you just have to wipe it off. Even though you can buy your own bread, cheese, and meat and assemble it yourself, and even though they have the means to do it for you (a knife is really all that's needed), and even though they could probably make more money by charging you double, they refuse. I just couldn't get over the ridiculousness of that. That said, the already made food was quite good. We got some sandwiches, soups, and roasted vegetables and shared. Everything was tasty except the vegetables, which were still basically raw. I would certainly come back, bring my own knife, and make my own sandwiches. Next time. Oh, it was also insanely packed. Like it took 30 minutes just to get to our number to order the food, which is actually good because it took about that much time to find enough space between all the bodies of other people to even see the display case to find out what they have and decide what you want. I heard someone ask if they were always that busy, and the guy behind the counter responded that they were actually often even busier. How is that possible!? They also had an independent vendor giving away samples of fudge. It was so delicious we bought some.

V. Sattui. A good variety of wines to choose from, but I didn't much care for them. The Madeira had that cloyingly sweet taste I really don't care for.

While I would definitely come back for the deli, I would skip the wine tasting next time. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't that good, and from my perspective, there's no excuse to drink bad wine in Napa (or even not great wine). On purpose, anyway. I found the whites too sweet and the reds a bit too tannic for my taste. But I'm glad we went here first because it put us in the mood to find better wines to taste!

Next we stopped at Cakebread Cellars, a winery my friends recommended. They are by appointment only, but I called to schedule an appointment basically the day before, and actually ended up calling them 3 times to reschedule my appointment time that day, and they were super accommodating. I basically called them from V. Sattui and asked if we could change our time to the next closest so we could basically go straight there, and they said sure. We still had about 45 minutes to kill once we got there, so we took the dogs for a walk around the grounds.

Oh yeah, did I mention we had the dogs in tow? Well we weren't allowed to leave the dogs in the hotel rooms, so we threw them in the back of Husband's dad's car (it's a hatch back, so nice and roomy). They didn't much like being left alone while we went off drinking and gallivanting (ok, seriously blogger? Your spellcheck sucks balls. You can't tell that galevanting is a misspelling of gallivanting? Come on.) around, but they loved walking around the rich and fertile land, and contributing some of themselves to the wine-making process.

Yes, I took a picture of my dog peeing. He looked so cute! And ok, it looks like he's peeing on grape vines, but really he's peeing about half a foot from the main gravel path. It was more exciting when you didn't know, wasn't it?

Anyway, Cakebread was by far my favorite winery the whole trip. We got to the tasting room about 10 minutes before our appointment. I checked in and was told to wait off to the side for just a minute. After about 15-20 minutes I was getting a bit perturbed, as they were helping everyone who came in after me, but were totally ignoring me. Finally someone noticed me standing there looking pissed and asked me what was the deal. I may have had a bit of acid in my tone when I said I had no idea, I was told to wait just a minute and then was forgotten all about. I'm pretty sure that's why we ended up getting a private tasting, and everyone else was in big groups of about 10 people. Heh. Oops! But score for us!

The glasses never stayed filled for long. The wine was so good I couldn't stop drinking it!

The tastings are done in their barrel rooms, which was very intimate and fun. pouring lady (??), she was awesome. She was very knowledgeable about the wines, and very talkative in general, in a good way, not in a shut up and pour me some wine kind of way. She was apparently trained as a chef, but decided she loved wine more and switched professions. She told us all about the wine varietals, grapes, growing regions, good years vs. bad years. We asked her questions, and she always had a great answer. I learned more about wine in that hour than I have in my 27 years on this earth. It was great. And the wine was amazing. Delicious. Expensive. We bought some. I wish we had bought more. I wish I would win the lottery tomorrow so I could build a house across the street and taste wine there every day. Yum!

After Cakebread we decided the dogs had been so well behaved, we took them to a dog-friendly winery I had found on (how awesome is that website!), Alpha Omega. I had never heard of this winery, so I wasn't expecting much besides a tasting room we could take the dogs to, but I was so pleasantly surprised! Their tasting room is modern and sleek with a lovely outdoor seating area and some seriously cool bathroom fixtures. I went in ahead to make sure they were really dog friendly and the guy told me "we're friendly if they are". Oh Theo and Rex are friendly all right! They loved the attention, and some people seemed to enjoy having the furry ones around to lighten the mood. And best of all, the wine was really gosh darn good! We bought a bottle of their rose and their cabernet, if I remember correctly. But it was rather pricey, and the tasting was rather short, only 4 wines (so basically on par with Cakebread). One woman who worked there gave Theo and Rex a ton of love and attention. We actually ended up seeing her in town the next morning with her own dogs, and she not only remembered us enough to come over and say hello, but she actually remember the dogs' names! How dog friendly is that? I would definitely come back, Theo in tow.

A small but enjoyable tasting menu

My one big regret on our trip to Napa was that we never made it to Silver Oak Cellars. We tried! Unfortunately, we lingered too long at the other wineries on Saturday, and by the time we drove up at 5:45, we discovered they had closed at 5:30. Boo! And when we went back first thing Sunday morning, we found that they were also closed on Sundays. Nooooo! Whyyyyy? I will definitely make it there next time.

After we got back to the hotel we played with the rugrats for a bit, and then headed next door to Celadon for dinner (thanks for the great recommendation again Kelly!). I was a bit befuddled by this one. First off, it was small and quiet, nice and intimate. There were other people there, but it wasn't busy or loud. The food was amazing. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals. The pork belly buns were delicious (though Husband thought they were too fatty, which is I think what pork belly is supposed to be like. It was good fatty, not gag-reflex fatty.), the duck confit and spinach salad I was still dreaming about the next day. And the Moroccan inspired lamb was just...omg. So good. And I could not stop eating the couscous it came with off of Husband's plate. Seriously. But. But. The wine. Was bad. There were 4 of us, each of us got a different wine from the wine list. 2 of us even asked for suggestions. And every single one was crap. I was astounded. This is freaking Napa! How do you have a single bad wine on your wine list, let alone all 4 of them, if not all? It was completely disappointing, and kind of dampened the meal because we were so confounded. It'd say next time, I would definitely still eat there, but I would either bring my own wine and just pay the corkage fee, or drink water and have wine in my room after dinner.

The next day we had the most wonderful Sunday brunch at Redd, recommended by the same friends who recommended Cakebread Cellars, so we were excited to try it. It was fantastic! We got there kind of ridiculously early, so we decided to walk around the neighborhood with the dogs, which was a nice way to build up our appetites since we were still a bit full from the huge breakfast we got. We were still early, so the place was totally empty, but it filled up later. We tried the potstickers (excellent), diver scallops (worthy of a wet dream), and duck confit (always a winner). They also had some fun and delicious cocktails. It was a fabulous experience, I can't wait to do again next time I'm there. I would definitely go back for brunch, but I'll bet their dinner is even better.

We ended the trip with a stop at Opus 1 winery. We intended to end with Silver Oak, but well, you know how that turned out, and Opus 1 was nearby. This is some 'spensive wine. We're talking $200/bottle, so we didn't go with the intention of buying, but we thought it'd be fun to taste. At $35 for a single glass (a rather full half glass, not a tasting glass), it was a bit of a splurge, but when you're in Napa, you just gotta go for it. Once they pour you your wine they leave you to wander their massive castle grounds. We spent most of that time wondering why they have such a big building, but such a tiny tasting room. What are the other rooms for? It's not a hotel. Maybe events? Anyway, I thought it was kind of hilariously and charmingly over the top. Husband thought it was a bit intimidating, but I think he was mostly just intimidated by all the BMWs in the parking lot. We didn't have an appointment, but they weren't busy, and let us go right in. When you enter the big, ridiculous double doors there is a large sterile, marble-floored room with a single desk and the receptionist who does the appointments. That might have had something to do with the intimidation as well. The wine was, of course, amazing. I savored every bite. And with a bite or two of that fudge from V. Sattui we bought the previous day, it was sinfully good.

Opus 1 winery. When you approach the giant double doors, there is over the top opera music playing. I couldn't make this up.

All in all it was only a day and a half, but it was such a day and half. We had a truly great time, and I look forward to going back for a bit longer of a stay. I was actually a bit scared to go there and plan the whole thing. For some reason I found the whole thing rather intimidating, but once I got there it was so easy and laid back, I had a grand time. It's the kind of place you can just wander around and inevitably find someplace amazing, or at least familiar if that's what you want. If you go to Napa, I don' think you'll be disappointed.

Oh, and by chance we stopped at Oxbow Public Market, which was a short walk from the hotel. Holy moly was that place cool! If you're looking for something to take home from Napa, definitely check this place out. They have vendors of every sort selling everything you could want: cupcakes, spices, cheeses, olive oils, sauces, and of course, wine! We holed up at the cheese store and a very knowledgeable girl gave us some samples based on what we said we liked, and we came home with some great cheese and bread for an afternoon appetizer. Loved it!

Have you ever been to Napa? Where did you go? What did you think?

Our next vacation is coming up after Easter: Monterey. You can bet we'll be doing some wine tasting there too!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dreary Winter Weather Calls For Comfort

I can't believe how far back I'm playing catchup with some of these recipes. I know there are some good recipes I'm missing out on posting about because I just can't remember making them, and I didn't get a picture to help me. I'll have to riffle through my mountain of printed recipes to see if I can find any gems. It definitely says nothing about the food if I can't remember it...just that I'm dumb and scatter-brained. Heh.

But one good thing comes from my delay, and that's the weather! When I first made this chicken and dumpling stew, courtesy of I made that!, it was cold and rainy and I was in dire need of some comfort food, and oh my did it ever fit the bill. I've actually made it twice already. But since then the weather warmed up and it looked as if our typical mild Southern California winter would pay us a visit. Nope. The East Coast is buried under snow, So Cal keeps getting hit with much needed rain, and six more weeks of winter are upon us. So it looks like the comfort food is still appropriate, no matter what the bright summer produce from Chile tries to convince me of otherwise.

I used chicken breasts (bone in) instead of thighs because I have an irrational aversion to chicken fat. I think it stems from my grandmother force feeding me KFC when I was a kid. Oh, and the chicken thighs they sell at the store are really fatty, if you didn't get the correlation there. I also punched up the vegetables a bit by adding carrots, celery, and frozen green beans, in addition to the peas called for. I also used 1% instead of whole milk. But otherwise I followed to recipe to a T, and it was delicious! It's creamy without being heavy, and the thyme, tarragon, and bay provide some great flavors. And the dumplings...oh the dumplings!

First off, I had never made chicken and dumplings before. So when I read the recipe I was a bit confused. I was supposed to drop the batter into the stew? No way! I closed my eyes, dropped the batter in, covered the pot and let it cook for the alloted time, and when I took the cover off, I was greeting by these huge, fluffy bits of heaven. Moist on the outside, dry and biscuity on the inside, and a great companion to the chicken pot pie flavors of the stew. Oh man, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Recipe: Roasted Tomato And Cauliflower Soup

Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to write down this recipe immediately after I made it because I cannot for the life of me remember making this soup. I mean, I remember roasting the tomatoes and eating it's deliciousness, but I don't remember the specifics. Heck, I forgot all about the cauliflower until I was uploading the photo to flickr! It's not that the soup wasn't wonderful. It was. I just have a problem with my memory. It's a hereditary thing. You should see my dad. I'm afraid it doesn't look good for me. But the first step in overcoming a problem is admitting you have one, right? I do. So I always write things down when I really want to remember them. So obviously, since I wrote this soup recipe down, I must have loved it! Which I did. I remember that.

I also remember that I am super proud of myself because I came up with this recipe all on my own! Ok, I am not the first person to roast a tomato before making a soup out of it. And I definitely read about doing just that eons ago. But I chose each ingredient myself and decided what to do with each ingredient myself. There was no recipe this was based on. It's 100% from me. Yay!

I love tomato soup. If the acidity from the tomatoes didn't send my heart into a burning rage I would eat it all the time, were it also not for that little thing called heavy cream. It's what makes tomato soup creamy and delicious. Without it, tomato soup is just not the same. Except I had this idea. What if I could make it thick and creamy without cream? Milk wouldn't do, too watery. Starchy potatoes are traditionally used to thicken soups, but I didn't want to replace cream with starch, and also, that would make it a totally different soup. And also, that just sounds weird. Then I remembered a few weeks prior I had roasted some cauliflower and pureed some of it so it was kind of a mashed potato consistency, but with a light as a feather and creamy taste. And I had an aha! moment. And my roasted tomato and cauliflower soup was born!

Don't do what I did and overdo it on the cayenne. It was all good because my husband loves spicy foods, and I do pretty well with them myself, but in the future I would make sure to add it in small amounts. A little goes a long way. The same goes for the garlic. I love garlic. Can't get enough. Husband loves it so much he can't even taste it in food anymore unless it's so overpowering it'll make your eyes water. Seriously, he's crazy. Anyway, I put the whole head of roasted garlic in. A head sounds like a lot but when you roast the garlic, the flavor actually mellows out and sweetens, so it's ok to add more than you would raw. That said, you still might not want the whole head. Maybe try just half and add more if you think you can handle it. And if you're like me, roast 2 heads, put one in the soup, and use the second to spread over some toast to eat while you're making the soup. Nom nom nom! Garrrrrrlic!

Roasted Tomato and Cauliflower Soup


3lb roma tomatoes
1 small head cauliflower
1 head garlic
1 medium onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (start with 1/8 tsp if you're very sensitive to heat)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 TB butter
1 TB flour
2 cups white wine (or broth)
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Half the tomatoes, lengthwise. Chop the cauliflower into florets. Arrange tomatoes, halved side up, and cauliflower in a roasting pan (I split the tomatoes into one roasting pan and the cauliflower in another, as the tomatoes hog all the room). Drizzle the tops of the tomatoes with olive oil, and sprinkle a little salt and pepper over each one. Do the same with the cauliflower, then toss to coat. Chop the top off of the garlic head, drizzle with olive oil, and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. When the oven is ready, put the tomatoes, cauliflower, and garlic into the oven. Let them roast and do their thing for about an hour. After 30-40 minutes, give the cauliflower a toss for even browning. They might need to come out before the hour is up if they look done before then (I say they're done when they have a nice brown to them, but before they start to burn, obviously). Once the tomatoes are done and cooled, remove the peels (they should come right off, or at least, come off in just a few pieces), but be careful not to squeeze out their juices. We want those!
  3. Once the stuff in the oven is finished, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a dutch oven or big soup pot over medium-high heat (I used medium, but my stove runs very hot). Add the onion and shallots and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the oregano, basil, cayenne, paprika, coriander, and salt and pepper. Stir and let cook for about 2 minutes. Clear a spot on the bottom of the pot and add the butter. When it is melted, add the flour, and gently combine them into a paste. Let this cook for a minute, then mix it all together. Add the roasted garlic by squeezing each clove to release the soft roasted goodness (only add as much garlic as you can handle). Add the wine (or stock if you're not a total lout like me) and deglaze (use a spoon to break up the cooked on delicious bits), let this mixture cook down for a few minutes.
  4. Once mixture has simmered a bit, add the roasted tomatoes and cauliflower. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes and bit and let this simmer together for a few more minutes. Then turn off the heat.
  5. Using a blender, food processor, or my weapon of choice, an immersion blender, puree the mixture until it has reached your desired consistency. If you want a thinner soup, you could add some more broth to thin it out. I like it thicker, myself.

I served the soup with some cracked wheat sourdough grilled cheese sandwiches. It tasted like gourmet comfort food. My favorite.

See, this is the problem with posting my food when I've already finished eating it. Now I want some of this soup and I have none! I might have to make more this weekend...

PS: If you've noticed how awesome my pictures have been looking lately. Err...well the lighting of them, anyway. It's because of my new light box! My sister gave it to me for Christmas/Chanukah this year and I was so excited when I opened it! Ask Husband. Well, he was out of town at the time, but I was completely ridiculous over the phone when I told him all about it. It's one of those things that I have wanted ever since I knew what I light box was (so like 6 months ago, heh), but that I figured I would never own because it was far to frivolous to buy for myself. And this is why my sister is awesome. Because she is so thoughtful with her presents. It makes me feel like she really knows me. Love you, sis!

Anyway, enough with the gushy stuff, this light box is portable, and it comes with a fold-able translucent white screen with a backdrop in grey or blue (it's reversible). It also comes with the two lights you see, and a tripod. The tripod is one meant for a table top, so I haven't had a chance to use it much. I think the next step here is going to be a full sized tripod because man do my arms shake! Hehe. I couldn't tell you what the brand is because I was too busy ripping it open, and I've since thrown away the box, but I would guess you could just do a google search for portable light box and come up with something similar. I really like the screens because you can set the lights outside the box and it defuses the light nicely so you don't end up with weird looking shiny dishes. Ya know?

You know the best thing about it? I can take pictures when it's dark out without my pictures looking all yellow and icky! That's partly thanks to my learning a few things about my camera (you can set the white balance, who knew?), and partly because I have this great light box! Hooray!