Archive for January, 2008

Kitchens, Journals, and Pies…Oh my!

Many people enjoy browsing through cookbooks at the end of the day, preferring a few moments of culinary immersion before drifting off into sweet slumber. Unfortunately I have never been one of those people. Picking up any book at bedtime usually lasts only a few minutes before I yawn widely, close both my book and my eyes, and settle dreamily into my pillow.

But lately I’ve been staying awake a little longer. For the past few weeks Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries has provided me with pages of food-related comfort before turning off the bedside lamp.

Nigel Slater is an English food writer who favors a simple, straightforward style of cooking. The Kitchen Diaries, published in 2006, is basically a chronicle of what he cooked and ate for a year. Casual recipes favor a bunch of this and a knob of that instead of absolute, rigorous measurements, and are interlaced with the author’s observations on cooking, fresh produce, and daily cravings.

The book is broken down into months and days, providing an intimate look at Slater’s natural, understated approach to food. Lush photography of his seasonal and rustic dishes printed on off-white, uncoated paper contributes to the well-crafted and personal feel of the book. At night I find myself paging through the photographs, enjoying the almost-finished chocolate almond cake on one page, and the gorgeous roasted pumpkin with spicy tomato sauce on another.

End of Summer Peach Tart

I’m barely a third of the way through the book (I reached the month of April last night), so I feel a little strange writing about it now. But I imagine it will reside on my nightstand for some time as I read a few pages here and there. I’ve posted a photo of a free-form peach tart I made over the summer; I never wrote about it because I was embarrassed by its burned edges and lopsided folds of dough. But six months later, I still find myself thinking of those peaches baked at the height of the summer season, paired with one of my first homemade pie crusts. It was a simple and honest little pie. I think Nigel Slater would approve.

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Cook’s Illustrated’s Ricotta Gnocchi

Ricotta Gnocchi DoughRolling the dough for ricotta gnocchiCutting the ricotta gnocchi doughRicotta gnocchi

I’ll admit it, I’m pretty self-centered at times. Just look at this blog, where I write about what I’ve been cooking, what I’ve been eating. Me, me, me.

But Jim, my culinary sidekick–and husband–is a pretty darn good cook as well. And this weekend he took charge in the kitchen, making Cook’s Illustrated’s ricotta gnocchi from the September/October 2007 issue.

As you may remember, Jim’s grandmother makes her own amazing potato gnocchi. During his most recent trip to Pittsburgh, Jim spent the afternoon making them with her. He learned how to recognize when the dough is ready, how to roll it out and cut the gnocchi, and why it’s necessary to indent each small piece with a fork (to create grooves for the sauce, of course).

But potato gnocchi are hearty, and we were in the mood for a light dinner. We thought back to Cook’s recipe for ricotta gnocchi, which we had always wanted to try, and which promised an airy version of the Italian dumplings we craved.

The secret to this recipe is twofold. First the ricotta is drained for an hour in the fridge. Then homemade breadcrumbs bind an egg, fresh herbs, flour, ricotta, and parmesan cheese together to create the dough. With both of these steps, less flour is needed in the dough mixture, resulting in a lighter dish.

Instead of supermarket ricotta, Jim bought fresh ricotta from Caputo’s, our Italian gourmet market. The fresh cheese was less watery than its packaged counterpart, and much more creamy and delicious. I’m still spreading the leftover cheese onto crusty bread for a quick snack; I can’t stop. Oh wait, I forgot, we’re not supposed to be talking about me.

Then, with moves that would make his grandmother proud, Jim went to work while I chopped the parsley and basil. While assembling the dough, Jim asserted that because we had medium eggs on hand, we would need to add 2 in order to equal the 1 large egg required for the recipe. Any deviation from Cook’s Illustrated usually fills me with anxiety, but I let the Gnocchi Whisperer do his thing.

After the dough rested in the fridge for 15 minutes, Jim rolled it out in sections, starting from the middle and gradually lengthening the roll down the counter. Then he cut it into small, delicate squares. We cooked them in boiling water for a few minutes, topped them with a simple tomato sauce, and took a bite.

Ricotto Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce

The gnocchi were light, airy, and full of fresh herb flavor. The basic tomato sauce I made earlier in the day gently accompanied the small bites of dough, never overpowering the dish’s delicate nature. And for a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, the process was pretty painless. But maybe I’m just saying that because Jim did all the work. I can’t wait until he makes them for me again. It really is all about me.

(Unfortunately I cannot link directly to the recipes on the Cook’s Illustrated website; you have to be a member of the website to see them.)

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Wine Tasting in Sonoma: Bartholomew Park Winery

Sonoma Landscape

 

Days before our olive oil and wine tastings in Paso Robles, and way before that lunch at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, we spent a day wine tasting in Sonoma with Jim’s parents. Our West Coast trip had begun in San Jose, where we had all convened to celebrate the holidays with my sister-in-law and her family. But somehow, even after two days of wonderful food and wine, we still had room for more. So the day after Christmas we hopped in our rental car and drove out to wine country.

After a two-hour, sometimes-scenic drive, we made our first stop at Sebastiani Winery and its impressive tasting room near the center of town. But then we drove down a rustic, tree-lined road to Bartholomew Park.

With its gorgeous grounds, simple tasting room, and knowledgeable staff, Bartholomew Park Winery won us over even before we tried their 2004 Kaspar Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. But peppers sealed the deal. After smelling this wine, I expected fresh green peppers to come pouring out of the bottle–the aroma was that strong. Their flavor in the wine was more subtle but surprisingly enjoyable.

Bartholomew Park’s property has quite an eclectic history. It’s all on their website, but it’s interesting to know that for a period of time starting in 1920 the land hosted a State Farm for Delinquent Women, housing prostitutes, drug addicts, and “wild women.” Long after this excitement (and much more), Bartholomew Park Winery was officially founded by the Bundschu family in 1994. They focus on small batches of handcrafted wines, all of which are available only at the winery and through their wine club.

We did some more driving and wine tasting that day, even going all the way up to Healdsburg to explore their wineries. But we kept talking and thinking about Bartholomew Park. It was those peppers; we just couldn’t forget those peppers.

Bartholomew Park Winery, 1000 Vineyard Lane, Sonoma T: 707-935-9511

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Pasolivo Olive Oil

Pasolivo’s Tasting Room, Paso Robles, California

 

Joshua Yaguda, Pasolivo’s olive miller, stood in the middle of the press room hosing down the Pieralisi olive mill. We turned our heads with the rest of the tour group as a small voice, with an accompanying echo, came from inside the tall steel vat to our left.

“Oh, that’s just my daughter Veda,” said Joshua. We joined in the laughter as little Veda gaily greeted us from inside the vat, where she was helping her dad with the cleaning. I’m still wondering what she found in there.

It’s this family-centric attitude that makes Pasolivo, and most of Paso Robles’s small, family-owned wineries, so unique. Pasolivo is operated and owned by Karen Guth; her son Yaguda and his family also run the ranch with her. Over 45 acres of Tuscan olives are hand-picked on the ranch at harvest time in order to prevent bruising and maintain the highest quality for their extra virgin, award-winning oils.

Oh yes, the olive oils. We tried several of them that day: the 3-month old “olio nuovo,” and the Meyer lemon, lime, and tangerine varieties. Rustic bread dipped in olive oil and then topped with coarse salt combined to refresh our palates. All thoughts of the Cabernet and Syrah we had tasted just minutes earlier on our wine tasting trail were forgotten, and we left with a bottle of the Meyer lemon oil, our favorite from the tasting.

In an attempt to recapture those sunny days on California’s Central Coast, I’ve used the lemon oil in almost every meal we’ve cooked since returning to dreary, wintery Brooklyn. On the suggestion of Joeli Yaguda, Joshua’s wife and Pasolivo’s sales and marketing manager, I covered a chicken in the citrus oil and roasted it to create a juicy and flavorful meal. The oil has also brightened up several salads, and last night we brushed it on some grey sole baked with garlic and breadcrumbs.

And that’s how we’re keeping our Paso Robles vacation alive: some Pasolivo olive oil on our salads, a glass of Hansen Vineyards Cabernet with our dinner. I just don’t know what we’ll do when we run out of wine. 

Pasolivo Olive Oil, 8530 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles T: 805-227-0186

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Wine Tasting in Paso Robles

The winding roads, sun-stroked hills, and draping tree branches of Paso Robles, California, were just as I remembered from our first visit a year and a half ago. I relaxed in the car’s passenger seat, taking in the scene while Jim navigated us around one of our now-favorite destinations. But in addition to viewing the area’s natural beauty, we had another agenda for our trip: wine tasting.

Paso Robles Landscape

 

Paso Robles’s warm days and cool nights encourage the production of a wide variety of excellent wines, including Cabernet, Syrah, Viognier, and of course Zinfandel. (We’re not big fans of Zin, but the area is very well-known for them.) As the reputation of the local wines has grown, so has the number of wineries dotting the landscape. During our first trip we explored several of Paso’s family-owned vineyards and chatted with their friendly, passionate winemakers. This year we returned to visit old favorites as well as wineries we missed the first time around. Here are some of the standouts, all of which produce both red and white wines:

Adelaida Cellars: As soon as we arrived in Paso we drove straight to Adelaida. Their vines grow in the limestone soil of the Santa Lucia Mountains, imbuing Adelaida’s vintages with bold flavors and minerality; the winery is actually located at an elevation of 1,800 feet. Picnic tables overlooking the panorama supply the perfect spot for outdoor tastings. Upon entering the small, unassuming tasting room, we were happy to see staff members we met during our first visit. Favorites from our tasting included the Viognier Glenrose Vineyard from 2005, a tart, clean white wine with hints of grapefruit, and the fruity Rhône Style Red from 2004. 5805 Adelaida Road T: 800-676-1232

Hansen Vineyards: A leisurely scenic drive towards Templeton led us to Hansen Vineyards, where the gregarious owner was holding court in the rustic tasting room. We had arrived on a lark, looking to buy a bottle of wine for a friend with the same last name as the winery, but we wound up being pleasantly surprised by Hansen’s strong, peppery Cabernet Sauvignons. After a lively discussion with the owner over which vintage we preferred, Jim selected the 2004. We ended our visit with a picnic lunch in the winery’s sunny yard, and then moved on to our next stop. 5575 El Pomar Drive, Templeton T: 805-226-9023

Maloy O’Neill Vineyards in Paso Robles

 

Maloy O’Neill Vineyards: We visited this small, family-owned vineyard after several disappointing stops at larger wineries along busy route 46E. While Maloy O’Neill has been growing grapes since 1980, the actual winery has been open for only 2 years. Concentrating on handcrafted quality, Maloy O’Neill sells 35 different wines, mostly blends, and makes very small quantities of about 200 cases each. Most can only be bought at the winery or through their wine club. Among the many interesting wines on their list were a 2004 Malbec, an unusual wine varietal for Paso Robles, and the 2005 Enzo, which utilizes a grape called Lagrein, originally found in Northern Italy. 5725 Union Road T: 805-238-7320

Tablas Creek Vineyard: Robert Haas partnered with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in France to create Tablas Creek, one of Paso Robles’s best-known wineries. It specializes in estate-grown, Rhône style blends, focusing on the Châteauneuf-du-Pape style. During our first visit to Tablas Creek a year and a half ago I discovered my love for Mourvèdre. Mourvèdre is a meaty, fruity grape often used in blends with other grapes such as Grenache and Syrah. And even though Tablas Creek uses it often in their blended wines, they also produce a 100% Mourvèdre, which I especially enjoy. 9339 Adelaida Road T: 805-238-2083

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