Gourmet Veggie Mama

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Antonelli’s and Jordan FTW!

I got to go to a wine and cheese tasting last night. It was amazing. Not only because I was sprung from the house on a weeknight to go do something grown-up,* but also because the wine and cheese, and especially the pairings, were amazing.

antonellis

* My undying thanks to the hubby for coming home early from work, feeding the little one dinner and putting her to bed… and not even acting like it was a big deal. He is a keeper.

The tasting was hosted by Antonelli’s, an awesome little cheese shop in Hyde Park, and the wines were provided (and mostly paired) by Jordan Winery. How did I get in on this awesome event? I got lucky… literally. The Austin Food Blogger Alliance opened this event to their members on a lottery basis, since there were a limited number of spots, and I was one of the lucky few.

I was psyched to see Elizabeth Van Huffel of Local Savour, Natalie Paramore of Food Fetish, Maggie Louise of Maggie Louise Bakes and Rob Moshein, The Austin Wine Guy (among others) at the event. I love being a part of the Austin food blogger community!

I had never had Jordan wines before last night, but I enjoyed them quite a lot. They pride their wines as more food-friendly than many California wines, and they seem to have hit the mark, judging in particular by how well the Cabernet Sauvignon — not typically seen as a cheese-friendly wine — played with the cheese selections.

cheese plate 2

And, oh, the cheese selections! Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Jordan only makes two wines — Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. The only white was a 2010 Chardonnay (its slightly older sister got some good press recently from California Chardonnay skeptic Jeremy Parzen), and it paired beautifully with a young (first of the season!) and creamy Ste Maure from one of my favorite local producers, Pure Luck Dairy, elevated further by the addition of a dab of lime marmalade.

The other three wines were all Cabernet Sauvignons (from 2009, 2008 and 2003), so we were treated to a vertical tasting. The 2009 paired nicely with Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, a cheese I am still dreaming about today (and, we were told, one of the only U.S. cheeses currently exported to France). I didn’t try the salumi, obvs, so I missed out on the full impact of the pairing, but that’s cool.

Next up was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, which, along with Onetik’s Ossau-Iraty (erotic cheese!) and a luscious strawberry jam from INNA Jam, was my favorite pairing of the evening. The fresh strawberry flavor really brought out the jaminess in the wine, and the cheese balanced it all out. Good stuff.

Last but not least came the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, paired with an aged Cabot Clothbound and a sublime 74% dark chocolate. I loved the wine — it was probably my stand-alone favorite of the evening. I was not a particular fan of the cheese on its own, and I was on the fence about the pairing until I tried it with the chocolate — and it worked! Shazam.

So, many, many thanks to Antonelli’s, Jordan and AFBA for making such a wonderful evening possible! One of these days, I hope to make it to one of Antonelli’s cheese classes, and I will totally make the drive to Hyde Park for all of my fancy-cheese needs from here on out. Specifically, I need to put in my order for some Ste Maure and Red Hawk, STAT!

From Gingerbread to Champagne

Merry belated Christmas to you and yours! I had best intentions to stick to a regular posting schedule, but that all went out the window as we bounced from family in town to our own little Christmas celebration. And, let me tell you, Christmas with a 2-year-old is fun, but it is also exhausting.

I made gingerbread the night before Christmas, so we’d have a special breakfast to munch on in the morning (and, let’s face it, a nice, warm snack that evening).

gingerbread

That’s tasty!

Although I recall my grandmother making a mean gingerbread, that recipe is likely lost to the ages, so I used the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated’s Baking Illustrated, and it was predictably delicious. Moist, dense but still fluffy, and nicely spiced. Next time I think I’ll add some crystallized ginger for more of a kick.

Today is Cocktail Thursday, and, alas, I seem to have lost track of my days in the holiday madness, so I don’t have a new cocktail for you this week. But, it also happens to be the Thursday before New Year’s Eve, so the natural choice is, of course, champagne. I’d never dream of drinking anything else on NYE!

Champagne

Cheers!

If you are in the market for a nice bottle of bubbly to celebrate, I humbly offer my two cents. Veuve Clicquot yellow label is a classic, and predictably good, but also predictably overpriced. In my opinion, it’s about a $30 bottle, so don’t spend much more than that on it. If you have a good wine shop nearby, you may be able to find a bottle of Egly-Ouriet Brut instead, which is a much better value with a similar taste profile. One of my favorite stateside choices for sparkling wine is Schramsberg’s Blanc de Noirs, which I was actually able to score at my local grocery store. Their J. Schram is also flipping fantastic, but more of a splurge.

As far as bang for buck goes, I recommend Chandon’s Blanc de Noirs,* which weighs in about around $20 a bottle. Pretty much all of J Vineyards‘ sparkling wines are brilliant, too.

* I can’t say the same for their more widely available sparklers, as I have never been more hung over in my life than the day after I finished the bar exam and enjoyed (maybe a bit too much) of their Blanc de Blancs. But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m not yet sure what we’ll be toasting with this New Year’s Eve, but you can bet it’ll be one of those bottles.

What are your plans this NYE? Are you planning to crack open a special bottle?

Rosé sangria

I love a nice glass of rosé on a hot summer night. However, like most wine snobs, I am really picky about my rosés. I love love love Sokol Blosser’s Rosé of Pinot Noir, which they release every spring, and Riverbench does a nice pinot rosé, too, but please, for goodness sake, don’t offer me a glass of White Zinfandel. Blech.

Until we put in a couple of case orders from our favorite wineries, though, we were stuck with a grocery store selection, and hubby came home with a bottle a while back that I turned my nose up at. We compromised by making sangria out of it.

That’ll do.

What a compromise it was. It was the perfect pre-dinner drink to enjoy out on the back porch with our guests while dinner was on the grill. Cheers to the official start of summer!

Rose Sangria

1 bottle of rosé wine*
12 oz sparkling water
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1 peach, sliced
juice of one orange
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher with ice. Stir well and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour before serving. Enjoy!

* It should be drinkable, but not too expensive. Just don’t go with terribly cheap swill.

Oasis in the desert

We just finished a weekend with our friends Bob and Leslie, who have a vacation home in La Quinta (near Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley). Not only do they have a beautiful home with plenty of room for the three of us to stay, they share our taste for good food and good wine, and they are pretty much the best hosts I have ever met. The wine is always flowing, they are both fantastic cooks (who don’t mind accommodating my vegetarian preferences), and there is a hot tub and pool in the back yard. What more could you want?

After two days on the road, this visit was just what we needed. We put Nora to bed* the first night and then sipped wine and munched on olives, almonds, and a cheese plate while Bob and Leslie cooked.

*In her travel crib in a walk-in closet. It was dark and cozy, and insulated from noise.  I am a good parent, I promise!

Nibbles.

I offered to help several times, but was told, basically, to fill up my wine glass and shut it, so that worked for me!

Don't mind if I do.

Dinner that first night was Eggplant Marrakech, made using a recipe from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. It was phenomenal. Bob added some roasted spicy peppers (grown right there in his yard, no less), and the heat was the perfect counterbalance to the sweetness added by the raisins.

Sweet and spicy.

The second evening, after a busy day of sightseeing and lounging by the pool while the little one napped, we grilled pizzas for dinner. My favorite combination was the mushroom, olive, and tomato with mozzarella, but the prettiest entry (which was also very tasty) was the fennel, mushroom, pesto, and goat cheese pizza.

Gorgeous noms.

On Sunday morning before we left, they bid us bon voyage with a Cretan cauliflower omelet from a cookbook they picked up on their recent trip to Greece. It was delicious. Plus, we even left with cuttings from Bob’s fig trees to start in Texas, and some of Leslie’s homemade jams.

Lovely parting gifts.

This was a bittersweet visit for us, since Bob and Leslie embody pretty much everything we’ve loved about living in California. The wine, the food, the gardening… that’s pretty much the California lifestyle, to me. Ah, well. Hopefully we can do some California livin’ in Texas!

Our last First Friday

Now it’s time for me to wax nostalgic about Ridge, our favorite winery. It’s also a local winery, since they are only 15 minutes away from us* up in the Cupertino foothills.

*From where we used to live… *sniff*

First Friday lineup.

We are members of their ATP Club, so we’re often seen at Ridge’s First Friday events, tasting some spectacular wines and sampling whatever Christopher has cooked up, which this month was a fabulous Toasted Sesame Oil-Basted Grilled Tempeh topped with Tahini-Tamari Sauce.

Umami!

The tempeh paired so well with the wines, and the sauce was a little bit of heaven. I’m not usually a big fan of “fake meat,” but this was so good I just may have to try it myself soon.

This was the last First Friday we’ll be able to just drive up the road to attend, and that makes me more than a little sad. Not only do they make fantastic wines, but the Monte Bello tasting room is situated in a jaw-droppingly beautiful spot.

What? Am I in your way or something?

The folks in the tasting room are all extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and they have really created a nice little community of wine lovers here. I will miss that a lot. But, at least we’ll still get our wine shipments in Texas. Now I just have to talk to Christopher about how he’s going to get me samples of each month’s culinary offering…

Wine tasting… with a toddler

This weekend, we drove up to Sonoma County to do some wine tasting with friends of ours. It was a fantastic, though exhausting, trip. We hit up Rodney Strong and J Vineyards, picnicked at Mauritson, swung by Truett Hurst (where there was another couple with an adorable 11-month-old whom one woman mistook for Nora’s twin!), and wrapped up the day at Ridge Lytton Springs.

One thing I can definitely tell you: Wine tasting with a toddler is a whole different ballgame than wine tasting with a baby. Sometimes I long for the good ol’ days when Nora was a month old and just slept in the sling while we tasted. Not really, because having a toddler is tons of fun, but man oh man do they ever require constant attention and stimulation.

Experienced wine snob.

Wine tasting with a toddler in tow is nothing if not an exercise in patience. Unsurprisingly, toddlers are not very interested in the wine tasting experience. Well… that’s not strictly true. If I’d let her, Nora would certainly take my wine glass from me, but somehow I don’t think that’s a good idea. Let’s just say that what’s on the agenda at a wine tasting — a lot of standing around (standing still, even!) and sipping and chatting politely without exploring anything — is not a toddler’s idea of a ton of fun.

The only way to get through it successfully, I think, is to tag-team. The hubby and I have taken to sharing a tasting so that one of us can enjoy the wine and talk with friends while the other accompanies our intrepid explorer on her adventures. Then we switch off. At the least sign of fussiness, we head outdoors, since we certainly don’t want to disturb anyone else’s child-free tasting experience.

Most of the time, given enough entertainment, Nora is content to stay with us inside the tasting room, do some well-supervised exploring, and flirt with the other patrons. Thankfully, wineries tend to have lovely grounds to explore, too, so our nature girl is happy either way. And that makes Mommy and Daddy happy, too.

Mushroom ragout

After venturing into the crawl space under our house (which serves as an additional wine cellar for us*) to pull out the wines to be drunk in 2012, the hubby was all excited to crack open a bottle of Ridge 2003 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

*I realize that this is totally ghetto, but we have a wine buying habit with which our storage space just can’t keep up. We tested the temperature during the hottest part of the summer, and it stays cool down there, so why not?

In honor of the occasion, I set off on a search to come up with a vegetarian dish that would pair well with the wine. I found it in a recipe for wild mushroom ragout (which I was easily able to vegetarian-ize) that I served over slices of fried quinoa polenta with a salad. It was excellent, and the pairing was amazing.

Good stuff.

The hubby pronounced it “grand,” so I know it was a hit. The original recipe says it freezes well for later use, so this is something I will definitely make again in a bigger batch.

Wild Mushroom Ragout
Based on this recipe

1 lb mixed fresh wild mushrooms**
1 Tbs unsalted butter
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp Better Than Boullion mushroom base (optional)
1/3 cup cream
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 Tbsp chopped chives

Trim the mushrooms, reserving the stems for another use.*** Slice the larger caps and leave smaller caps intact.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Add the stock and cook for about 5 more minutes. Stir in the mushroom base, if using, and cream, and cook until it starts to thicken, about 5-7 minutes. Add thyme and chives, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over polenta or pasta, finishing off with a light dusting of grated parmesan or gruyère.

** I used an 8-oz “Chef’s Sampler” pack of gourmet mushrooms, supplemented with sliced cremini mushrooms.

*** I’m saving mine for either a small batch of mushroom stock, or to throw into vegetable stock (where it adds a nice depth of flavor).

Thanksgiving post-mortem

It was a lovely Thanksgiving this year. We had dinner with friends, and I contributed some sides and pies, which are my favorite parts anyway, so I was happy as a clam. Nora had tons of fun playing with our friends’ little girl and climbing their stairs over and over until an old baby gate was located and put into use. Fun times!

The short of it:

Pie crusts attempted: 3

Pie crusts completed successfully: 2 (including one brought back from the brink of ruin)

New favorite recipes: at least 2 (spiced cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie)

Old favorites I’ll never give up: 2 (green bean casserole and sweet potatoes with marshmallows)

Things I’m thankful for: too many to count

I’ll be back with the long version (and some recipes!) later, but we spent most of today wine tasting in Carmel Valley,* and I am due to go collapse on the couch soon… but not before I eat my fill of leftovers!

* An excellent alternative to the traditional Black Friday madness.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Race report, and wine (of course)

Ahhh… it’s good to be home. I was in Healdsburg this weekend, running the Wine Country Half Marathon with my BFF Kori, drinking lots and lots of wine, and kicking back and relaxing (well, as much as that’s actually possible when traveling with an almost 11-month-old!).

The race was great. It was frigid when we started in the early morning, but once the run was really underway, the weather was perfect. The scenery was gorgeous, of course.

Welcome to paradise.

Other than a stretch at the end along Dry Creek Road, where the road was winding and very slanted at times, the course was great. There were some nice rolling hills, but nothing too nasty. Unfortunately Kori and I lost each other pretty near the starting line, but we hadn’t planned to run together, so it was okay. It was fun spotting people in costumes. The clear crowd favorite was Gumby, but the wine bottle and grapes, the zebras (and their dog), the vikings, and the devil girls were pretty good, too.

I felt good, despite a pretty nice day of wine tasting the day before,* a not-so-great night’s sleep (not Nora’s fault at all, but the fault of our upstairs neighbors), and not really hydrating properly. Glad I didn’t pay too much for my indulgences! I did carry some water to make sure I got enough to drink during the race, at least, and that and regular consumption of Luna Moons was enough to keep me going strong.

* We hit up Martin Ray Winery (for a picnic lunch), J (awesome, awesome pinot noirs and sparkling wines), Stephen & Walker, and the La Crema tasting room in downtown Healdsburg. Not bad for a half day with a baby — I’m proud of us!

The mats at the start line apparently malfunctioned, which is a huge bummer, because no chip times are available. My clock time was 2:14:59, and my Garmin said 2:13:22. In either case, it’s no PR, but I’m still fine with it, especially since I didn’t head into training for this race with anything in mind but finishing with my health and sanity intact and running a fun race with my friend.

Kori ran an awesome race, despite the recent challenges she’s faced (shin pain, a bad cold, and asthma, plus a huge blister developing on the bottom of her foot halfway through the race). She finished strong, and I was able to run it in with her, which was so much fun.

Finished. Bring on the wine!

After rehydrating and grabbing some snacks, we met the rest of our crew and headed back to the B&B, where we showered and freshened up while the boys grabbed us a lovely picnic lunch from Oakville Grocery. Never has a fresh mozzarella and veggie sandwich tasted sooooo good.

After Nora’s afternoon nap (and mine!) we stopped by the finishers’ party at Clos du Bois and did some wine tasting, and then headed back to the B&B for wine hour on the patio.

Kori and I had a girls’ night out that evening, and the tapas, wine flights and dessert at Affronti were just what the doctor ordered. That, plus getting some one-on-one time to reconnect with my friend, made it an amazing evening. We stumbled back to the B&B, and I was dead asleep by 9:30 or so. Bliss.

On Sunday, we hung out around the B&B, and had breakfast with just the adults while Nora napped. Don’t worry, we checked in on her several times, but she blissfully snoozed the whole time! We stayed at Haydon Street Inn, and the Sunday brunch was fabulous. The main course was eggs benedict, but they had no problem accommodating me with a vegetarian version. It was just the regular dish minus the meat, which was fine, but I wouldn’t have minded some spinach or something else to substitute. Regardless, it was a lovely meal, from mimosas (delightfully garnished with a raspberry) on through.

After breakfast, we started our day of tasting at Truett Hurst Winery, which was a great find. Not only are the wines good (and not too pricey) and the people genuinely nice, but they have enormous grounds with grazing sheep, organic gardens, and a path down to the stream where salmon run. Nora loved it, and so did the grown-ups!

Then we headed down the road to Mazzocco Vineyards, which both Kori and I had spied the day before on the race route. It’s an interesting building, but it also had top-notch reviews, so we decided to give it a try. We were not disappointed. Their zinfandels were amazing, each one more rich and complex than the next. I don’t know how many wines we tasted, but let’s just say I probably ended up drinking most of the calories I had burned the previous day!

Just across the road was Ridge Lytton Springs, which is a favorite of ours. They recently renovated their outdoor patio to transform it into a wonderful tasting space with plenty of room for a picnic lunch, so we enjoyed our tasting al fresco, along with some fabulous cheeses, olives, and assorted what-have-you. It was great, but it ended too soon, as it was time for us to head home before we knew it.

It was such a wonderful weekend, and I was so sad for it to end. I had so much fun reconnecting with my friend (who was spending her first weekend with her husband sans kids in almost 7 years!) and running a really great race. I may not be Paula Radcliffe, but less than a year after having a baby, I can put up a pretty respectable time in a half marathon, and that feels pretty good.

We returned home exhausted, but it was well worth it. What a weekend!

Road trip!

Yesterday, we packed up the family and took a trip up to Tomales Bay to see our good friends Sharon and Aren. The better half has wanted to go up there for the famous oysters for a while now, and Sharon and Aren hadn’t seen Nora since she was a newborn, so it was time! Although it’s a somewhat inconvenient spot for all of us, it was well worth the trip.

We made it!

The oysters were awesome. As I mentioned the other day, they’re not vegetarian, but I feel okay about eating them anyway.

We went to The Marshall Store, which is pretty much literally a shack by the side of the road. If you sit outside, you can also BYOB, which I didn’t know, but if we go back, I will definitely be bringing a bottle of bubbly like the ladies sitting next to us did! In any case, we contented ourselves with some beers to go with our oysters — raw, barbecued and Rockefeller (although not for me, since they have bacon).

Worth the drive.

I wish I’d gotten a picture of the barbecued oysters, but I was too busy eating them. They were ah-MAY-zing.

The setting, off Highway 1 right on the edge of Tomales Bay, was beautiful. We caught up with our friends while enjoying the fare, and Nora nommed some sliced apples, freeze-dried blueberries, a couple of bread crusts and a bit of yogurt.

Al fresco dining.

She was an absolute trooper — I was so proud! We even got caught in a little bit of a downpour during the meal (crazy) and it didn’t faze her at all. Unfortunately she couldn’t sample the oysters (no shellfish before a year old, per our pediatrician), but the rest of us were well pleased.

After a quick stop at Point Reyes Vineyards for a little wine tasting on the way out, we headed home, where we all pretty much collapsed. It was quite a day, but well worth it!

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