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St. Clair Brown Winery

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I have been meaning to post about my favorite neighborhood spot, St. Clair Brown Winery, for a long time. To be honest, I think I was putting it off because I’m afraid of the place getting over-crowded. But I can’t hold back my love any longer; people must know about this local winery and test kitchen. If you’re anything like me, you will join the membership after your second or third visit – which will most likely be in the span of one week.

My first visit to St. Clair Brown took place before I even moved to Downtown Napa. I was taking measurements at my now apartment with Whitey, and we ventured three blocks down the street for some lunch and wine. I had heard about St Clair Brown from another friend a few days prior, so I was more than excited when I realized it was a mere five minute walk from my apartment. We feasted on a delicious lunch of farro salad, hummus, Burrata with strawberries, and of course, Rosé. I was hooked.

Garden

Owners Laina Brown and Elaine St. Clair have built an extensive garden in front of the property, leading back to a patio adorned with umbrellas and strings of small lights, then opens up into the greenhouse-like kitchen with windows for walls. The inviting space can seat up to 30 on the patio, and another 8 or so inside. On a hot day the umbrellas are a welcome accessory, but at sunset the sky fills with pink clouds and makes a beautiful backdrop to the twinkling lights. But it’s the garden that plays the biggest role in this winery and test kitchen.

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kitchen

The garden features seasonal and year-round greens, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. The majority of the menu is vegetarian and is sourced from the garden, and you can even pick which greens are used in your order, such as the farro salad – one of my favorite items on the menu (for obvious reasons). The rest of the menu components are purchased from local purveyors and combined with items from the garden to give it a true farm-to-fork feeling.

hummus

farro salad

I’ve ordered the hummus nearly every time that I’ve visited, and I now have a hard time eating any other kind of hummus. They blend peanuts into it to give it a nutty flavor, and top it with a layer of lemon-infused olive oil, then serve it with a Model Bakery sliced baguette. Chef Norma Whitt has also created a seasonal Burrata dish (so far I’ve seen it served with fresh strawberries, tomatoes, or orange and fennel), as well as a pork rillette with apricot chutney. Naturally, the menu features seasonal produce, so I have been enjoying bowls of their gazpacho the past few weeks but I am excited to see the debut of autumnal dishes in the coming month.

Chardonnay

And let’s not forget about the most important part of St. Clair Brown: the wines. Winemaker Elaine St. Clair has strong relationships with several independent growers throughout the valley, so she is able to source small, high-quality vineyard lots from Oak Knoll, Coombsville and other areas of Napa Valley. The portfolio includes Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a sweet Muscat. My favorites are the Rosé (which is currently sold out), the Syrah and the Chardonnay. Admitedly, I wasn’t a fan of the Chardonnay when I first tasted it but it’s since grown on me and become one of my go-to selections.

The wine and food at St. Clair Brown is unique and delicious, but it’s the friendly staff that really makes the experience special. They make you feel like you are in your backyard, enjoying a home cooked meal with a glass of your favorite wine. And now that I am a club member, I can take advantage of my perks (free glass of wine, 10% discount on all menu items) every time I visit, and especially on Tuesday’s Locals Night when all glasses of wine are half off.

Sunset at St Clair Brown

This space is a preview of what is to come. Elaine and Laina are working to open a full service restaurant, brewery and winery across the street in their warehouse space in the next couple of years. In the meantime, if you find yourself in the area and you’re looking for a lunch-wine tasting combo, this is your spot. It won’t break the bank, it’s down to earth with healthy, fresh food that will fill you up without giving you that after-lunch wine-induced sleepiness. And if you’re a local, be sure to check them out on Tuesday night. You will probably see me there.

Pesto + Farro

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I wasn’t going to post this recipe, since it was sort of just a scrambling together of the last of my summer ingredients (similar to last week’s post). But after sharing the photo below on social media, I had some requests for the recipe – and I would hate to disappoint my loyal readers – so here it is!

farro

Pesto Farro with Roasted Tomatoes and Shrimp (serves 3-4)

  • 1 TB olive olive oil, plus 1 tsp
  • 2 large garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (I used vine-ripened and cherry)
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup homemade pesto, plus 1 TB
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, julienned
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan fit with a lid, heat 1 TB olive oil over a medium flame. Once hot, add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, then add chopped tomatoes. Toss tomatoes then cover and reduce heat to medium-low, cooking for 20-30 minutes or until tomatoes have released enough juice to create a sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare farro. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tsp olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add farro and toast for about 3 minutes, then add chicken broth and water and bring to a boil, cooking for 8 minutes or until farro has reached a desired consistency. Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of the broth and set aside. In the empty pot, add 1/2 cup of the pesto and 1/2 a cup of the reserved broth; stir to combine into a sauce. Add the farro back into the pot and stir to coat.

Add the rest of the pasta water to the pan of tomatoes. Coat shrimp with remaining TB of pesto, then add to the pan with the fresh basil. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and cooked through. Add farro to the pan and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve with shaved Parmesan cheese.

I took a much-needed break from alcohol last night after my gluttonous reunion with my brother this past weekend in Fort Collins, CO (which, by the way, is an excellent town for beer aficionados, but also very cocktail and foodie friendly). If you’re looking for a proper pairing, try an acidic white like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. You could also pair it with a light red such as a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir or Carneros Merlot.

Fresh Leftover Pizza

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It’s beginning to be my favorite food time of the year, filled with persimmons, pomegranate, squash and apples. I officially welcomed fall when I made a big pot of chili last Sunday, despite the fact that it was a hot Indian summer night (and I followed up my two bowls of chili with a walk to a gelato shop). Quite fittingly, today was cold and rainy and I said goodbye to summer by finishing the last of my home-canned heirloom tomato sauce. I also had to get rid of some hot and sweet peppers that had been in my fridge for a while, and I remembered that I had some mozzarella cheese leftover from when I made lasagna. So of course, it had to be a pizza night.

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Saucy Pizza with Hot Peppers and Sausage 

  • 1 pizza crustpeppers
  • 1 cup homemade tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 1/3 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4-5 small peppers, sweet and spicy
  • 2 TB shaved parmesan
  • dried oregano
  • fresh basil

My neighbor (who shall be known as Jimmy from this point forth) introduced me to TJ’s par-baked organic pizza crusts, which are an okay substitution for my sorely missed Giorgio’s rolled-out doughs. They come with two per package, and can be found in the freezer-section of TJ’s near the other pizzas. These are perfect for a night when you just need to throw some leftovers on a pizza, which is exactly what I did!

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and place a baking sheet in the oven to get hot. Meanwhile, brown sausage in a nonstick skillet for about 8 minutes. Drain the oil, wipe out the pan with a paper towel, then coat with a thin layer of cooking spray. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, then add peppers and continue to sauté over a medium flame for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

sausage

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Remove baking pan from oven and cover with parchment paper, then place dough on top of paper. Top pizza dough with tomato sauce, then mozzarella and Gruyère. Add onions and peppers, then sausage, and top with shaved parmesan and a sprinkle of dried oregano. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove and let cool for 3-5 minutes before cutting. Top with fresh basil and enjoy!

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Between the sausage and the hot peppers, this pizza was pretty damn spicy! It called for a fruity yet powerful Zinfandel, like the 2011 Seghesio Old Vine or the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs – both from vines that are 90-100 years old in Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. These wines exhibit red fruit with spicy pepper and sweet, firm tannins, and stand up well to spicy, Italian food.

Jambalaya

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Every time I hear the word “jambalaya” I think of Newman and the Soup Nazi and I giggle a little. So when Miriam called me at work last week to tell me that she was craving Jambalaya, I suggested we whip up a batch at my place to kick off the weekend – after responding with the Newman voice, of course. So Miriam came over on Friday and we got to cooking a big pot of Jambalaya, influenced by a campsite recipe I found on BonAppetit.com. It’s actually a very easy dish to make, provided that you have a large pot and someone to help you with prep.

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One pot Jambalaya

 

Jambalaya (serves 6)

Mema's salt-free Cajun seasoning - this made the dish!

Mema’s salt-free Cajun seasoning – this made the dish!1  1  1  

  • 2 TB vegetable oil
  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 sweet red peppers (or 1 red bell pepper), chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, some halved, some whole
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 2 TB Creole seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¾ pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 2 TB parsley, finely chopped

In a large, deep skillet, heat vegetable oil over a medium-high flame. Add chicken and andouille, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add onion, peppers, celery and garlic and continue to sauté until vegetables are softened. Add tomato paste and stir for two minutes.

Miriam as a stellar sous chef.

Miriam as a stellar sous chef.

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Deglaze the pan with the wine, scrapping up the browned bits on the bottom. Add the tomatoes; we improvised here and used some whole Sun Gold tomatoes and small heirlooms chopped into eighths.

Add rice, Cajun seasoning, and bay leaves and stir to combine. I used my Mema’s salt-free homemade Cajun seasoning that she gave me last year. You can also buy Cajun seasoning at most large grocery stores.

Rice, cajun seasoning and bay leaves.

Rice, cajun seasoning and bay leaves.

Using wine to deglaze the pan.

Using wine to deglaze the pan.

Finally, add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes, or until rice has absorbed almost all the liquid. Add the shrimp and cover the pot, cooking for 7-8 minutes or until shrimp are pink. Serve in shallow bowls and top with parsley.

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IMG_9258My friend and colleague – who shall be known as Coco from this point forth – brought a Syrah from a winemaking friend in Paso Robles, while Kitty shared a 2011 Morrito Pinot Noir from Chamisal Vineyards in Edna Valley. Both wines paired excellently with the spicy, smokey Jambalaya, but I preferred the Pinot Noir because it added some lightness to the meal. If you’re in the mood for white, this dish would also pair well with a Viognier or Albarino – something light and crisp to combat the heat.

We had a lot of leftovers to spread around. I ate mine for breakfast the next day with a fried egg on top. Yum!

Guilt-Free Full Flavor Lasagna

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I looooooove pasta. So. Much. But I know it’s not something I can eat all the time, so I love finding tasty, healthy substitutes. Which is why I was thrilled when I stumbled upon Skinnytaste’s Zucchini Lasagna! I love this recipe because it makes use of my mandoline, it calls for beef (which you rarely see in “skinny” recipes), and it’s way easier than most lasagnas. And best of all, it has great flavor. The original recipe made 8 servings, but since I was just cooking for myself I halved it, and I also added some sweet Italian peppers and extra seasoning.

photo 4

Zucchini Lasagna (serves 4)

  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 sweet Italian peppers (or 1/2 red bell pepper), diced
  • 1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 basil leaves, julienned
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 large zucchini
  • cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 TB grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup shredded low moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese

Heat a large, deep pan fit with a lid over a medium-high flame. Add ground beef and cook until browned, about 7 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside, then wipe down the pan with a paper towel.

Heat olive oil in the same pan, then add onions and pepper and sauté until soft, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Then add beef, crushed tomatoes and basil and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid then continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.

photo 1

Meanwhile, slice zucchini lengthwise with a mandoline. The pieces should be about 1/8 inch thick and you should have 12-15 slices when done. Lay on top of a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 15 minutes, then pat dry with a paper towel. While you wait, mix ricotta, parmesan, half of the egg, and Italian seasoning in a small bowl.

Heat a grill pan over a medium-high flame and coat with cooking spray. Grill zucchini slices in batches, for 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.

photo 2

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In an 8×8 pyrex baking dish, spread half of the beef mixture over the bottom. Top with slices of zucchini, then spread a layer of the ricotta mixture on top and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella. Add another layer of zucchini slices, then the rest of the beef, ricotta, and mozzarella.

Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove cover and cook for another 20 minutes, broiling for the last 5 minutes to brown the cheese. Let cook for 10 minutes before slicing.

photo 3

This guilt-free lasagna totally satisfied my cure for pasta, but didn’t leave me feeling too stuffed. The ricotta blend is surprisingly light, and the zucchini actually has a similar texture to pasta when grilled and baked. I was so excited to have leftovers for lunch for the next two days! And I will definitely be making the full portion of this for my next Italian dinner party.

Grilled Swordfish

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My good friend and former coworker, who shall be known as Blondie from this point forth, is taking her WSET test this week and she’s been a little stressed with studying and hasn’t had any time to make a meal. So I happily offered to visit her house in Vallejo and cook dinner for her and her boyfriend, who will be known as Tarzan from this point forth. Blondie is a vegetarian (not by choice) and a little picky when it comes to fish, but I took a risk and picked up some fresh swordfish from Osprey Seafood. Blondie had never tasted swordfish before, but Tarzan agreed with me that she would probably like it. Turns out, “like” is a bit of an understatement. Upon her first bite, she exclaimed “THIS EXISTED AND I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT??” She then proceeded to talk about how much she loved the swordfish for the next ten minutes. Success!

photo 2

Grilled Swordfish 

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • fresh swordfish steaks (1 piece per person)

In a small bowl, whisk together first 6 ingredients. Marinate swordfish and refrigerate for 2 hours before cooking. Preheat outdoor grill for medium heat. Grill for 5 minutes on each side, basting with excess marinade.

long beans

I also made a kale salad and sautéed some long beans with garlic and sliced sweet Italian peppers (both from the Napa Farmer’s Market), for about 10 minutes over a medium flame in a cast-iron pan. The crunchy, sweet beans paired perfectly with the savory, tender swordfish steaks. After a full day of “studying” (aka tasting wine), Blondie requested that there by no wine and she picked up a six-pack of Hell or High Watermelon to enjoy with our delicious meal – our favorite beer!

My First Press

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I recently reconnected with an old San Francisco friend (who shall be known as Earthwind from this point forth), who relocated to Napa last year. His parents and grandparents both grew up in Napa, and his paternal grandfather was one of the city’s first planners. Earthwind’s father, Bruce, also happens to be a home winemaker, and I was fortunate enough to join the family for the pressing of the grapes this past weekend!

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Time to get our hands dirty!

Pressing is only one small part of making wine; the process where juice is extracted from grapes. This can be done with the aid of a mechanical wine press, by hand, or even by feet in the old days. Today most wineries send the grapes through a crusher/destemmer, which removes the individual grape berries from the stems and breaks the skins, releasing some juice, prior to being pressed. Bruce had filled six industrial garbage cans (which he refers to a primary fermentation vessels) with crushed Merlot grapes, grown in a small vineyard between Oak Knoll District and Stag’s Leap District. This amount of grapes produces about 1 ¼ barrel, or 36 cases of Dundee’s Cellar Merlot, named after Earthwind’s childhood dog.

This is a standard basket press.

This is a standard basket press.

Bruce uses a basket press to hand-press the grapes. You fill the basket up to the top with the grapes, using your fists to press down as you go to make more room. The basket is set on top of a metal plate with a spout, lined up to pour into a rubber container. On top of the basket is a crank, which is supported by wooden blocks. As you crank and the grapes get pressed, the juice drips off into the container. You then transfer the juice into another bucket with a strainer over it to catch any extra skins or stems. Then it is finally transferred to the barrel with a funnel where it goes through the aging process.

Filling the basket with grapes.

Filling the basket with grapes.

Pressing down the grapes to make room for more.

Pressing down the grapes to make room for more.

Transferring the juice to the barrel.

Transferring the juice to the barrel.

Meanwhile, the pressed grapes need to be emptied from the basket and disposed of (or, you can make grappa). The basket is built to split in half, with bindings on the outside, so that you can just remove the bindings and take out the “grape cake.”  All the skin residue needs to be removed before putting in the next batch of grapes, and you repeat the cycle until all of the grapes are pressed. After the whole process is done, you wash and scrub all of the containers and basket pieces to decontaminate them from any wine residue so they can be used again next year.

The grape cake!

The grape cake!

More grape cake pieces.

More grape cake pieces.

The hand cranking itself is pretty labor-intensive, and requires several people: one or two to hold the basket in place (carefully so you don’t get pinched), and another one or two to pull the crank back and forth until it clicks. I first tried cranking on my own, which was a bit of a core workout! The next couple times I did it was with a partner, which is much easier and faster.

My first try at pressing

My first try at pressing with Earthwind’s brother

Also on hand were Earthwind’s brother, his brother’s girlfriend, a 6’11” coworker, and a neighbor from across the street. We all tasted the juice as it poured out of the basket, and it was pretty good! I noted some flavors of raspberry on the nose, and red plum on the palate. I can’t wait to taste the final 2013 vintage after it’s bottled in a year, and I’ll gladly go back to help with the final process.

Tasting the juice

Tasting the juice

The company was great, and I had so much fun learning about pressing and getting my hands red. My “payment” for the day’s work was a taco lunch and two bottles of the 2012 Dundee’s Cellar. I’ll gladly work for food and wine any day.

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