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Surf-n-Turf

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I’m coming off of a glorious beach vacation in my favorite San Diego community: Carlsbad. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my family spends a week on the Carlsbad beach every summer; drinking wine, playing in the surf, and spending time with family and friends. Due to poor timing (and my brother’s start of graduate school – yay!), we will not be going this summer. So I was more than thrilled to learn that my good friend – who shall be known as Malo from this point forth – has a family home on the beach in Carlsbad, just a 15 minute walk from where my family stays!

View from the house

View from inside the beach house

Malo at her beach house

Malo, excited to enjoy the beach!

Malo graciously invited a group of our friends to stay at the beach house over this past holiday weekend. Many of our friends already had travel plans, so it ended up being a small group: Malo, GGD, J³, Whitey and myself. We spent our days lounging on the beach while sipping Rosé and taking breaks to boogie board in the surf and walk on the beach. We shipped down 18 bottles of wine for three days and four nights; a combination of light whites and Rosé for the beach, and Cab, Zin and Pinot to pair with dinners – all pulled from our individual collections. Some of my contributions included a 2007 Etude Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2010 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Malo’s father also provided 6 of his favorite red wines from his private collection, which he shared with us on Saturday evening when he and Malo’s mother conducted a special wine tasting! Also joining us that night was Whitey’s sister and brother-in-law and their adorable three-year-old daughter.

We planned out all the meals in advance so we wouldn’t be stuck with too many groceries, and I volunteered to make the meal for Saturday night. Inspired by the beautiful beach setting and as a way to appeal to a large group (including one pregnant woman and one pescatarian) I chose to prepare Surf and Turf tacos! Along with my spicy slaw and GGD’s avocado-mango salad, I grilled skirt steaks and shrimp (with a little help from Whitey’s brother-in-law). The steak marinade is a recipe that has been passed down to me by my mother, who got it from my father’s late co-worker, Poco. I wouldn’t eat skirt steak any other way! As for the shrimp, that was sort of an experiment but I must say they turned out very well!

SURF

  • 8 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 bags of frozen large shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 32 shrimp), thawed
  • 4-5 skewers for grilling

TURF

  • 1/2 cup pickled jalapeños with the juice (about 2 small cans)
  • 3/4 cup lime juice
  • 3/4 cup worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 TB cumin
  • 2 lb skirt steak
marinated shrimp on the skewers

marinated shrimp on the skewers

Skirt steak on the grill

Skirt steak on the grill

For the skirt steak, mix together first six ingredients and pour over steak in a sealed plastic container. Marinade at least over night and up to three days. Bring to room temperature about 45 minutes before grilling. Grill for about 4 minutes on each side, then let rest for a few minutes on a wooden cutting board. When ready to serve, cut against the grain on a diagonal and transfer slices of meat to a platter.

As for the shrimp, combine and whisk together the first six ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over shrimp into a plastic freezer bag and refrigerate for about an hour. Place shrimp on metal skewers and grill for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until opaque. Transfer to a platter and serve.

steak

Perfection!

Perfection!

This meal served nine hungry adults, and we didn’t have any leftovers (except for some slaw because I made way too much). Serve with corn tortillas and sides of cilantro, queso fresco, salsa, radish, and lime wedges. Yum!

Malo’s father served some delicious wines from Sonoma, Colombia Valley and Paso Robles, but the two that stood out to me particularly were the 2010 Sonoma County “Three Birds” Red Wine and the Force Majeure 2009 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Collaboration Series VI Red Blend. The Three Birds was full-bodied with soft, round fruit and earth tones; easy drinking but still enough body to stand up to a spicy steak. The Force Majeure, which was enjoyed after the meal, was silky while robust with sweet aromas and a lush mouthfeel. Both wines were spectacular, but maybe a bit too bold to pair with a meal like this. I would suggest serving the Surf-n-Turf with a selection of Albariño or Rosé for the shrimp, and Syrah or another Rhone blend for the steak. You could also pair with some bubbly, as it goes well with almost everything!

Special thanks to Malo and her parents for sharing their beautiful beachy home and some stellar wines! I can only hope to return your generosity some day… maybe at a vineyard house 🙂

Wining and Dining at Ram’s Gate

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Ram’s Gate is a new-ish winery atop the hill across from the Sonoma Raceway, less than a mile into Route 121 when you turn off of Route 37 going East. From the road it looks like it could be a large farm or a Bed and Breakfast, but do not be mistaken. Ram’s Gate offers the best wine and food experience I have had in Sonoma, and soon it’s recognition may make it difficult to get an appointment.

When arriving at Ram’s Gate you enter through an airy corridor, decorated with seasonal flowers and accents, and you’re greeted by a well-dressed host. If you have a seated tasting reservation (or they have room to seat you), another hostess will direct you to your table. Otherwise you are free to walk around the grounds, or to stroll on up to the tasting bar.

The first time I went to Ram’s Gate I was by myself and just stopping through to check out the wines, so I cozied up to the bar and did a quick flight of their offerings. On the menu I noticed that each wine had a few suggested food pairings, creations of their in-house executive chef, Taylr Benham. I didn’t have time to taste any of the food, but I made a mental note to come back on my next trip to Sonoma when my mother was visiting me – which happened to be this past weekend.

I made an 11:30 appointment for a seated tasting at Ram’s Gate this past Saturday, with the thought that we would eat enough pairings to fill us up for lunch. We each had a flight that included the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley, 2010 Chardonnay from Ulises Valdez Diablo Vineyard in Russian River Valley, the 2010 Pinot Noir from Bush Crispo Vineyard in Russian River Valley, and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley. We both loved the Sauvignon Blanc, which says a lot for my mom because she is hard to please when it comes to SB. It’s a medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc with flavors of citrus, tropical fruit and a touch of vanilla. It was refreshing with a lot of flavor. The Chardonnay that we tried was very creamy, with notes of vanilla, meringue and bread pudding – a little too much for me but my mother loved it. I thought the Pinot Noir was excellent, with a great blend of dark fruit and spice. I also very much enjoyed the Cabernet, with subtle hints of cigar, coffee beans and currants.

Of course, we ordered a few dishes to pair (all pictured below):

  • Head-on shrimp with a coconut-coriander-cilantro foam (great with the Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Crispy arancini with a smokey tomato sauce
  • Fall vegetable salad with butternut squash, fennel and ricotta
  • Confit pork belly on Gougères with pickled grapes and grain mustard (perfect with the Pinot Noir)
  • Gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms and black garlic (paired deliciously with the Cabernet)

All the food was excellent, especially the pork belly and gnocchi. It really elevated our experience, and I was so impressed with how quickly the food came out and how beautifully prepared everything was. Clearly, this could only come from a full kitchen with a top-notch chef.

The decor inside Ram’s Gate is also something to be noted. It’s somewhat rustic with elegant, urban accents. And each room has a wood-burning fireplace, which literally warms up the room but also provides a feeling of coziness, like you’re tasting wine in the living room of a cottage in the woods. The back of the building opens up to a beautiful view of their estate vines, leading to a small pond surrounded by benches and picnic tables. I hear they even offer fly fishing lessons.

 

So next time you’re driving up to Sonoma or Napa via 37/121, stop in at Ram’s Gate and take it all in – and you really must try some of the food, as it’s one of the elements that makes the experience most unique.

 

Slow-Baked Salmon with Pinot Gris

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I’m traveling this week for work, and knew I would only have one night at home to cook a nice meal. I was in the mood for salmon, and wanted to try a new recipe using the leftover fresh thyme I had in my fridge. I browsed Epicurious and found this recipe, which I altered only slightly by adding minced garlic and removing the skins of the salmon. I served the salmon with tricolor Israeli couscous with sautéed tomatoes and shallots, basil and spinach. The whole meal was very easy to prepare, and the salmon was so melt-in-your-mouth-delicious.

Slow-Baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme (serves 2)

  • 2 filets of salmon, skin on or off based on your preference
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Israeli Couscous with Tomato and Spinach (serves 2-3)

  • 1 cup Israeli couscous (tricolor, if you can find it)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • 8 basil leaves, julienned
  • 2 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 2 TB shredded Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

I chose to have the salmon skinned because I wasn’t sure how the skin would crisp up when baked in this slow method, and I only like salmon skin if it’s really crispy. If you have tried this recipe with the skin on, I invite your reviews in the comments section.

Preheat oven to 275. Combine olive oil, lemon zest, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper into a small bowl. Cover a baking sheet with a layer of aluminum foil and place salmon filets on, flat side (skin side if not skinned) down. Coat each salmon filet with the oil blend and let sit for 10 minutes so flavors can meld. Bake for 22 minutes and remove from oven.

Israeli couscous can be found in most Mediterranean markets, Whole Foods or Trader Joes. It has a similar consistency to orzo, but with a pearl shape. Use 1 1/4 cup water for every 1 cup of couscous. Bring the water to a boil, add the couscous, reduce to simmer and cover until water is absorbed – about 8-10 minutes.

Start to prepare the couscous when there is about 12 minutes left to the fish. While preparing the Israeli couscous, heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add shallots and tomatoes and sauté over medium-low heat for 7 minutes. When the couscous is mostly cooked, transfer to the pan with tomatoes and shallots and continue to sauté over a simmering flame. Add the basil and spinach and stir to combine until the spinach begins to cook. Top with salt, pepper and parmesan and stir to combine. Serve immediately alongside slow-baked salmon.

Because the flavors in the basil, thyme and lemon zest are so strong, you want to pair it with something crisp and light, which are the qualities in a California-style Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Grigio in Italy). This grape sometimes gets a bad rap because there are a lot of cheap American wines out there labeled “Pinot Grigio” – a name that is more widely recognized in airport bars and grocery stores. But if you do a little digging, and you’re willing to spend more than $10, you can easily find a nice Pinot Gris from California. The Tangent “PG” Paragon Vineyard Pinot Gris from Edna Valley is a steal at only $14. Bouchaine also makes a great Pinot Gris from their estate vineyard in Carneros, and I love the Navarro Pinot Gris from Anderson Valley. These are also great wines to sip on before dinner, or as you’re cooking!

Soaring Through Napa

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I normally don’t do blog posts this personal, but I just really wanted to share with my readers what a wonderful getaway MM and I had in Napa this weekend. We got a great deal on LivingSocial a while back for one night at RiverPoint Inn, so we took the opportunity to plan a weekend out of it. I even scheduled a balloon ride for us to do – something I have been wanting to do since I could walk!

right before lift off

Other than the obvious highlight of the trip, we had a great tasting at Duckhorn and Jessup Cellars on Saturday, followed by an okay dinner at Bistro Don Giovanni. Sunday morning we had to wake up at 5:15am to meet the Napa Valley Balloon group at Domaine Chandon. We spent the rest of the afternoon eating Hog Island Oysters at Oxbow Public Market and tasting wines at Etude and Cuvaison in the Carneros region.

Duckhorn is the first winery I ever visited on my first trip to Napa when I was a senior in college, and to this day it is still my favorite. So of course I wanted MM to share the experience with me. We sat on the patio and sampled the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Goldeneye Pinot Noir (i purchased the 2009), 2008 Napa Valley Merlot, 2008 Estate Grown Merlot, 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet, and the 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet. I also got a small sample of the 2009 Paraduxx Z Blend, which I ended up purchasing. I think my favorite part of the tasting was watching MM distinguish between the different types of varietals, based on where the grapes were grown. He’s such a good learner!

Next we stopped at Jessup Cellars for a private tasting with cheese pairing that was included in the LivingSocial deal we bought for the RiverPoint Inn. I had never even heard of the winery before this visit, but it’s nestled right off of Washington Street in Yountville. They don’t distribute and base most of their sales on visits to the tasting room and their wine club – a great philosophy for a small production (10-15 thousand cases per year) winery. We tasted a Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet and Cabernet “Table For Four” Blend, as well as a Zinfandel Port and Cabernet Port (MM’s favorites). The ports were fantastic, but my favorite was the “Table For Four.” It was very smooth with a touch of brown sugar, carmel and dark cherry. Our host, Dan was fantastic! He was a retired man who has been in the wine industry for a few years. It was like tasting with my great uncle. He knew a lot about the wines and the history of Jessup Cellars and Napa Valley, but he was also very humorous and lighthearted. Of course we picked up two bottles of the Zin Port, and MM also got me a bottle of the “Table For Four.” What a great boyfriend!

After checking in at the RiverPoint and resting for a bit, we made our way to Bistro Don Giovanni. I picked this restaurant because it was reasonably priced, had good reviews, and after years of driving by it on my way into Napa I was a little curious. I guess I had pretty high expectations, as I do for all restaurants in the Napa Valley. I was immediately disappointed in their service when we were told to wait 10-15 minutes for our table (we had a 7pm reservation), and further disappointed when the bartender wouldn’t serve me a pre-dinner drink because I forgot my id. MM ended up buying the drink for me and handing it over, and was not carded – probably had something to do with his full grown beard. Once we were seated the service was pretty quick and courteous. We shared the fritto misto (over-fried) and the carpaccio (nothing special). For our entrees we shared the farfalle fungi and the pork chop. The pork chop was pretty tasty, but it was served with poorly seasoned artichokes and overly seasoned potatoes. I liked the pasta, but it needed more sauce as I found it to be too dry. The highlight of the meal was the dessert: a banana gelato over a chocolate fudge brownie, with chopped walnuts blended into the gelato. Next time I dine in Napa, I will go back to the reliable and plentiful Uva Trattoria.

After dinner we headed back to the Inn for a good night’s sleep before the balloon excursion. The RiverPoint Inn was comfortable and spacious. Our little house came with a full kitchen, living room, dining room table, king size bed, full bathroom and deck (in retrospect, we should have stayed in and cooked dinner). With our LivingSocial deal the cost of the room was $99, usually $250. It could actually fit 2 couples comfortably, as the couch in the living room is a pull-out. I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Napa for a weekend or a few nights!

We woke up at 5:15am to get ready for the balloon ride. We were instructed to meet up at the Etoile Restaurant in Domain Chandon, where we would sign the waivers and learn a bit about the experience before being shuttled to the launch point (which was a mere 1/4 mile away at the neighboring golf course). As soon as I got a glimpse of the balloons, I could barely contain my excitement. MM and I were put in a balloon basket with 13 other people, including our pilot, Ken. The ride was so smooth, you could barely tell that we were in the air. And once they turn the propane off, it’s so quiet and peaceful. The weather was perfect and the views were stunning. We could even see the San Francisco skyline in the distance! I probably took about 100 photos, but I will share these few with you.

After the ride we were taken back to Etoile for eggs, bacon, potatoes and mimosa. Etoile is a three star Michelin restaurant, and I can now say “I ate there.” After breakfast we went back to our room to rest our eyes before continuing another day of wine tasting. We stopped at Oxbow Public Market for some lunch at Hog Island Oyster Bar. MM and I shared 12 Pacific and Eastern oysters, and some grilled oysters with jalapeño, cilantro, lime and butter. I also had some Oysters Rockefellar and MM ordered the oyster po-boy – all of which was delicious. We finished off the meal with some ice cream from Three Twins, because at that point the temperatures we climbing up to 70+ degrees (in March!).

After lunch we cruised on over to the Carneros region for a bit of wine tasting. The first stop was Etude, a beautiful tasting room with an outdoor patio and gardens. They are known for their cabernet and pinot, of which they make a wonderful selection. MM did the estate tasting while I did the reserve tasting so we could share. My favorite of the day was the 2008 St. Helena Cabernet, but it was a little out of my price range so I settled for the 2007 Estate Cabernet which I know will age beautifully. They also make a great Pinot Blanc, which I sipped while sitting in the Adironack chairs on their patio.

Our last stop of the day was Cuvaison, just a couple miles down the road from Etude. Their Carneros tasting room is only a year and a half old, and their other tasting room is in Calistoga. All the wine comes from the Carneros region and the Mount Veder appellation. We tasted two Chardonnays (one oaky, one not so oaky – I liked the not so oaky one better, MM liked the oaky one), a Pinot, two Syrahs (one Carneros and one Mt. Veder) and two Cabernets (one Mt. Veder and the Brandlin). We both agreed that the Syrah’s were our favorite, combining a good level of spice with ripe fruits. Naturally, I purchased a bottle of the Diablo. The wines were delicious, but the view was stellar. We sat outside on their marble patio overlooking the vineyard, with vines as far as the eye can see. We sat for about an hour and a half until it was time to hit the road and get back to the City by the Bay.

What a wonderful weekend! I can’t wait to get back up in the air.

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