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Category Archives: Dry Creek Valley

Spicy Lamb & Sweet, Sweet Zinfandel

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I spotted a non-holiday recipe in the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit last week that made my mouth water: Lamb Patties with Nutty Garlic Sauce. First of all, I love anything with lamb, and especially on a pita. Secondly, I already had on hand nearly all of the ingredients in the recipe, making it the perfect quick weeknight meal for me and my new foodie friend, who shall be known as KJ from this point forth. Best of all, it was healthy and delicious!


Spiced Lamb Patties with Nutty Garlic Sauce (serves 4)

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup almond butter
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, dividedcabbage salad
  • tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • cooking spray
  • ½ small head of red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup thinly sliced English cucumber
  • radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 4 pita breads
  • Fresh mint for serving

To prepare nutty garlic sauce, chop garlic in a mini food processor. Add almond butter and 2 TB lemon juice and process to combine, then add 2 TB oil in a slow, steady stream while the motor is running. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine lamb, onion, parsley, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper and 1 TB oil. Mix with your hands, then form into small slider-sized patties. Heat a large non-stick pan over a medium-high flame and coat with cooking spray. Cook patties for 4 minutes per side, then transfer a wire-rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet (or a paper-towel covered plate) to drain excess oil; let rest for 5 minutes.

lamb meatballs

Meanwhile, combine cabbage, cucumber, radish, feta, 2 TB lemon juice, paprika, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add 1 TB oil then toss to combine.

Serve lamb patties on pita bread, then top with cabbage salad, sauce and fresh mint.


At my request, KJ brought over a bottle of Zin – specifically the 2012 Ridge Ponzo Zinfandel. I tasted this wine only a few days earlier when we visited the Ridge tasting room in Lytton Springs, so although it’s a relatively young wine I was sure that it is drinking well now. Not only did it taste delicious but it went perfectly with the spicy lamb dish. With flavors of blackberry and spiced vanilla on the nose, the palate highlighted notes of pomegranate and dark cherry, with a long, smooth finish. These elements provided the perfect fruity balance to the nuttiness of the meal, and complemented the sweetness of the cabbage salad.

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.


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.



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!



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.

Slow Cooking Solution

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This past weekend was, in a word, magical. Six months ago I booked a stay at the VML Cottage in Healdsburg; staying at the vineyard in this cozy cottage is one of the many perks that come with being an original member at VML Winery (they no longer offer this perk to new members). Naturally, I invited three of my favorite wine-loving ladies – GGD, Starry and J³ – and planned a blissful weekend of wine tasting. On Saturday we visited A. Rafanelli, Preston Vineyards, Truett Hurst, Portalupi, and attended the MacPhail release party before finishing off the day sipping Rose on our porch at VML. On Sunday we drove South and tasted at Copain, Scherrer, Marimar and Red Car. There were many highlights of the weekend, and I was especially excited to check out some wineries I had not been to before (namely, Scherrer and Red Car). Stay tuned for reviews on these fine wineries…

Dusk at VML

Dusk at VML

We knew we wouldn’t want to go out to eat after a day of hopping between tasting rooms, and we wanted to take advantage of our prime accommodation. And while the cottage was clean and cozy, the kitchenette was not the ideal venue for cooking a big post wine-tasting meal. So at the suggestion of the VML staff, I brought my slow-cooker and set it up before we headed out on Saturday. By the time we got back to VML, the aroma of slow cooked pork was wafting through the cottage. I even did some homemade vegetable pickling last week, and brought those up to go with the tacos. I also made a zucchini and herb salad and GGD made a mango-avocado salsa. With some gourmet tortillas, chopped cilantro and crumbled Cotija cheese, we were good to go! And I must say, it turned out to be quite the epic feast.

Quick Pickled Vegetables 

  • 2 jalapeños, sliced crosswise
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, sliced lengthwise, and cut into 3 inch pieces
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 TB brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 TB kosher salt

Pack the vegetables in a glass jar fit with a sealed top (I did the jalapeños in a separate jar from the radishes and carrots so as not to get everything too spicy), leaving about 1 inch of room or more at the top. To make the brine, toast the mustard seed and peppercorns in a small saucepan over medium heat for about two minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved, and bring to a boil. Immediately pour the brine into the jars, making sure to cover the vegetables completely. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Seal the jar with a tight fitting lid and shake to evenly distribute the brine and spices. Store in the refrigerator for at least 1 day and up to 1 week before using. The pickled veggies can be kept in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Zucchini and Herb Salad (serves 4)

  • 2 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise with a mandoline
  • 1 head frisee lettuce
  • 1 head radicchio
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced with a mandoline
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 TB olive oil

Sprinkle zucchini evenly with salt and place in a small colander in the sink for about 5 minutes. Rinse the zucchini under cold water and lay out on a clean dishtowel. Carefully fold the towel over the zucchini and roll to squeeze out the excess water and let sit. In a small food processor, combine lemon zest, lemon juice, Dijon, anchovy paste and black pepper. Process to combine, and add oil in a slow, steady stream. Assemble the frisee, radicchio, herbs, and onion with the zucchini. Toss with dressing right before serving.


Mango-Avocado Salsa (makes 2 cups)

  • 2 manilla mangos, peeled and cubed
  • 2 avocados, chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and toss to combine.

Slow-Cooked Pork Tacos (serves 4-6)

  • 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1 whole pasilla or poblano chile pepper
  • 2 whole Anaheim chile peppers
  • 1 whole serrano chile pepper
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 medium white onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 TB extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 TB honey
  • 1 TB Champagne vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 1 TB kosher salt
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 3 lbs boneless pork shoulder (untrimmed), cut into a few chunks
  • freshly ground pepper and salt

Since I wasn’t sure what the VML Cottage kitchenette would be supplied with, I made the sauce for the pork at home in San Francisco and brought it up to Healdsburg with all the other groceries (now that I mention it, I also pre-made the salad dressing and brought my mandoline with me… high maintenance chef? Maybe). Not only did this make the process a lot easier, but I think letting the sauce sit for a day really helped to meld the flavors.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, add the garlic and whole peppers with 2 TB of water. Microwave on high for 2.5 minutes. Peel the garlic. Remove the stems from the peppers and slice down the middle. Run under cold water to cool, removing the seeds, then chop into 1 inch pieces. Transfer the garlic and peppers to a food processor fit with a steel blade. Add the chipotles, onion, 2 TB olive oil, honey, vinegar, 1 TB salt, and oregano to the food processor and puree until smooth.

Heat the remaining 1 TB of oil in a large, deep skillet over high heat. Add the sauce and fry, stirring, until thick and fragrant – about 8 minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and reduce until slightly thickened. Add the bay leaves and cinnamon and stir to combine. Transfer to a large container and store in the fridge until ready to cook the pork.

Season the pork all over with salt and pepper, then transfer to a large slow-cooker. Pour in the sauce, then cover and cook on high for 5 hours. The meat can sit and stay warmed for up to 3 hours after that. When ready to serve, shred the pork with two forks. Serve with corn and flour tortillas, pickled veggies, mango-avocado salsa, Cotija cheese and any other toppings you desire!

I have to say, this is the best slow-cooker meal I have ever made – but I must give credit where credit is due. The recipe for the pork was adapted from Food Network, and the pickling recipe came from CHOW. I only made a few changes, mostly due to what ingredients were available to me. The pork was tender, spicy and so flavorful, and the pickled vegetables made the perfect topping, providing just the right amount of crunch to the soft tacos. The zucchini salad made for a refreshing and delicious green side dish, and is one of my favorite spring salads. The girls and I agreed that it was the perfect meal on top of a perfect day.


We paired the tacos with a selection of Chardonnay, Rose and Pinot Noir: Cuvaison 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Trefethen 2012 S.I.N. Rose of Pinot Noir, Porter Bass 2012 Estate Chardonnay, and VML 2012 Floodgate Pinot Noir – all of which were brought with us to the cottage, with the exception of the VML Pinot Noir. All of the choices paired excellently with the spicy tacos, but obviously I preferred the pink wines. After dinner, we took a sunset walk around the vineyard and promptly went to bed – preparing our minds and bodies for another day of glorious wine tasting in the Russian River Valley. Life is good.

The Ultimate Ridge Experience

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There’s no doubt that one of my father’s favorite wineries is Ridge Vineyards. Since I can remember, I’ve seen the all-too-familiar rows of block lettering on the countless bottles of Ridge he has served at dinners past. For his 60th birthday last year, my family gifted him 6 bottles of 1995 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon in the original wooden crate (purchased through a collectors sale on Invino), and I’ve never seen him more excited. And I’ve certainly heard him proclaim more than once that he “has had over 500 bottles of Ridge in the last 30 years and never had one bottle that was corked.” To my father, this is one of the highest forms of complimenting in the wine world, and he was sure to mention it (at least twice) to the staff at Ridge during our epic visit last month.

My father waiting for the Ridge gates to open (we were a little early to our appointment).

My father waiting for the Ridge gates to open (we were a little early to our appointment).


My father is not typically one to enjoy tours during visits to wine country, but when I mentioned that Ridge offered an Estate Tour and Tasting (including their legendary Monte Bello) at their Lytton Springs Estate in Healdsburg, he agreed that it would be worth it. And, was it ever!

Side view of the Lytton Springs Visitor Center

Side view of the Lytton Springs Visitor Center

We visited on a Friday in February when the winery wasn’t too crowded, and luckily we were able to have a private tour and tasting with David (which usually accommodates up to 10 people). He took us on a guided golf-cart tour of the estate, driving through gnarly rows of old-vine Zinfandel, and circling around various ponds and hilltops. David not only explained the history of the Ridge winery and its vineyards, but also gave us an overall history on the geography of Northern California, and what makes Lytton Springs so special for growing Zinfandel. But before I get into that, let me tell you how it all began…

In 1885 San Francisco Doctor, Osea Perrone bought 180 acres on Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains – now one of the most highly regarded wine growing regions in Northern California. After planting some vineyards and contracting the winery at Monte Bello, the vineyards were abandoned during the prohibition era. It wasn’t until 1949 when William Short replanted the Cabernet Sauvignon on Monte Bello, as well as first time plots of Chardonnay. Ten years later, three scientists from Stanford University’s Research Institute purchased the property from Short and made a small amount of wine from the ten year old Cabernet vines. In 1962 they formed a partnership that became Ridge Vineyards and began to produce wines for commercial sale. In 1969, Paul Draper joined Ridge as their winemaker, and it was his 1971 Monte Bello that won fifth place among French and California wines at the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting. Thirty years later, there was a “Judgement of Paris 30th Anniversary Wine Tasting” in London and California, and the Ridge 1971 and 2000 Monte Bello won first place in both the original vintage wine and new vintage wine categories.

A poster in the tasting room, describing the results of the Judgement of Paris

A poster in the tasting room, describing the results of the Judgement of Paris

While Ridge is primarily known for their Monte Bello property, Lytton Springs is much easier to get to and also has quite a bit of history. The winery was purchased in 1991, along with the old vineyards surrounding it, and expanded to the western portion of Lytton Springs in 1995 when they purchased more land. In 2004 Ridge completed construction of the new winery and tasting room at Lytton Springs with a focus on sustainability and the production of Zinfandel. The 100+ year old Zinfandel vines that cover the hills of Lytton Springs thrive because the foggy mornings are balanced by warm, sunny afternoons and breezy late evenings. The soils are made up of gravelly clay, providing moisture retention and ensuring that the grapes ripen at a slower pace. In essence, it’s a wine growing area with perfect balance, which is made even more balanced by the foundation of their sustainability practices.

Old Zinfandel vines of Lytton Springs

Old Zinfandel vines of Lytton Springs

After our exciting and information-packed tour with David, he took us up to a private tasting area in their winemaking facility. We tasted side-by-side pours of 2009 Mazzoni, 2011 Geyserville and 2011 Lytton Springs Zinfandel, as well as the 2010 Perrone Merlot and 2010 Monte Bello Cabernet. Included in the tasting was a plate of cheese, spiced almonds and bread, as well as a water glass, dump cup, note cards on the wines, and a blank chart and pen for us to make our own notes. I’ve been to other tastings like this – where expensive, upscale wines are poured side by side in an intimate setting – but this one was different. There was no ostentatiousness or stuffiness, but rather an air of intrigue and enthusiasm; this can mostly be credited to David’s laid-back personality and unpretentious knowledge of Ridge Vineyards.

As for the wines… well, they were spectacular. David told us that all the wines had incredible aging potential, but they tasted pretty great in the moment (he opened them about three hours before we tasted). Of the Zinfandels, my favorites were the Geyserville and Lytton Springs. The Geyserville was very elegant with rich fruit flavors, while the Lytton Springs was a little more complex with notes of licorice and olives. The Perrone Merlot was very good, and it was interesting to compare it to the Zinfandels and the Monte Bello. The Merlot had bright cherry fruit with a good balance of acid and oak, and was very pleasing to the palate. My father’s notes simply read, “AWESOME!!!”. He noticed right away when he smelled the Monte Bello that it was blended with the Perrone Merlot, which was confirmed by David. The Monte Bello was of course the highlight of the tasting, and we went a little nuts over it. It’s hard to say what makes this wine so special, but I think Antonio Galloni puts it best when he says,“dramatic and towering in style.”

tasting setting

After we finished off the last sips of our glorious Monte Bello, David led us back downstairs to the main tasting room where he poured us some samples of other current releases, including the Carignane and Syrah. The assistant winemaker popped his head out to pour a blind taste of something he was currently bottling. I’m ashamed to say that I was a little clueless, but my father immediately guessed that it was the Petite Sirah; and in fact, it was the 2012 Lytton Estate Petite Sirah. I guess I have a lot to live up to when it comes to blind tasting!

If you’re planning a trip to Russian River Valley or Dry Creek Valley, I highly encourage you to schedule a tour and tasting at Ridge Vineyards. Even if you decide to skip the tour, be sure to stop in for a tasting – though, I think David’s tour really enhances the overall experience and is totally worth the money considering the cost of the wines that you’re tasting. Our experience lasted a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes, which runs a little over the usual 90 minutes, but time flies when you’re tasting great wines with even greater people.

Perfect Pizza

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GGD came over last night for an overdue dinner and wine date. After much deliberation (which is usually the case when the two of us try to think of something to cook together), I suggested we make a pizza with some veggies and the frozen whole wheat dough that had been sitting in my freezer for a few months. GGD was won over! However, when I pulled out the dough to defrost and roll out, it was pretty gross and I realized it was going to take a long time to thaw and roll to perfection.

Cue Giorgio’s Pizza. In a panic, I called my favorite local pizzeria (just a block from my house) and asked if they sold pizza dough. Not only did they sell it, but they had whole wheat dough AND offered to roll it out for me at no extra charge. Five minutes and $4.50 later, I walked out with a box of beautifully rolled whole wheat pizza dough. This was so much better than making/rolling out my own dough (I’m not much of a baker, anyhow) and saved about an hour of prep.

Thank you, Giorgio's Pizza!

Thank you, Giorgio’s Pizza!

Whole Wheat Pizza with Mushrooms and Swiss Chard (makes 8 slices)

  • Medium size of rolled out whole wheat dough, from your local pizzeria (call first to make sure they do this)
  • 3 TB olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 bunches of Swiss chard, chopped with stems removed
  • 1/4 yellow onion, sliced
  • 8 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup canned tomato sauce (NOT pizza sauce)
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 12 oz goats milk gouda (such as TJ’s brand or Midnight Moon)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • red pepper flakes, to taste

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and place a large baking sheet into the oven to heat up. Transfer the pizza dough to a large sheet of parchment paper and set aside.


In a large skillet, heat 1 TB olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add chard in batches and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until wilted. Sprinkle with salt then transfer to a bowl. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the same skillet. Add onion and sauté for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add to the bowl with the chard. Add a third tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add mushrooms and sauté until softened – about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a separate bowl.

Top the pizza dough with tomato sauce and spread evenly, leaving about an inch of crust. Sprinkle Italian season and a pinch of salt over the tomato sauce. Add 6 slices of goat gouda, evenly spread across the pizza. Top with Swiss chard and onions, then add mushrooms and 6 more slices of goat gouda.

pizza pre-cooked

Using oven mitts, remove the HOT baking sheet from the oven and set on top of your stove. Carefully transfer the pizza and parchment paper to the baking sheet, then place in middle rack of oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until crust is browned and cheese is bubbling. Remove and let cool for a minute before slicing. Top with red pepper flakes and enjoy!



photo 5

This pizza was spectacular. GGD and I both loved the combination of swiss chard and mushrooms, and the goat’s milk gouda from Trader Joe’s melted perfectly. I was very happy to use simple tomato sauce instead of pizza sauce (which GGD pointed out has way too much additional sugar). But what really made this pizza perfect was the dough – which I obviously can’t take credit for. I am certainly going to be buying all my pizza dough from Giorgio’s in the future.

PalomitaEven though I was feeling slightly under the weather, I was so excited to pair this dish with one of my favorite bottles of Syrah: 2009 Palomita Syrah from the Hamilton Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. I purchased this wine on a trip to Paloma last year with my family, and I recently re-tasted it at the estate this past weekend. If you’re a seasoned wine connoisseur, I highly recommend making a trip to see Barbara at her Paloma estate. Not only are the views of her vineyard and the valley below stunning, but she is a very sweet and interesting person to talk to. It’s also one of the only places you can find the Syrah, which she is no longer making. Unfortunately, the process of transporting the grapes can sometimes be risky because a certain type of disease-carrying fly follows the truck of grapes to her estate, and Barbara would prefer to keep them as far as possible from her precious Merlot.

The hummingbirds at Paloma also enjoy the view.

The hummingbirds at Paloma also enjoy the view.

The Syrah went surprisingly well with the pizza; the smokey and savory flavors in the wine paired well with the earthy mushrooms and chard, as well as the creamy cheese. The wine lasted long after we finished the pizza, and opened into a well-balanced, smooth wine with a supple finish. I’m sorry I don’t have any bottles left, but I guess I’ll just have to make another visit to the winery soon!

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