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Category Archives: JAQK Cellars

Buffalo is the New Black

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I recently had a buffalo burger when I was back East visiting my family, and I thought to myself, why don’t I ever make these? When I returned to Napa I spotted some buffalo meat at Whole Foods and knew this was my chance! Not only is buffalo meat leaner and healthier than ground beef, but it has a slight gaminess to it that elevates any burger. I decided to spruce it up a bit with some fancier ingredients, and they turned out perfectly!

Buffalo Cheeseburgers (serves 8)

  • 2 lbs ground buffalo meat
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 TB Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 8 slices of cave-aged Gruyere
  • chopped roasted red peppers
  • handful of raw spinach

In a large bowl, combine the first 8 ingredients, kneading together with wet hands. Using about 2/3 of a cup of meat, form a patty. Roll the meat around between your hands, then flatten and place on a parchment covered baking tray. Do this until the meat runs out, making 8 patties.



We used a charcoal grill to cook these bad boys, but you can use any grill. I prefer charcoal because it’s just more fun. Cook the patties for 4-5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 4 minutes (they should be served medium). Top with slices of Gruyere when you have about a minute left. Transfer to a platter and serve with soft buns, ketchup (I prefer Sir Kensingtons), Dijon mustard, roasted red peppers, and spinach. SO good! I will never go back to ground beef again.


I served these burgers with some delicious JAQK Cellars 2006 Soldiers of Fortune Syrah, which is drinking perfectly right now. I have several bottles to go through, so I see a lot more buffalo burgers in my future this summer!

The Chicken and Chestnuts Cleanse

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I’m really not into the idea of long-lasting juice cleanses, and I’m fairly certain they do more harm than help. I do believe in the idea that your body cleanses itself and that fiber is the most important nutrient when trying to rid of your body of toxins; not to mention, a healthy balanced meal is far more enjoyable that glass after glass of green juice.

Every January Bon Appetit features a two-week ‘Food Lover’s Cleanse‘ to kick off the New Year. Each day includes breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, side and dessert and the recipes are made up of whole, nutrient-rich ingredients. Some of these ingredients can be hard to find (and quite expensive), so I usually pick out a few recipes to work into my meal plan. One such recipe was Braised Chicken with Mustard and Chestnuts, which I made with Miriam last week. She had a whole bunch of chicken legs, so we swapped the thighs out for those. I also incorporated some farro into the dish to soak up the sauce. It was my first time cooking chestnuts, which is somewhat time-consuming but worth the effort.

Braised Chicken Legs with Mustard and Chestnuts (serves 4)

  • 1 lb chestnutsleeks
  • 8 small chicken legs, bone in (skin can be left on or taken off if you’re trying to cut some fat)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, plus 2 TB
  • 2 TB whole grain mustard
  • 1/4 cup uncooked farro

Start by cooking the chestnuts. Since I had never cooked chestnuts before, I googled “how to roast chestnuts” and found these handy instructions by Tori Avey:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Hold one between your thumb and your pointer finger and carefully make a long slice across the rounded top of the chestnut with a sharp serrated knife. Be sure to cut all the way through the shell. Once all of your chestnuts have been cut, place them into a small saucepan and cover with water, then bring to a simmer. Once the water begins to simmer, remove the chestnuts using a mesh strainer and transfer them to a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, or until the shells begin to peel back where you cut into them. Remove the chestnuts from the oven and place them into a bowl, then cover with a towel for 15 minutes. Allowing them to steam a bit will make them easier to peel; simply pull on the shell and slip the chestnut out. Some will be easier to peel than others. Both the outer shell and the tough brown skin around the chestnuts should be peeled off. If you run into any nuts that seem gooey or disintegrated inside, it means that they have spoiled. Chestnuts tend to have a short shelf life, spoiled nuts should be tossed.

roasted chestnuts

Take 1 cup of the chestnuts and quarter them and set aside (reserve the rest of the whole chestnuts for a healthy snack). Generously apply salt and pepper to the chicken legs, then heat olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over a medium-high flame. Add chicken legs and cook for 5 minutes per side, or until browned. Remove from pan and transfer to a plate.


braised chicken

Reduce heat to medium and add leeks to the skillet, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften – about 3 minutes. Add 2 TB of chicken stock and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Stir in the chestnuts and remaining stock, then return chicken to skillet. Simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 10–15 minutes. Stir mustard into sauce and season with taste for seasoning, adjusting if necessary.

Meanwhile, prepare farro. Add farro and 3/4 cups water to the same saucepan used for the chestnuts. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork; keep covered until serving. To plate, spoon farro into a deep dish, then top with two chicken legs and chestnut-leek sauce.

chicken and chestnuts

I loved the texture of the chestnuts, and the tangy mustard. And even though the portions are small, the meal is very filling because of the protein-rich nuts and chicken. It was even better as leftovers the next day because the flavors had time to meld, and the farro soaked in the delicious sauce.

Miriam and I paired with a 2007 JAQK Cellars 22 Black Cabernet Sauvignon from my library. The pairing worked well because the tannins have softened over time and the acidity has brightened, making a good match to the sweet chestnuts and spicy mustard. If in the mood for white, try pairing with a bright yet oak-integrated Chardonnay, such as Pine Ridge Dijon Clones.

A Night to Remember at Zuni Cafe

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Everyone is always asking me, “What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?” You’d think that with the abundance of fine dining options in this city, this would be a hard question to answer. But for me it’s easy. Hands down, Zuni Café is my favorite SF restaurant and always will be. It was the location of my first dining experience in San Francisco when I came to interview for my first job nearly seven years ago. Zuni was also the location of my last meal on the eve of my knee surgery in 2010. And one time, I even powered through an entire meal at Zuni with my parents, while I was fighting a 24 hour stomach bug, which I claimed was from drinking bad wine.

The bar at Zuni features artisan cocktails, and the talented mixologists will make you anything that tickles your fancy.

The Zuni bar features artisan cocktails, and the talented mixologists will work to make you anything that tickles your tastebuds.

A few weeks ago when I was telling a friend that it was my favorite restaurant in the city, another friend chimed in and said, “oh my God, the chicken is out of this world amazing.” I coyly admitted that in the six times I had been to Zuni, I had never once ordered the famed chicken. I always wanted to, but then I would see something else on the menu that would catch my appetite and I wouldn’t want to wait the full hour to eat my entree. My friend was shocked, and I vowed to her that I would go to Zuni and order the chicken this month – and I made a reservation on the spot with my handy Opentable app.

The time finally came last night. My anticipation for this chicken was making me crazy, and I began to worry that I was building it up so much that I would end up being somehow disappointed. Wrong. Zuni did not disappoint. In fact, they exceeded my already sky-high expectations and it was without a doubt the best meal I have had at Zuni since living in seven years, and one of the top five best meals of my life.

I was joined at dinner by three close girl friends. One who had been to Zuni even more times than me, but had never had the chicken; one who had been to Zuni a couple times but had never had the chicken; and one who had never even been to Zuni at all but had heard about the chicken. We agreed in advance that we would share the chicken as our entree, and order several other small dishes to enjoy before the arrival of the bird. We selected a few oysters, the Piccolo fritto, Montauk scallop ceviche, ricotta gnocchi, and Caesar salad – served in that order. It was the perfect amount of food to share, and still leave us hungry for the star of the meal. A particular standout was the gnocchi, which melted in my mouth and had an unimaginable lightness to it.

Piccolo fritto: deep-fried Monterey Bay squid, onions and lemon with aioli

Piccolo fritto: deep-fried Monterey Bay squid, onions and lemon with aioli

Montauk scallop ceviche with avocado, radishes, Padron peppers, and tortilla chips

Montauk scallop ceviche with avocado, radishes, Padron peppers, and tortilla chips

Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, shallots and tarragon

Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, shallots and tarragon

The chicken was outstanding. Crispy and salty on the outside, and juicy and tender on the inside – just as it should be. It’s a huge portion and although they suggest sharing for two, you can easily share with four people. I tasted every part of the bird – leg, breast, and thigh – and each one was delicious and unique. The salad was light and flavorful, with generous portions of toasted crunchy bread and perfectly seasoned greens. It was so good, that I found myself urging our neighbors to order the chicken when I overheard them trying to make a decision. I’m not usually one to boast about chicken – let alone order it at restaurants – but it’s truly the best chicken of my lifetime!

The Chicken: roasted in the brick oven, over a warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dried currants, and pine nuts.

The Chicken: roasted in the brick oven, over a warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dried currants, and pine nuts.

I also brought two bottles of wine in an effort to keep the bill at a reasonable amount (Zuni has an extensive and very expensive wine list, but only charges $20 per bottle for corkage): a Red Car 2012 Vivio Vineyard Roussanne and a JAQK Cellars 2006 Soldiers of Fortune Shiraz. The aged Shiraz – which is more like a Rhone-style Syrah – went perfectly with the chicken, highlighting the smokiness in the meat and the herbs in the bread salad.

A little Roussanne to start off the meal.

A little Roussanne to start off the meal.

The first vintage of JAQK Cellars Soldiers of Fortune Syrah - my favorite from the winery.

The first vintage of JAQK Cellars Soldiers of Fortune Syrah – my favorite from the winery.

We finished off the meal with some butterscotch pot de creme and Challerhocker cheese with nectarine and almonds, and I couldn’t resist ordering a glass of Fonseca NV Bin 27 Port. I only tried a bite of the cheese because I was too obsessed with the pot de creme to even put my fork down. I’m not huge on desserts, but I know when the time is right to engage my sweet tooth, and this was certainly it.

Butterscotch pot de creme with bourbon whipped cream and hazelnut praline.

Butterscotch pot de creme with bourbon whipped cream and hazelnut praline.

Challerhocker cheese with nectarine slices and dry roasted almonds.

Challerhocker cheese with nectarine slices and dry roasted almonds.

As you can see, the food was outstanding and presented with the utmost attention, while still maintaining a somewhat rustic feel. Our server was watchful (and pretty easy on the eyes), but not overly attentive. Our bill came in at just over $200, which was more affordable than I expected – probably thanks to the corkage.

Zuni is a MUST for any foodie, whether an SF local or visitor to this culinary city. And if you are a visitor and you’re only able to go once, do yourself a favor and order the chicken. It’s a shame I took so long to do it myself, but it was certainly worth the wait.

Loving Larb

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Yes, it’s true! Not EVERYTHING I cook these days is Italian! In fact, I think I need to take a break from pasta for a while (we’ll see how long that lasts). Last week I was chatting in the kitchen with my roommate, KKD, watching her prepare a huge plate of larb for her and her boyfriend for dinner. She told me that she had pulled the recipe from Cooking Light, but made some changes to make it more spicy and flavorful. KKD and I both agree that while Cooking Light offers great ideas for healthy alternatives, their recipes are somewhat simple and often bland, requiring necessary tweaking to make the tastes more complex. So the recipe that I am about to share with you is KKD’s very own rendition of a Laos classic, which I recreated last night.

Turkey Larb (serves 4)

  • Coconut oil cooking spray (can be found at TJ’s)
  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground turkey breast
  • 1 cup of mint leaves
  • 1 cup of cilantro leaves
  • 2-3 TB of Sriracha (to taste)
  • 2 TB soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 2 small English cucumbers, diced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 8 cabbage leaves

Coat a large nonstick skillet with coconut oil cooking spray and heat over a medium-high flame. Add the scallions and jalapeño and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the turkey to the pan and cook until beginning to brown, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon.

photo 2

An extra swirl of Sriracha. I like it spicy!

Once the turkey is cooked, transfer the contents of the pan into a large food processor. Add Sriracha, soy sauce and fish sauce then pulse to combine. Taste for seasoning, then transfer the meat back to the pan over a low-medium flame and continue to sauté for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the mint and cilantro in a mini food processor. In a large serving bowl, combine the turkey, herbs, cucumber and lime juice and toss to combine. Serve with cabbage leaves, lime wedges and more Sriracha!

photo 4

I paired this meal with the newly released 2012 JAQK Cellars Charmed Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley. There are notes of grapefruit and lemon grass on the nose, and a crisp yet smooth palate with a long and mellow finish. This wine went well with the dish because it offset the spiciness in the meat. This dish would also pair well with a Viognier or Dry Riesling – anything crisp with hints of citrus and honey. But I just happen to be particular fond of Sauvignon Blanc from Russian River Valley – especially if it’s a Craig MacLean wine!

Chardonnay Day!

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Today is Chardonnay Day! I’m not sure where the day originated from, but I like it! Chardonnay is one of the most popular and widely planted grapes across the world, and winemakers have been working for decades to perfect the variety – which is no easy task, as everyone has a different palate.


For example, my mother enjoys oaky, buttery Chardonnays from Napa Valley. To other people, this type of Chardonnay is loathsome. To me, it’s not what I would prefer to drink but I understand the appeal that it has. The most well-known example of this type of Chardonnay is Rombauer from Carneros. As you can see from the customer reviews on their webpage, people who love this wine will always come back to it because it’s comfortable, and it’s generally the same every year. I’m curious how they are able to produce the same tasting wine vintage after vintage, but I’m quite certain it has to do with the level of Malolactic fermentation (ML) that is used in the winemaking process.

JAQK_PearlHandleIn general, the larger the percentage of ML that is used in making Chardonnay, the more “buttery” the wine will taste. That being said, I’ve enjoyed several Chardonnays are 100% ML, including JAQK Cellars Pearl Handle Chardonnay from Napa Valley. Pearl Handle is smooth and concentrated, with a great balance of fruit and oak.

Another great technique in making Chardonnay is to use neutral French Oak to age the wine. These are French oak barrels that have been used for several years and purchased by wineries from other wineries. The oaky flavor dissipates over time, softening the flavor of the wine and highlighting the fruit concentration, particularly citrus. Two of my favorite  wines made in neutral or aged French Oak are Witness Tree from Willamette Valley and Hanzell Vineyards “Sebella” from Sonoma Valley. Both these wines have fresh acidity and elegant style, similar to a Burgundian wine.

Some winemakers have started leaning towards stainless steel barrels; if not for 100% of the juice, then for at least 50%. decoy_chardChardonnay that’s aged in 100% stainless steel looses some of the flavor profile for me. It begins to taste so much unlike Chardonnay, that one might as well be drinking Sauvignon Blanc. For this reason, I appreciate the balance of a 50/50 oak and stainless steel blend. Duckhorn’s DECOY Chardonnay from Sonoma County is made with grapes from Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley appellations and aged in 50/50 barrels. This Chardonnay is very easy to drink, and doesn’t need food. There are notes of citrus and tropical fruit, but enough oak to add richness and fullness.

As you can see, there are many different aspects that go into the flavor profile of Chardonnay, most of which have to do with where the grapes come from and how the wine is aged. SideDish has several other recommendations for Chardonnays to enjoy on this special day, many of which you can find at your local wine shop.

There is a Chardonnay for every wine drinker out there. And today is the day to find your Chardonnay! Good luck, and cheers!

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