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
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.