Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy New Year!

It's 2015 and something I love about starting each year anew is a chance to set goals, make changes, resolve to be better. I've been overly absent from this blog for over a year now and I want to be better about posting, even if nobody is reading anymore!

So... my resolutions? I have 15 for 2015. Because, to be honest, I've spent the last couple of years without any real resolution and as a result, very little change. So my 15 for '15: first on the list, blog more. Check. I've already posted one more post than I did in all of 2014! Second: Cook the recipes on my Pinterest food board. Not ALL of them, as there are hundreds and I pin weekly, but they are on there for a reason and I'm going to give many of them a try. My goal is one per week. The end of 2014 brought dinners that were rushed, boring, easy, and unhealthy. That will change. In fact, it already has. We rang in the new year with a delicious dinner cooked at home and Z, my son and I sat at the table and devoured it together. I whipped it all together in 40 minutes, maybe even less from start to serving. 

NYE Dinner: Chimichuri Steak and Brussels Sprouts with Garlic Aioli
 Chimichuri Steak and Brussels Sprouts

1 2-2.5lb skirt steak* 
1 tbsp olive oil (I didn't use a whole tbsp, maybe 1 tsp on each side of the steak)

Steak Rub
1-2 tablespoons chili powder-(to your own taste, I used 1 tbsp, because my powder smelled particularly strong and I didn't want it to overpower the steak. I like it simple.) 1 tablespoon brown sugar (or dark brown sugar) 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon sea salt 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Chimichuri Sauce 
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon red chili flakes (you can add a second if you want it a little hot, I kept it mild for my son)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 1 garlic clove, minced 
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

Brussels Sprouts
~20 Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
Less than 1/4 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
Olive oil drizzle 

Garlic Aioli for dipping
5 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced fine
1 teaspoon lemon juice (I didn't measure but I'm pretty sure I added more than 1 tsp and it was still a little 'mayo-y' to me)
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, chopped fine   

Use half of the olive oil and rub onto both sides of room-temperature skirt steak. Rub half of the dry rub on one side and repeat on the other. If cooking in oven, take 2 skewers and skewer each side to add height to the steak that will be put in the oven. Place steak on cookie sheet. If grilling, first lightly oil grill grates and cook to liking. For oven: broil steak on low for about 20 minutes for a medium-rare steak, depending on size of steak and oven (I have a small oven, so my meat cooks faster).

While steak is cooking, cut sprouts in half. Place on cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle with olive oil and use your hands to mix oil and salt evenly on the sprouts. Place in oven at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until outer leaves are a light brown.

When you have the sprouts and the steak in the oven, prepare your sauces by combining all ingredients in separate bowls and whisking them well. 

Once steak is cooked to your liking and you are ready to serve it, cut against the grain in long slices.  Garnish with Chimichuri sauce and serve with Brussels sprouts.

* You can probably also try this with London Broil, for a leaner cut of meat

I will be commenting on each Pinterest recipe that I try, so follow my board to read my comments. 
Wine pairing: 2011 Geneseo Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CA



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

{Wine Wednesday} Napa Nostalgia: ZD Wines

Happy Wine Wednesday!  I am opening a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet tonight to toast my upcoming trip (TWO DAYS!!!) but right now I am wrapping up my Napa Nostalgia countdown series.  We will soon start packing and getting together our tasting itineraries and as we look forward to our first tasting of our Summer 2013 trip, I am going to write about our last tasting of our Summer 2009 trip.  

Some memorable tastings happen completely on accident, and that is the case in today's featured tasting room at ZD Wines.  Why I say this happened on accident is because we hadn't planned to stop here at all, but because we had an extra hour to kill before packing our things and heading back east, we decided to visit a winery we had spotted on our very first day in the Valley.  ZD happens to be my husbands first and middle initial, and that is what spiked our curiosity to come in for a visit.  We learned there was more than the initials my husband had in common with the vineyard - turns out the founders shared the same profession with my Z as well.  They are all aerospace engineers.  Talk about coincidence!  

We visited during harvest!
The wines we tasted were spot on and we enjoyed everything we tasted for our $10 traditional tasting fee.  I especially liked the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, their specialties (you may remember my ZD Chardonnay post from a few years back).  While tasting we became friendly with the couple tasting next to us and they told us ZD was their favorite winery in all of Napa.  They had been celebrating their wedding anniversary in Napa every summer and ZD was always a stop on their tour.  We ended our quick tasting with a few orders including pinot noir and their awesome wood wine storage boxes with the ZD logo.  They look great in our wine storage area, located in Z's man cave! 

The greatest thing for us about visiting the Napa Valley is that each time we've visited, we've found a wine that we previously hadn't known about and ended up loving.  ZD Wines was no exception.  What happened to be a stop based on fun and curious coincidence ended up being one of our favorite wine tastings of that summer.  I'm excited to try the new wines on my upcoming itinerary, and am confident I will bring back new memories, and hopefully a few new bottles!  Blog posts to follow!  

All photos: my own
 ZD Wines
8888 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA
$10 traditional tasting/$20 reserve tasting
Various tours also available


Thursday, August 15, 2013

{Wine Wednesday} Napa Nostalgia: Cakebread Cellars

There are things you are eternally grateful for in life and for me, I feel like I owe gratitude to a former executive I once worked for who always made sure Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon was served at his functions.  I had never tried the wine at any of these functions and never tasted any of the brand’s varietals before visiting the Napa Valley for the first time in 2009.  Regardless, it was on the top of the ‘must taste’ list my husband and I created prior to that trip.  

There are a lot of excellent wines in California.  A lot.  But Cakebread Cellars set themselves apart from the other delicious wines we tasted on that trip for several reasons.   First, the grounds are impeccable both inside and outside.  I mean, you can literally eat fondue off of the floors where the wine is made.  I have not seen a cleaner wine production area to date.  Second, they have a fantastic chef.  I’ve never attended their special culinary events at the winery, but I have tried many of the recipes posted on their site (remember the post about my favorite crab cakes?). Third, their tour is straight forward and to the point, which matters when you’re trying to squeeze in as many tastings as you can on a weekend visit.  Something else I just loved about the tour was that they offered recipe cards with all of the wines we tasted.  I grabbed one of each! Fourth, their wine club is worth it.  Not only do you get a sizable shipment of quality wines, but you also get tasting notes, delicious wine pairing recipes, and general winery updates.  Included are also order forms with discounts for members and they also offer members an inexpensive flat rate shipping cost.  Oh and they have wine club events all over the country, not just in Napa,  which is particularly rewarding when you live on the ‘other’ coast.  And last, but certainly not least, rarely does a winemaker do everything, and I mean everything, well.  While I prefer full bodied reds, I have tried and thoroughly enjoyed different vintages of all of the following: the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, the Chardonnay Reserve, the summer ‘porch wine,’ the Merlot, the Pinot Noir, the Rubaiyat, the Zinfandel and the Cabernet Sauvignon.  There wasn’t a bottle that I thought was lacking.  This is a tasting room where you will genuinely enjoy everything your fee buys.  I was sad to deactivate my membership to the wine club when I became pregnant but I did give myself several bottles as a ‘new mommy’ gift to myself.  I call it catching up on lost time.  Nothing pairs better with motherhood than fine wine!

Wouldn't you like to eat here one day?

The super clean facility with the recipe cards next to the wine.  

My 'new mommy' gift to myself.  We've enjoyed many of these!  All photos: my own
Writing this post is making me super excited for my next visit to California Wine Country!  The official countdown: 7 days!!!


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Watermelon and Feta Salad with Mint Leaves

Earlier this summer I had a bunch of mint leaves lying around and a dinner party where I was asked to bring a salad (I offered to bring something to contribute).  Anyway, a quick internet search for 'mint leaf salad' resulting in my preparation of a delicious watermelon and feta salad.  I impressed myself with this one, and it has been a summer staple in my picnic basket ever since.  

I first tasted watermelon and feta together on a salad offered on a chef's tasting menu when I was lucky enough to have famed chef Susur Lee prepare an eight-course tasting meal for my friends and me while he was in town testing new items to add to his summer menu at the now closed Zentan Restaurant.  I was convinced that this was a food pairing that while questionable to some, was simply meant to be.  

mom's little helper!

5 lb. seedless watermelon 
1 Vidalia or other sweet onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste (when on the run I omit this)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
4 oz. feta cheese
6 whole mint sprigs
Balsamic vinegar


Cube watermelon into one inch pieces.  Slice the onion into rings, and cut the rings into halves.  

In small bowl, mix oil and red wine vinegar.  Whisk until salt nearly dissolves and add a splash of Balsamic vinegar.  Add chopped mint.

In large bowl, combine watermelon, onion, and feta.  Pour the dressing over the melon mixture toss gently until everything is coated and evenly mixed.  Garnish with mint sprigs and enjoy!

Note: If you are taking this to a party or a picnic, be mindful that the dressing should be added when the salad is ready to serve.  I take the leaves right off of the sprig and add them to the salad. 

Wine pairing: this tastes great with a chilled pinot noir rose.  I've enjoyed this with the Tatty Bogler New Zealand Rose, ~$15

Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen


Friday, August 9, 2013

{Wine Wednesday!} Napa Nostalgia: Caymus Vineyards

Well it’s not Wine Wednesday but since it’s always #WW in our house, it makes no difference that this post comes on a Friday.  I’m two weeks away from my next trip to Napa and I couldn’t be giddier.  I actually already separated my outfits in my closet so that they are ready to pack!  I’m getting so excited and thinking about our last visit makes the wait even more exciting. 

The detail of a glass per wine taste was once pretty standard and was less popular this last visit.  I'm glad Caymus still does this
On our December 2012 visit, my hands-down favorite experience was a tasting with Caymus Vineyards.  I booked an appointment a couple of months before we visited, so they accommodated our family of 7 and a baby at the tasting table that is in a room just a step away from the  general tasting table (the tasting bar or table was new, and I’m not sure if it’s permanent.  My 2009 visit only had sit-down tastings available).  Anyway, what a host we had and what a selection we were offered!  We not only got to sample the best of Caymus but really the best of the Wagner Family wines.  We started with Conundrum white wine and then went on to one of my favorite white wine tastings yet – the Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay.  I’ve been buying this bottle to enjoy during the summer months.  On to the Caymus wines – we tasted the Zinfandel, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.  OMG.  AMAZING!  Somehow we lost my father during the tasting and we found him later with wines both in hand and on order for delivery.  I think he was one happy birthday boy!

The Three Good Grapes being silly
The Wager Family has a great reputation for winemaking in Napa and the tasting proved that, but the quality and pure FUN of our visit is what marks this one of the most memorable wine experiences I’ve ever encountered.  Our tasting was offered by a wine educator and Master Sommelier and above all, he was just generally awesome.  After our tasting we went back to the wine store and found my dad and got to try a bonus tasting of another new favorite, the Belle Glos Pinot noir, a Clark and Telephone wine also founded by the Wagner Family.  They were offering tastings in the back area where they happen to display the largest bottle of Cabernet in the world.  True story – turns out Mr. Wagner has a sense of humor with that great wine-making sense.  When he saw the previous largest bottle of cab in the world, he decided HE wanted to have the largest bottle.  So he just made one.  Just like that! Oh to be invited to the party where THAT bottle gets opened!  

The Good Grape Family with the famous bottle ;)

My souvenirs, the WS review of Belle Glos and my Caymus and steak 2013 bday dinner

All photos are my own

If you come to Napa, come here.  Even if you already know the wines.  You’ll be glad you stopped by. 

Caymus Vineyards

8700 Conn Creek Road

Rutherford, CA 94573

Note: Tasting fee is $30 and appointments are required, according to the website. The Belle Glos Pinot Noir was not on the tasting menu but was offered as a bonus at the time we visited.  It was also a Top 100 wines on the 2012 Wine Spectator review.  


Friday, August 2, 2013

Design Crush: Nero Walls

Happy Friday to all in BlogLand out there!  This Friday I wanted to share my current interior obsession - and the inspiration behind my totally impulsive and over budget home improvement project: black walls.  Now about the project: I just don't like the look of TVs.  Yuck.  So when I was faced with how and where to place the TV in our TV room (now that my husband has his basement man cave and I dismantled our media cabinets for home office use), I had the audacious idea of painting the TV wall black in order to help 'hide' the abrasiveness of it.  Then I thought, wouldn't it be cool to paint the whole room black???  And then a simple little paint project spun totally out of control from there.  But, are you with me?  Are black walls not the new black?  Here are just a few pins that inspired my project.  What do you think?

Side note: when I told my contractor I'd be painting the walls black, his eyeballs nearly popped out and I went into a momentary panic.  But I stuck to the plan, and will soon enjoy my new black room!


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

{Wine Wednesday} Napa Nostalgia: Honig Winery

On this Wine Wednesday I am sitting in my wine room admiring my collection of Napa Valley wines that have been sent to us through the various clubs we’ve joined over time.  I just can’t wait until my next wine tasting trip and since I have to wait another 25 days to be reunited with the Napa Valley, I am going to write about my favorite Napa experiences in anticipation of my trip.  

One of my favorite stops on this adventure to savor the gift that is wine has been to Honig Vineyard and Winery, a small stop just off of Rutherford Road in Napa Valley that offers big, big flavor. Our December 2012 tasting was set up by a sweet and friendly hostess, Kelly.  I made reservations a little over a month in advance and they were able to seat our group of 7 for a memorable tasting.

Photo: Google Images
We tasted five wines: The Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Campbell Vineyard Cabernet and the Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc (a sweeter wine that was thoroughly enjoyed) - all from their regular tasting menu and a bonus Cabernet Pink that they were offering at the time.  True statement: During our visit, I REPEATEDLY commented positively on the wine.  ALL of it was delicious and I was beyond impressed with both the quality and taste of the wine.  Added to the friendly and welcoming staff in the small tasting room, the personalized signs posted for their tasting groups, and the fun takeaway cork key chains that we were each given, this made the experience one to remember.  

I love that they reserve tables with tasters' names on cute chalkboard signs!

Above: visibly enjoying Cabernet Pink; I still have my adorable key chain

I came home from this trip to the latest issue of Wine Spectator and saw that one of the wines we tasted there was rated in the top 100 wines of the year.  I’m glad I’m not the only one who agrees the wine here is spectacular!  At the time the tasting was a bargain at $10 per person, but since we’ve visited they’ve raised their prices to $15 - closer to what most wineries in the area charge for a tasting. I don’t recall the exact price of the bottles, but I do remember noting that for the high ratings, they were priced much lower than similarly rated wines in the area.  

Honig Winery
850 Rutherford Rd
Napa, CA

I'd love to hear about your favorite tasting experiences, I'm constantly looking for places to add to my list.