Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Bitter Tasting at Fess Parker

Bob and I were excited about visiting the Fess Parker Winery. Our destination manager had arranged for our tasting there and we'd enjoyed the chardonnay back home. We were right in the middle of wine country and wishing we'd had more than one day to explore!

This winery is one of the most beautiful we'd seen so far. It was nothing like the Italianate pretentious structures of other wineries we'd visited. This was more like a ranch house and something that looked right at home in the rolling hills and ranches of the area.

Bob and I both grew up watching Fess Parker play Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett on TV, so it was great fun to see his picture in the tasting room. Even more fun were the little coonskin cap cork-toppers for sale!

It's hard to imagine being in a more beautiful setting and having such a terrible tasting experience. Our hostess was rude, snobby, and unwilling to volunteer any information about the wines or the ranch unless we asked pointed questions. And followed up with pointed questions. She really was irritated, I believe, that she was in such a demeaning job as a sales person for this winery.

I am absolutely sure that the performance of this hostess had a great impact on our opinion of the wines. We tasted the chardonnays and pinot noirs for which they are famous, and found all to be overpriced for their quality. That equals not a good value. This was the first winery we visited where we didn't purchase a thing, not even those cute little coonskin caps. We couldn't wait to leave, as a matter of fact.

If you want to see a truly beautiful winery and vinyard in the California style, you can visit Fess Parker at 6200 Foxen Canyon Rd. Los Olivos, CA 93441. Call them at (805) 688-1545, (800) 841-1104 if you have any questions. If you visit for a tasting, be sure to request someone other than the gal from New Zealand.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tasting at Firestone Vinyards

Firestone Vinyard was the first estate winery in Santa Barbara County, CA. It was started by the son of the Firestone of tire fame back in 1972.

Our hostess told us that some of these vines had been planted more than 30 years ago, making these the oldest vines we have seen thus far in CA.

My friend Shannon Brunet of Global Restaurant in Charlotte told me that if I present my business card, tasting fees would be waived for those of us in the business. This was true and a real money-saver for us, allowing us to spend our money on the wine and not the tasting and glasses!

I've mentioned before how important the tasting room hostess is, and Susan Pratt at Firestone Vinyards was the best we've ever had. She was friendly, enthusiastic, and passionate about her wine knowledge. We spent almost three hours with her, joined the wine club and also will have a case or so of Firestone wines waiting for us when we get home. (Susan is the one who recommended Mattei's Tavern & Brothers Restaurant for our dinner.)

Later that evening, after our wonderful experience at the tavern in Los Olivos, we strolled through the small village. Who should drive up to us but Susan, who was visiting her church to refresh a flower arrangement! She took us into her church to show us its beauty and then spent another 30 minutes or so telling us about the area and its residents. She said that lots of past stars from Hollywood have retired to Santa Barbara County. I can see why. It is a beautiful place, full of rolling hills, woods, pastures, and history.

You can visit Firestone Vinyards at 5000 Zaca Station RoadLos Olivos CA 93441. Call them at(805) 688-3940 ext. 31 to join the wine club or ask questions. These wines are delicious and affordable for everyday drinking.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Friday, March 27, 2009

An Evening at Mattei's Tavern & Brothers' Restaurant in Los Olivos

We love historical places, so when we passed this tavern on our way to the vinyards, we just knew we had to come back for supper. Imagine our delight when the hostess at Firestone Vinyards recommended this restaurant to us!

Chef brothers Matt and Jeff Nichols moved into this historical building and restored it to its stage coach days splendor. It's surrounded by pretty green lawns and gardens, and an original wooden water tower at the edge of its large back lawn. I can imagine hosting an evening of dining with friends on that lawn!

They definitely need some old-fashioned southern rocking chairs on this porch, don't you think? I can just imagine all the people waiting for the stage to arrive!

It wasn't easy or comfortable for folks to travel back in those days! We're definitely spoiled by our luxury cars and air conditioning!

This is the lobby of the tavern and restaurant. Back during temperance times, the tavern was moved to a small building unconnected to the stage office, but it's back now. The fireplace and beams in the ceilings are all original. I just had to ask about ghosts, and the receptionist told me that she'd heard others talk of glasses falling off shelves for no reason, and women feeling their hair being pulled. Probably just stories to tantalize the tourists, but I would have been disappointed if there hadn't been any to tell!

Our bartender was great fun and made the best dirty martinis! What a perfect good will embassador, and he set the stage for a wonderful evening!

I would say that Bob is relaxed after a full day of wine tasting and touring. Wouldn't you agree?

I think the general public never gives food servers the credit they deserve. Our waitress was fantastic. She helped my poor memory out, too, because I recognized Cheryl Ladd at the table next to ours (one of Charlie's Angels...she's the blonde cutie), but I couldn't place one of her companions. Our waitress wrote a note on her pad that the handsome gentleman with the full shock of white hair was Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Remember him from the old FBI show on TV back in the late '60s & early '70s?

What a beautiful rack of lamb! The exquisite 2007 Estate Pinot we had from Melville Vinyards in the Santa Maria Valley was the perfect pairing for Bob's lamb and my salmon. The next time we come out here we are going to do the wineries in the Santa Maria Valley and Melville will be our first stop!

You can visit Mattei's Tavern & Brothers Restaurant at 2350 Railway Avenue in Los Olivos, California 93441. Call them at (805) 688-4820 for reservations or questions.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wine Tasting at Eos Winery in Paso Robles

I know that we at Wines for Humanity source many of our California wines from the Paso Robles area, so I was thrilled to visit the beautiful Eos Estate Winery. This is one of those places where the view is spectacular from so many vantage points, that we lingered outside for a while enjoying the scenery before we went inside.
If you visit wineries, you already know that the wine-tasting experience is totally dependent on the host or hostess you have. Colleen (below) was a real gem. We spent a lot of time enjoying her warm personality and extensive knowledge of the winery and wine-making there. The wine was delicious, and Bob joined their wine club and then had them ship some of his favorites home.

Touring at Eos is self-guided. We had places to go so just quickly peeked into the wine cave below.

In this photo is just a sampling of the more than 10,000 barrels of wine being stored, mostly in French oak with some American and other European. I wish you could smell the heady aromas of all the wines aging there.

Below is one of my favorite views of the vinyards, which stretch into the distance and seem to go on forever.
Eos Estate Vinyard is the largest winery on California’s Central Coast to run completely on alternative energy. It has a solar farm that is more than 2 acres large. Bob was impressed!

Eos Estate Vinyards is located at 5625 Highway 46 East Paso Robles, CA 93446.
Call the winery at 805.239.2562 if you have any questions about their wine, joining their wine club, or just having a delightful visit.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Best Dim Sum in San Francisco

Dim Sum or Deem Sum is the Chinese tradition of small helpings served along side tea. Kind of like tapas, actually, where you can go to a restaurant with a group of friends and each of you orders a variety of selections, then you share and get to taste lots of different dishes. It's a really fun way that Bob and I like to eat rather than just having a mega-size entree of one thing. So, one of my goals while in San Francisco was to go to a really great Chinese restaurant that served dim sum style.

It would have been great if Bob could have joined me, but he had to make some business calls. I was on my own and ready to conquer China Town! But how to find "the best" dim sum restaurant there? I turned to our hotel concierge, who assured me that Yank Sing served the best dim sum in SF (and repeatedly voted so by local diners) and had moved out of China Town and into the upscale and bustling Rincon Business Center. An easy walk from the Ferry Building, he assured me. So off I went on my adventure!

Now, if you've never been to a dim sum restaurant you really must go and give it a try. This way of eating is perfectly suited for all of us who have a bit of trouble making up our mind when we peruse a menu. It's the solution for all who fear commitment. The servers pass by your table with rolling carts laden with steam baskets full of steamed vegetables, stuffed and beautifully formed dumplings, fried seafood and meat of all kinds, and finally desserts. You choose as the meal progresses and it's really great fun to have such variety.

This cold red cabbage slaw was the first dish offered to me and I accepted it to last throughout the meal. It was delicious, with a citrusy-sweet light dressing and sweet walnut halves. What a healthy way to start the meal (and fill up so I wouldn't be too tempted by the fried foods later!).

The very beauty of the Chinese dumplings makes it hard to resist them. These little perfectly-formed and steamed packages of dough were stuffed with succulent shrimp and crab meat. Easy to pick up with chopsticks (always a plus for me!), two bites each, and were tender and delicious.

One of the most interesting dishes I tried was this little bundle of sticky rice that was wrapped in lotus leaves and steamed. The server used scissors to cut it open for me. The delightful surprise inside was barbecued pork and shrimp!

Just when I decided that I was filled to the brim, along came a server with Peking Duck. She offered me a tiny plate on which sat a precious little clam-shaped steamed roll, a small shingle of duck with the crispy skin attached, a stack of slivered scallion, and a tiny spoonful of sauce; the goal being to create my own delightful little sandwich. It was too much for me to resist! Another two bites and that really was all I could consume for lunch. I can't wait to seek out a good dim sum restaurant in Charlotte when I get home!
Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Trip to the Ferry Building Market

Once the terminus for all travelers from the East to San Francisco, the Ferry Building is now a market place and famous landmark for residents and visitors. And the latter was yours truly earlier in the week when I was on my own to explore this bustling city. Are you surprised that I arrived at the Ferry Building by trolley? What fun! And then the beautiful interior full of delightful food aromas and light!

The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture's mission is to promote a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its educational programs. Visit them at www.cuesa.org.

If Bob had been with me, we would have planted ourselves on stools at the
Hog Island Oyster Company and waited for them to open for lunch! Since I had so much to see,
I settled for taking some photos of the bushels of fresh oysters sitting on ice and
waiting for hungry crowds just an hour away.

I love pig parts. It is one of my favorite food groups.
I wanted to spend more time tasting at the Boccalone shop.
You can order their tasty salted pig parts online from their website.

Wow...at $8.99 per pound I think I have about $27 worth of rendered duck fat in my freezer right now. I'd better put a lock on that door.

I'm a sucker for the "last chance!" sales.

Wouldn't you love to have a market near you where you could get fresh crabs?

Outside on the sidewalk is where the local growers set up their farmers market. Lots of early cool-weather crops and citrus were offered on this day, as well as two stalls that were filled with dried fruits of all kinds. That is what is packaged in this picture below.

Greens, greens, beautiful greens!

"Cosmetically challenged" organic carrots and parsnips.

Fresh asparagus is in season here and people were walking away
with bags full of it. I bet it is good!

A sunny day at the market! What a great experience!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Monday, March 16, 2009

Make a quick crustless quiche for a nutritious, delicious, and money-saving meal for your family!

Crustless Quiche is an easy way to transform tidbits of leftover vegetables, meat and cheese into a quick meal when you're short on time. Try combinations of ham or bacon with cheddar or Swiss cheese, broccoli or asparagus, or any combination. Additional vegetables that are really good additions are bits of leftover English peas, whole kernel corn, zucchini or squash, diced cooked potatoes....do you get the idea? Raid your fridge on a busy weeknight or when guests stop by for brunch and enjoy!

If you've never made a quiche...or a crustless one at that...you will be delighted to know that it's very easy. And tasty. It's just a mixture of eggs, milk, cheese, veggies, and maybe some meat if you want.

I'm going to give you a basic recipe here and you get to plug in whatever ingredients you have on hand. The classic Quiche Lorraine is just eggs, milk and Gruyere cheese with some crispy bacon and sauteed shallots in a pie crust. It's just as good without the crust. Here's the recipe, and I've included the additions I made to this recipe to produce my Greek style quiche for our brunch today. Oh, and what you are seeing in the picture is my homemade whole wheat bread toasted and a quick salad of torn Romaine leaves with a simple Dijon vinaigrette.

Quiche Lorraine

6 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 c. chopped onion or shallot
1 1/2 c. shredded Gruyere cheese
1 (12 oz.) can evaporated milk OR cream (I use fat-free evaporated milk)
3 lge. eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 °. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat. When bacon starts to turn brown, add onion. Cook until bacon is crisp; drain. Sprinkle cheese into bottom of pie shell. Top with bacon mixture. combine evaporated milk, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in small bowl until blended. Pour into pie shell.

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until knife inserted half way between center and edge comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before cutting.

My Greek Quiche Additions/Substitutions:

1 (10-oz.) pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 c. diced green bell pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
(Saute garlic & bell pepper with the shallots)
1/2 c. goat cheese and 1 c. Gruyere instead of all Gruyere
2 medium Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
No bacon

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Recipe for Whole Wheat Bread

Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

After a couple days of 85 degree weather, winter has returned with a Southern vengeance! Forty degrees and raining makes for a miserable day outside, but this kind of weather also always puts me in the mood for baking. Nothing smells better than bread baking in the oven. Well, except maybe chicken roasting....and that's also happening in my oven this afternoon!

Here's my recipe for whole wheat bread. It's a combination of unbleached white flour and whole wheat and is light and firm, sweet and salty....everything homemade bread should be! If you're new to bread baking, give this a try, and practice practice practice till you get it perfect. You will love eating your practice loaves!

Whole Wheat Bread

5 c. unbleached flour + extra for kneading (about 1 cup depending on humidity)
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 T. + 1 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 c. skim milk
1/2 c. half & half cream
2/3 c. warm water
1/2 stick unsalted butter, sliced into 6 pieces
6 T. honey
2 envelopes active dry yeast

Combine butter, milk, half & half, and honey in 4 c. glass measuring cup and heat in microwave just until butter starts to melt. Stir till butter is melted, stir in water and set aside. Milk should not be too hot...just warm to the touch. Let it cool a bit if you need to.

Turn the oven on to 200 degrees for 10 minutes and then turn it off.

In bowl of large mixer (I use Kitchenaid Artisan) combine 1/2 unbleached flour, all of whole wheat flour, salt, and yeast. With paddle attachment on mixer and motor running, slowly pour in the warm milk mixture and beat until smooth. Replace paddle attachment with dough hook and gradually add the remainder of the flour, increasing speed as dough gets thick. Add enough reserved flour until dough gathers around the dough hook. The dough will be soft and slightly tacky.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured countertop and knead briefly until you can easily shape it into a ball. Wash your mixing bowl and dry it; grease it lightly with oil and put the ball of bread dough into it. Turn it to lightly coat the top of the dough, cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and set it in the oven to rise till doubled in size, about one hour.

Turn the dough out onto your lightly floured counter and let rest while you lightly butter two 9" x 5" loaf pans.

Divide the dough in half and with your fingers press each half into rectangles about 8 inches wide. Starting at one short end, roll dough up tightly and place into pan, seam side down. Repeat with other half of dough. Lightly brush with oil and cover once again with plastic wrap and set in oven till doubled in size, about 20 - 30 minutes. (If you have a single oven, put the loaves into your empty microwave to rise while your oven preheats.)

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350 degrees for at least 20 minutes. Place risen loaves on bottom rack (remove plastic wrap first) and bake for 40-50 minutes. If they start getting too dark for your taste after 30 minutes, lay a foil tent on top to protect them.

Remove from oven and then from pans and check to see that they sound hollow when you tap them on the bottom with your fingernail. A hollow sound means that they are finished, or you can check with an instant read thermometer to see if they have reached 190-195 degrees. You'll get good at this and will be able to tell by the sound. Rub all over with butter, cool on a rack, slice and enjoy!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Day's Work for a Personal Chef

My cookday really begins the week before when I design the menu for my clients. I know what they like to eat and also their nutritional needs, so I put the menu together based on those things and email it to them for approval. Sometimes I get an email back requesting a special dish that they've enjoyed in the past and I make that change.

I usually make five separate meals of four servings each, and I package this food according to the size of the family. The meals in the picture above were prepared for a bachelor client who is losing weight and getting fit, so I do mostly low-glycemic index, low fat foods for him, and package everything in single servings. What you see will feed him for a month...20 meals to enjoy on weeknights!

The day before my client's "cookday," I print out a menu of all the food I will be making so that I can leave that on the kitchen counter and they'll know what's in their fridge and freezer. I also print out the recipes I'll be using, labels for the containers, and my shopping list. I load my trusty Forester with my Rubbermaid bin full of pots and pans, one that contains my pantry items, such as flour, spices, etc., my soft-sided cooler, and a few other essentials. I have a Stanley tool box that I keep my kitchen tools in: favorite knives, bamboo scrapers and spoons, measuring spoons, instant read thermometer, etc. Everything I will need I take with me.

I love to start my cookday in bed with a cup of coffee and the news, and so I wake up around 6:00 so I can have an hour to enjoy before jumping into the shower. Since my car's already loaded, it's a snap to grab my purse, portfolio with all the printed materials, and my phone. Sometimes I take my iPod or a portable radio. I'm always excited about being able to spend the day cooking. (Yes, the whole day! This is why I do what I do!)

First stop is the grocery store, and sometimes it's more than one store to find everything I need. It all depends on where my client-for-the-day lives. Some days I'm cooking in the country and other days in the city, and by now I know my way around all the grocery stores! I love to shop and I've made friends with the meat and fish guys and the produce managers, so I can call ahead and they'll have special cuts of meat ready for me to pick up, and the produce managers will even order unusual fruits and veggies for me. They are my best friends in the morning on a cookday!

I pull into my client's driveway usually between 9:00 & 10:00 a.m. and unload, put some music on, and I'm cooking by 10:30. I take a break at noon while something is simmering and something else is roasting, and I snarf down a quick cup of yogurt to keep me going. I have to force myself to drink water because I get busy and forget, but dehydration eventually drains one of energy, and I still have four hours to go!

I quick-cool the hot food in ice water baths and immediately package and apply labels and get them in the fridge or freezer. One by one I check off each recipe and then clean up, pack up, sweep the kitchen floor and load up my car. I stick the menu on the fridge or leave it on the counter. The house smells heavenly from all my home cooking and I know my clients will be looking forward to coming home after a long day and having their supper ready and waiting!

I like to do extra things for my clients, too. Sometimes I'll set the table and leave a small vase of flowers. If there are children in the family, from time to time I'll bake some cookies for a treat. Often I'll make a fresh fruit or veggie salad. I really appreciate their business!

I'm usually on the road heading home by 4:00 or 4:30. Another delightful day of cooking for appreciative clients at an end, and this is when I really appreciate what I do as I drive by all the offices still full of people trapped behind desks and in cubes!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What a Personal Chef Cooks at Home

In a hurry, hungry, and don't want to make a big mess in the kitchen? Help speed your evening meal prep along by keeping a zippy bag of cooked pasta in the freezer. Just prepare it according to package directions to the minimum cooking time, rinse under cold running water, drain, toss it with a bit of olive oil and freeze. When you're ready to use it, just toss the bag in the microwave on defrost setting for a couple of minutes, take out what you need, and then return the bag to the freezer for the next time.

Here's an easy recipe for a skillet dinner that's as tasty and satisfying as going out to your favorite Italian restaurant, but at a fraction of the cost and it'll feed a crowd. This freezes well, too, so freeze it in portions for quick future meals!

Italian Skillet Dinner

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. wine (dry white or dry red, what you have in the fridge)
1 pound Italian sausage, sliced 1/2 inch (mild, hot, turkey, chicken, pork...your choice)
6-8 cups cooked pasta (I used penne this time.)
2 (28-oz.) cans diced tomatoes with garlic & basil, undrained
5 ounces fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

In a large, deep skillet, sauté vegetables over medium-high heat until they start to get soft; remove them from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, brown the sausage over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Drain any fat, but don't wipe out the pan.

Pour the wine into the pan and return it to the burner over medium-high heat. Spoon the vegetables back into the pan and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes. Add sausage and tomatoes to the skillet and bring to a simmer for another 2 minutes to blend the flavors. Stir in the fresh spinach until it is just wilted and serve. Top with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Serves 6 hungry people.

Bon Appétit!
Chef Debbie