Saturday, February 28, 2009

Newton - Unflitered Chardonnay - 2005

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The Newton winery is recognized as an American pioneer of unfiltered wines, a philosophy that adds complexity to the winemaking process and demands meticulousness and attention to detail, but maximizes all the subtle characters of the fruit. The grapes are estate grown in the Carneros region, which are ideal for the full and rich flavors.

I have been a devoted follower of the unfiltered Chardonnay for many years. One of my good friends previously worked for the winery and I attended her wedding. Of course, the Chardonnay served was the Newton unfiltered – what a treat!

The Unfiltered Chardonnay is an inviting dark straw hue. This
powerful wine opens with rich crème caramel, butterscotch and fresh
vanilla bean aromas, later revealing baked apple and nutty characters.
Flavors of white peach and caramel with a touch of honey round out this
full-bodied, balanced wine with a lingering creamy finish. It is aged for 20 months in French Oak.

Recommended Food Pairings:
Fried Shrimp Tempura
Poached Salmon
Fettuccini Alfredo


Friday, February 27, 2009

Creamy Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

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I have found that the creamy texture and rich flavor of Yukon Gold potatoes make the perfect mashed potatoes. I love the deluxe angled potato ricer from Williams-Sonoma. This recipe is not for someone a diet!

2 lbs. Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
1 T. salt (for boiling water)
½ to ¾ c. half & half
6 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup sour cream
½ t. salt
6 to 8 grinds freshly ground black pepper

Cut the potatoes into quarters and place them in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with cold water and add 1 T. salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

As soon as the potatoes are tender, drain them in a colander. Process the potatoes through the food mill or a potato ricer, over a large glass bowl. As soon as the potatoes have all gone through the ricer, cut the butter into small pieces and add on top of the potatoes until melted. Add sour cream, salt and pepper and mix together. Add half & half a ¼ cup at a time until you obtain the consistency you desire. You may not use the full ¾ cup of half & half. Taste for additional seasoning and serve hot.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coffee & Spice Rubbed Roast Pork Tenderloin

One of my favorite weekday dinners is roasted pork tenderloin. I found this divine rub at Williams-Sonoma called "Coffee and Spice Rub". Just adds enough flavor and that something special to your dinner. Taste great accompanied by Mango Ginger Chutney. The best place to buy the chutney, Trader Joe's. Pan roasted brussel sprouts make a great side dish.

Pan-roast it: This is my favorite method of cooking pork tenderloin. Take the tenderloin out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Prep the tenderloin by removing the fat and silver skin from the meat. Pat the coffee & spice rub all over the pork tenderloin. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in an ovenproof skillet and sear the tenderloin over medium-high heat to brown all sides, about 3 minutes in all.

Place skillet in the oven and roast 30 minutes, until internal temperature is 145 degrees. Remove from the oven, tent the pork with foil and let it rest about 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Salty Dog

My friend Phil introduced me to the "Salty Dog". This cocktail is really refreshing with the tart grapefruit juice and the salty edge. Enjoy on a warm summer day or by the fire with spicy nuts.
2 oz. Vodka
4 oz. Fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice or the best store bought version
Salt for rimming
Rim a highball glass with salt. Fill glass with ice cubes. Add vodka and grapefruit juice and stir.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Great Cheese & Great Friends

Our dear friends Dean (left) and Mark (right) recently moved to Arkansas from Northern California due to a job change. We miss them! Dean called Friday afternoon to let me know they were in town and would love to see Charles and me.

I had just gone to the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building last weekend and bought some great cheeses from The Cowgirl Creamery. Invited them to come over to enjoy wine and a great cheese platter.

From left to right, the cheeses are (see photo below):

Red Hawk - Made by Cowgirl Creamery, triple cream, washed rind, cows milk cheese, aged 6 weeks with a brine solution. A bit stinky, but divine!
Point Reyes Farmstead Blue Cheese - made by the name sake, creamy, salty flavor, aged 6 months, one of the best blue cheeses around!
Midnight Moon - Made by Cypress Grove, goat's milk cheese, dense and chewy, aged one year, brown butter flavor with caramel undertones. In a word - WOW!
Lamb Chopper - Made by Cypress Grove, sheep's milk Gouda, smooth, buttery with a light fruity aroma. Great sheep milk cheese, especially once it comes to room temperature.

Accented the cheese platter with grapes, dried apricots, sweet & spicy pecans, medjool dates, pistachios, salami and a fig jam. Bought a fresh baguette!

We had a great Chardonnay from Steven Kent Winery in Livermore and a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon that Dean and Mark brought.

Great to spend a relaxing evening with such great friends!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Auction Dinner - An Opportunity to Give Back

My husband and I attended our nephew’s school auction in 2008 and we decided to donate our time and talents to help raise money for the school. Wanted to translate my passion for cooking and entertaining to tangible funds for the school, so I decided to offer a seven course tasting menu at our house as an auction item. Five couples decided to go in as a collective group to purchase the dinner for $1,000. Took a bit of time to coordinate everyone's busy schedules but finally held the dinner at our house in early 2009.

The dinner was such a hit with everyone that they asked the "chef" to come out for a toast! It was a bit surreal for a moment, that I was the chef. The group even joked that they would tell everyone it was "not that good", so they could win it again this year. What a rewarding experience to do something that I have such passion for and at the same time, raise money for such a wonderful cause.

This year’s auction is around the corner and I am planning to design another tasting menu to have as an auction item to help raise money for our nephew’s school. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to earn $1,500 for the school? Stay tuned...... (Quick update - we earned $1,300 for the dinner and will schedule soon - not too bad considering the challenging economy.)

Tasting Menu

Crab Cakes
Lemon Aioli, Avocado Jicama Citrus Salad
(Caymus Conumdrum 2005)

Roasted Red and Golden Beet Salad
Blood Orange Vinaigrette, Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese, Toasted Pistachios
(John Anthony Sauvignon Blanc 2006)

Zucchini Bisque
Crème Fraiche, Handmade Petite Chive Biscuit
(D.R. Stephens Chardonnay Hudson 2004)

Palate Cleanser
Meyer Lemon Sorbet with Prosecco

Seared Alaskan Salmon
Parmesan & English Pea Pure, Lemon Scented Free Range Chicken Stock with Shallots
(Barnett Vineyards Pinot Nior 2006)

Petite Lamb Chops
Mint-Cilantro Relish, Assorted Roasted Vegetables
(Spencer Roloson Syrah La Herradura 2003)

Braised Short ribs with Orange Hoisen Sauce
Roasted Garlic Potato Puree, Green Beans
(Ladera Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 2004)

Warm Molten Chocolate Cake
Handmade Caramel Sauce Accented with Berries
(Artisan Lattes, Cappuccinos and Coffee)


Special note: Gave everyone a small white box with a black/white ribbon tied around it which was filled with my famous toffee (recipe under "Cookies and Candy"). Topped it off with a pretty little white card tied to the ribbon that said "tomorrow". By the next week, I learned that not too many people waited until the next day and were inquiring about the recipe.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Steak Diane

Steak Diane was all the rage in the 50's and 60's in New York City. It was prepared table side at the top restaurants in a dramatic way by flambeing the cognac to create the sauce. To continue with the rich flavors, I added roasted fingerling potatoes and brown butter glazed baby carrots. My husband loved it!

4 (3-ounce) Filet Mignon medallions (thinly sliced into 12 flat pieces)
1 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
2 T. butter
1 T. minced shallots
2 t. minced garlic
1 cup thinly sliced white mushroom caps
1/3 cup brandy
2 t. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup reduced veal stock – you will need 1 T. Veal Demi Glace (*see below for simple trick)
2 t. Worcestershire sauce
3 T. finely chopped green onions
1t. minced parsley leaves

Season the beef medallions on both sides with the salt and pepper. Meat should be brought to just above room temperature. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook for 30 seconds on the first side. Turn and cook for 30 seconds on the second side. Add the shallots and garlic to the side of the pan and cook, stirring, for 15 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until soft, 2 minutes. Place the meat on a plate and cover to keep warm.

Take the pan off the heat and add the brandy. Let sit for about 30 seconds to let the alcohol burn off and should not flame. Add the mustard and cream, mix well and cook while stirring for about 1 minute.

Veal stock trick: Add 1 tablespoon of store bought veal demi glace to 1/3 cup of boiling water. Let sit for 5 minutes and then stir until well combined. (I found at the demi glace at Williams Sonoma)

Add the veal stock and simmer for 1 minute. Add the Worcestershire and stir to combine. Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan and turn the meat to coat with the sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the green onions and parsley. Serve immediately.

Rudd - Sauvignon Blanc - 2006

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I first experienced Rudd’s Sauvignon Blanc at the Grand Opening Party at Calistoga Ranch’s Resort in the upper Napa Valley. I fell in love with the vibrant and elegantly smooth finish that is full of citrus flavors and a hint of vanilla. Rudd is best known for their Cabernet Sauvignon but has been quietly producing some of the best Sauvignon Blanc. Robert Parker rated this wine “Outstanding 93 points”. Other flavors include: notes of guava, fig, honeysuckle and honeydew melon.

Recommended Food Pairings:

Chicken Salad
Goat Cheese Crostini with Roasted Red Peppers
Lobster Bisque


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Grand Marnier Ciabatta French Toast

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You often hear that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Why not have a "wow" breakfast! This Grand Marnier Ciabatta French Toast is a homerun with breakfast lovers. I served it with center cut bacon and a fresh fruit salad of raspberries, petite orange segments and red bartlett pears. As a special touch, I like to serve heated maple syrup in a shot glass to drizzle over the french toast.

Custard mixture:

3 large eggs
1 c. half and half
¼ c. Grand Marnier
2 t. vanilla
2 t. sugar
1 T. orange juice
1 T. orange zest

8 - one inch slices of ciabatta bread
Cinnamon for sprinkling
2 to 3 T. butter

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half & half, grand marnier, vanilla, sugar, orange juice and orange zest. Whisk until well combined and creamy.

Over low heat, melt the butter on a large stove top griddle. Dip each slice of ciabatta bread in the custard mixture and add to the griddle. Once all eight are on the griddle, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on each. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the underside is brown and crispy, about 4 to 6 minutes. Flip each one and cook for another 4 to 6 minutes. Serve immediately with your favorite syrup or fruit topping.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day

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Instead of worrying about making reservations months in advance, I decided to make reservations in our dining room for two. My Husband and I celebrated Valentines Day with a four course dinner with hand selected wines from our cellar that paired perfectly with each course.

Lisa's Entertaining Tips:

(1) Determine the menu and select the wines a week in advance
(2) Create menu to have on each plate a week ahead. I typically shop at Michael’s for the paper, velum and ribbon. Recently purchased a leather binder to catalogue all dinner party menus I have created.
(3) Shop for the food a day in advance. Make a list prior to heading to the store.
(4) In the AM, set the table with a crisp white linen table cloth, silk rose petals, candles, chargers, dishes, flatware, wine glasses, water glasses, linen napkins and sparkle hearts. Add the handcrafted menus as the last touch.
(5) Prepare as many of the food items in advance, using the “mis en place” method, meaning “Everything in place”. I like to cut, chop and slice everything I need and store in plastic containers. This makes it simple to cook and serve.
(6) Select your favorite play list on your ipod (Tip - go to itunes and check out the imix section)
(7) Just before dinner - light the candles, turn on the music, create a fire and put on that “little black dress”

Dinner Menu:

Pecan and Parmesan Dip with Endive
Wente Vineyards, Brut Reserve, Sparkling Wine, Arroyo Seco Monterey

Crab Cocktail
Fresh Lump Meat Crab, lemon Infused Cream Cheese, Diced Celery, Cocktail Sauce Served in a Seashell
Sauvignon Blanc, Rudd Winery, Napa Valley 2006

Steak Diane, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Brown Butter Glazed Organic Carrots
Cabernet Sauvignon, Lancaster Estate Winery, Alexander Valley, Nicole’s

Pear and Raspberry Crisp
Handcrafted Café Latte

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Creamy Scrambled Eggs

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My Husband loves scrambled eggs for a weekend breakfast. Since today is Valentines Day, I wanted to make it extra special for him. Recently I discovered ready to bake frozen biscuits at Trader Joe's. They looked simple and delicious. On a shopping trip to Fourth Street in Berkeley a few weeks ago, I came across a divine jar of Apricot Jam from The Pasta Shop. Fourth Street shopping is golden gem in the East Bay and a "must do" on a Saturday or Sunday.

Creamy Scrambled Eggs


5 large eggs
¼ Cup Half and Half
½ Teaspoon Salt (add more if desired)
3 to 4 Grinds of Fresh Ground Pepper
1 Tablespoon butter
Heat a 12-inch pan on low heat and do not add butter quite yet.In medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with half & half, salt and pepper. Whisk for about 15 to 30 seconds or until combined to a pale yellow mixture. Add the butter in the frying pan and let melt gently. When the last of the butter is melted, add the egg mixture.
Resist the urge to stir immediately. When you begin to see the first sign of setting begin, then use a wooden spoon, push eggs to toward the center. Continue this process as the eggs continue to set. Right before there is no longer evidence of the runny parts of the egg left, take the pan off the heat. The eggs will continue to cook but will be still creamy, not overcooked.
This recipe serves two and be easily double or tripled depending on how many people you need to serve. I added a bit more flavor by finely chopping scallions and sprinkling over the top of the scrambled eggs.

Conundrum - California White Table Wine

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Caymus "Conundrum" 2005 is from Napa Valley and is a terrific blend of three grapes - Viognier, Roussanne and Marsannel. A very floral bouquet is prominent on the palate with hints of honeysuckle and butterscotch. The tropical flavors come through with mango, papaya and kiwi. Fresh fruits flavor such as peaches and pear tease the palate and have a honey & silky finish.
Caymus Conundrum has been selected by Wine Spectator as "Wine of the year" in 1989 and 1994.
Recommended Food Pairing:
Crab Cakes
Shrimp Scampi
Blue Cheese, Pears and Pecans
Approximately $20 to $22

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Caprese Bites

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Caprese Bites


6 Slices of Country White Bread
12 Grape of Cherry Tomatoes
12 Small Bocconcini Mozzarella Balls (About 1 inch each)
¼ Cup Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
6 to 8 Fresh Basil Leaves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Use a 1.5 inch round biscuit or cookie cutter to make 24 circles out of the slices of bread. Brush each side with olive oil using a pastry brush. Place into the mini muffin pans. Top each one with a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper. Cut each of the tomatoes in half and place on top of the bread and add half a bocconcini next to each tomato.

Chiffinade the basil, which will be used to garnish the top of each caprese appetizer.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until they are bubbly and slightly brown. Take out and let set for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from pan and arrange on a platter. Garnish each one with a few pieces of the chiffinade of basil.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Creamy Lemon Sorbet

Wait until you try this Creamy Lemon Sorbet! It is smooth, zesty and refreshing. I served it as a palate cleanser at a dinner party between courses. You can serve in small ramekins, hollowed lemons or in martini glasses. Top with a lemon Madeleine cookie or even champagne.


1 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice (5 to 6 Lemons)
1/2 Cup Water
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream

Grate zest of 3 of the lemons into a large measuring cup. Use a juicer to create 1 cup of lemon juice and add to the measuring cup. Add the water and sugar. Stir quickly and add to small saucepan and bring to boil, stirring over high heat. Take off heat and cool to room temperature. Whisk in the cream and cover with plastic wrap. Cool in the refrigerator for a couple hours. Use a ice cream maker, according to the directions to make it frozen and creamy. Transfer to a freezer container until firm. Overnight works best. Serve and enjoy.
*Adapted from a recipe from Tori Ritchie

Antipasto Platter

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Recently my Husband Charles and I went to our good friend’s Jim and Heather's house for dinner. Jim made his world famous Bolognese and we brought the appetizer for the evening. Nothing is more Italian, than an Antipasto Platter. In the middle of the platter, I added julienne slices of roasted red peppers with shaved fresh garlic and tossed in really good extra virgin olive oil. Poured it over triple cream brie. Great served with sliced fresh sourdough baguette. In addition, I used good parmesan reggiano in small pieces, marinate artichoke hearts, a homemade caprese salad, marinated mushrooms, olives and assorted Italian cured meats.

An Antipasto platter can be as straightforward or bold as what you have in your pantry or refrigerator. Antipasto literally means "before the meal" and is the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal. They are meant to stimulate the taste buds without being to filling. It is the perfect solution for busy hosts. It is served typically at room temperature, its components as colorful as possible. Antipasto is served at the table and signifies the beginning of the Italian meal. Most table settings will feature a central antipasto plate, and small plates for each diner to enjoy this warm-up to the other courses.

Antipasto can consist of many things. The most traditional offerings are cured meats, marinated vegetables, olives, pepperchini, and various cheeses, perhaps provolone, or fresh mozzarella. The antipasto is usually topped off with some olive oil or balsamic vinaigrette.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Flatbread with Pears, Caramelized Onions, Blue Cheese, Arugula and Fig Vincotto

Just made this last night and it was simply divine! The pears should be sliced thinly and can overlap, if you have excess slices. Use your favorite blue cheese; I prefer Point Reyes Blue. Found the flatbread at Trader Joe’s in the bread section and it is titled “Middle Eastern Flatbread”.

Fig Vincotto is essentially a fig infused vinegar. Check your local gourmet store or, or to order via the internet.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 flatbreads – 7 inch in diameter – 2 oz. each
1 1/2 cups cored, thinly sliced pears (Used Green Anjou)
1 cup caramelized onions (see recipe)
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled 1 cup arugula
1 to 2 teaspoons of Fig Vincotto


Preheat oven to 400°. Brush olive oil on the flatbreads and cover with the sliced Asian pears and caramelized onion. Sprinkle with the blue cheese. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted and beginning to brown and pears appear softened. Toss arugula and fig vincotto in a bowl. Remove pizza from oven, top with arugula and serve immediately.

Caramelized Onions

3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, sliced in 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions. Cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add sugar. Sauté for about 3 minutes, or until golden in color. Put in a bowl and set aside.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Blood Orange Martini

Several years ago while I was visiting London, I had the culinary experience of enjoying blood orange juice every morning for breakfast. It was produced by Tropicana and unfortunately, to this date, I am unable to find it locally in the states. A few weeks ago, I found blood oranges at Trader Joe's. I squeezed the juice and froze it, so I could enjoy this delicious Blood Orange Martini anytime.
• 4 ounces citrus flavored vodka
• 1/2 ounce triple sec or flavored orange liqueur
• 2 ounces blood orange juice
• 2 blood orange slices
In a martini shaker combine all ingredients except the blood orange slices with a generous amount of ice. Shake vigorously for a few seconds. Strain the libation from the ice into a martini glass. Rim the top of the martini glass with lemon sugar. Simply rub a lemon lightly along the edge and dip into lemon sugar. Garnish with the blood orange slices.

Cocktail Party Mix

Recently I created a playlist on itunes titled "Cocktail Party Mix". (Go to imix on itunes, if you want to upload) It is a set of various artists and perfect for your next cocktail party. Enjoy!

NOTE: Simply click the arrow to the right of the "Page 1 of 6" to scroll through the list.
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