Posted by: East and West | 2011/07/09

Impressions: Coppola Winery and Dry Creek Vineyards

My wife and I are First Members of the wine club at Francis Ford Coppola in Geyserville. So when I got a call reminding me that our most recent shipment needed to be picked up we took off with a friend to visit the winery.

Our friend had never been to the Coppola Winery at Via Archimedes; we drove up at shorty after noon. His first impression? “Impressive buildings. A bit like Disneyland.” The bold roofline, the grand stone façade, the sound of water splashing in the pool. The last time my wife and I were here, the weather was still cold and the pool had not yet opened to guests. This time the day’s pool passes were sold out, the cabines and deck chairs were occupied, the lifeguards were watchful, and the pergola bar was doing a slammin’ business.

We had an OpenTable reservation at Rustic, the winery’s onsite restaurant. We were early but the desk did not keep us waiting. All Rustic diners receive pettole, freshly-made savory doughnuts. Served hot in a white paper bag, pettole eat like a guilty pleasure. Our membership got us each a glass of house wine – Rosso or Bianco – and a white bean appetizer. The appetizer consisted of a mild white bean paste on toast rounds, drizzled with reduced balsamic vinegar, olive oil and chopped parsley. Light and bright.

The three of us shared our entrees. My wife ordered one of our menu favorites, the Short Ribs Argentine Style. Tender, grilled to a perfect medium, lovely chimichurri sauce, roasted veggies. Our friend went with the Rack of Lamb Madame Bali. Tender, medium rare, not gamey, served with fluffy rice and roasted veggies. My Pizza Luigino with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, oregano, and fresh basil was much larger than I expected, flavorful and delightfully New-York-style thin.

We ended the meal with zeppole, freshly-made doughnuts (very similar to the pettole) dusted with powdered sugar. A happy way to bring the meal full circle. Our server, Jordan, had served our family during a previous visit and provided the excellent service we’ve come to expect at Rustic. Our only gripe about this meal? The flies, which must have entered through the doors that open to the patio.

After lunch we wandered around the building a bit and checked out the store and the movie memorabilia exhibits. Then we cruised up to the tasting bar.

Our tasting steward, Mike, graciously allowed us the luxury of building our own tasting program. So we tasted a combination of whites, roses and reds, and talked them through among ourselves and with Mike, who was very knowledgeable and pleasant. Our friend was quite taken by the Moscato and purchased three bottles. I got excited by the 2009 Director’s Cut Zinfandel and was happy to hear that it was part of my club shipment. My wife has always enjoyed the bright, dry effervescence of Sophia and opted for the four-pack of bubbly in a can.

After our tasting we picked up our shipment and headed to Dry Creek Vineyard.

Dry Creek offers a very different atmosphere and experience. The grounds are much quieter; their building is reminiscent of a European chateau. The fenced, manicured grounds invite you to picnic at the umbrella-covered tables. The tasting room is designed like a great hall, with the counter at the long wall across from a large fireplace. The staff seemed genuinely happy to see us, even if it was nearly 4:15 p.m.

Behind the counter we remembered Maggie, who signed us up as members the first time we visited the winery. She was cheerful and knowledgeable, and encouraged us to taste the Chenin Blanc and Fume Blanc because they had released new vintages of both wines since we were there the last time. We found the 2009 Chenin Blanc to be bright and dry, with hints of citrus and grass, and a complexity that spoke of older vines. We bought two bottles, which will be perfect at a picnic or tailgate party. The 2009 Fume Blanc had distinct green pepper on the nose and palette, with some white and pink floral and fruit notes. It should go well with a cheese and nut plate.

We tasted a trio of Dry Creek Zinfandels: 2008 Spencer’s Hill, 2008 Somers Ranch, and 2007 Old Vine. The Spencer’s Hill was full of warm, red spices, in contrast to the jammy, fruit-forward Somers Ranch. The Old Vine offered a balance of the two zinfandel styles with the complexity of grapes from 85-year-old vines. This was a delicious and educational experience. We’re excited that one of those zinfandels will be in our September shipment.

The end of the day came too soon. We’ll be back in a few weeks to sample more wines and explore a new restaurant or two.

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Posted by: East and West | 2011/07/01

Deep-fried Beef Ribs

The first time I had deep-fried beef ribs, my family and I were gathered at my brother’s house for Christmas dinner. He had served a fabulous prime rib and, on a lark, decided to fry the bones we hadn’t already stripped bare during dinner. Oooh, that was a good late-night snack.

To recreate that experience without the expense of the prime grade prime rib roast, I started with beef ribs from my neighborhood grocery store. Beef ribs tend to be tough, but they’re inexpensive and always available. Armed with the knowledge that slow cooking makes everything tender, I separated, then seasoned my ribs and slow-roasted them before deep-frying them. I hope you enjoy the results as much as my family did.

6-7 Lbs. beef ribs, sliced into individual bones
2 T salt
2 t black pepper
1 t garlic powder
½ t dry mustard
1 T dry parsley flakes
½ t cayenne pepper

Combine all the dry ingredients. Rub the ribs with the seasonings, place in a roasting pan and cover the pan with foil to seal in the moisture. Roast on the center rack at 225°F for approximately 3 hours, until meat is tender. Allow ribs to cool.

Heat oil in deep fryer to 375°F. Fry the ribs until the vigorous bubbling stops. Do not crowd the ribs in the fryer. Drain on paper towels and serve.

Serve with your choice of dips – brown sauce (from the drippings and fond in the roasting pan), sweet chili, Dijon mustard, barbecue sauce, au jus, mango chutney.

Posted by: East and West | 2011/06/27

Lite and Easy Mango Chutney

There are a lot of mango chutney recipes online. I chose one that was relatively simple from SimplyRecipes.com and modified it to meet my dietary needs as a diabetic. I eliminated the white sugar by using sucralose instead and compensated for the flat sweet flavor by adding a bit of honey. I don’t particularly care for the flavor of golden raisins or the texture of mustard seeds so I replaced those ingredients as well. To compare my recipe against the original, go to this page.

2 C sugar or sucralose sugar substitute
1 T honey
1 C distilled white vinegar
6 C mangoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces
1 C chopped red onion
½ C raisins
¼ C crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ t dry mustard
¼ t red chili pepper flakes

Place the sugar or sucralose, honey and vinegar in a large pot. Bring to a gentle boil and stir to dissolve sucralose and combine ingredients completely. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a gentle boil then lower the heat to simmer for approximately an hour, stirring occasionally to minimize scorching.

Prepare clean canning jars by rinsing them in hot tap water, then setting them in a pot with a couple of inches of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the temperature to a simmer until the chutney is ready.

When the chutney is syrupy and thick, pour it into the canning jars, leaving a ½-inch headspace. Close the jars. Raise the water temperature to a full boil, pot covered, for 15 minutes. Remove the jars from the boiling water and set them on the counter to cool.

Makes 5 to 6 half-pint jars of chutney.

Posted by: East and West | 2011/06/18

Impression: Ruby Hill Winery

The Ruby Hill Winery in Livermore is a beautiful facility: manicured grounds, grand architecture, massive granite-topped tasting bar, cheese and meat deli counter, upscale gifts and merchandise. It’s unfortunate our experience didn’t live up to the image.

My wife and I arrived on a Saturday afternoon in May, at about the same time that a group of 20-somethings disembarked from a limo bus. A friendly face greeted us as we entered the large tasting room. The 20-somethings were ushered to a private area of the winery and we walked up to the tasting bar.

We stood there for about five minutes, unacknowledged by the staff behind the bar and notably by the woman pouring for a couple standing a mere five feet away from us. Long enough for me to dip my sweater in some spilled jam on the counter. My wife whispered that if no one came up to us within the next two minutes we should simply turn and leave.

Just in the nick of time, a staffer named Mary approached us and apologized for keeping us waiting. She brought us each a glass of sparkling wine and offered to comp one of our tastings because of the wait, then did a quick review of the two flights we could taste. We opted for one of each and she offered to do side-by-side pours when the two flights intersected. Mary then turned us over to another staffer because she was required to take a break.

The experience went downhill once again from there.

The staff referred to the sparkling wine as champagne. I’m sure the controllers of that appellation will have something to say about that, since this wine was produced in California, not Champagne.

Mary’s replacement lost her way in our tasting programs, at one point pouring a heavier red ahead of a lighter one. They really weren’t, as she stated when we noted the error, interchangeable.

A third staffer stepped in when we asked for the side-by-sides that we had originally arranged. She poured them, but said each time: “We don’t normally do this when it’s busy on Saturdays, unless we know you’re going to buy.” And in not too pleasant a tone, either.

We ended our visit without tasting everything on our tasting flights. We purchased a couple of bottles of sparkling wine, because at only $13 each we found them to be the best value that the winery offered and the second bottle helped waive our tasting fee altogether. We were not sufficiently impressed with the rest of the wines we tasted to justify their upscale prices.

Will we return to Ruby Hill? That’s not likely. The winery seems more occupied with its image than its wines and the staff don’t value their customers. The tasting room, while quite beautiful, feels snobbish and commercial. The winemaker, if he or she was there, made no effort to meet us or anyone close to us at the bar. Even their web site focuses on the winery, not the wines: Descriptions of their wines, even their lone gold medalist, are brief and inconsistent and hidden in a single, buried link.

There are many wineries in the Livermore Valley that offer a more friendly, personal tasting experience. I’ve met and spoken with winemakers, a valuable part of my education in grapes and wines. I’ve tasted more interesting, complex and personally appealing wines. Ambience is great to have, but at the end of the visit it’s not what should sell the wine. Because of that, Ruby Hill will not be on my need-to-visit list and the complimentary tasting ticket we have will go unused.

Posted by: East and West | 2011/02/23

Fast Food: Bratwurst Without the Grill

It’s February in California and the weather has been a bit wishy-washy. We’ve had a few weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures and this week we’re headed back into the depths of cold, wet weather. So cooking outside on the grill isn’t part of the plan, at least for now. So what do you do when you want some bratwurst?

Place your brats directly in a nonstick frying pan on medium-high heat. No oil is needed. Roll them around to sear the sausage skins. Then slowly pour your choice of beer into the pan; use as much as will not overflow when it boils vigorously. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. The brats will be ready to serve.

Posted by: East and West | 2011/02/13

In the Kitchen: Chiffon Cake

In the 1960s my brothers, mother and I lived in Baguio, a mile-high city in northern Philippines. Dad was working overseas and Mom taught at St. Louis University to make ends meet. One of the items that Dad sent home that Mom really appreciated was an electric hand mixer. She was also fortunate that we lived in a house that had a real electric range with an oven. The oven was particularly prized because most common oven of the day was a little, uninsulated metal box that had no thermostat and sat over a burner. It was in this context that she set out to bake a chiffon cake.

After three or four attempts, my mother presented us with a tall, moist, spongy chiffon cake to feast on one weekend. The fluffy white frosting was light and sweet. It was one of the two cakes – fruit cake was the other – that became Mom’s signature baked goods. When I was a child, for several birthdays my mother used to bake a vanilla chiffon cake with a plain white frosting, then decorate it with M&Ms.

Chiffon cake was a triumph because my mother had to overcome her lack of more advanced appliances, the mountain altitude and atmospheric pressure, and the absence of a mentor.

In contrast, I have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, a battery-powered sifter, a great oven in a house close to sea level, and the internet and my niece as resources. So I finally worked up the courage to try Mom’s chiffon cake recipe.

This cake is intimidating. It calls for seven room-temperature eggs, separated. Seven eggs! I had to sift the flour before I could measure it, then sift it again with other dry ingredients. There can’t be any traces of yolk or water in the egg whites and, in a moment when I second-guessed myself, found that some recipes call for cream of tartar and others, like my mother’s, do not. When I fold the meringue into the yolk-based batter until there are no streaks, how do I know if I’m doing this correctly, sufficiently, or too much? How true is it that loud noises or sharp vibrations while the cake is baking can cause it to drop or collapse into itself?

The fluffy white frosting is just as intimidating as the cake. Making the simple syrup is simple enough, but at what “frothy” point can you start adding it to the egg whites? I’ve heard different theories about using a low, medium or high speed to whip the whites. And if you want to tint the frosting, when do you add the food coloring?

I took the leap when a friend celebrated his birthday and I offered to bring the cake. So after dinner one evening I assembled my ingredients. Sifting and re-sifting the dry ingredients was tedious. Separating seven eggs took longer than I thought, as I struggled to develop a rhythm that included separating each one over a small bowl to check for spoilage and to prevent the whites from being contaminated by yolks or shell fragments.  Despite finding several recipes that called for cream of tartar in the meringue, I decided to follow Mom’s recipe and leave it out. I folded the egg batter and meringue together carefully to preserve the lightness of the resulting mixture. I poured it all into the tube pan, careful to not drip any batter onto the sides or cone.

An hour after I placed the tube pan in the oven, I was rewarded with a cake that had risen beautifully and filled the kitchen with the warm and gentle aroma of vanilla. I flipped it over on the counter to cool overnight.

When I woke up the next morning I examined the cake and was delighted to see that it had not dropped. I gently liberated it from the tube pan with a small spatula and slipped wax paper under it so frosting would not smear the cake plate.

I prepared the frosting, hoping the whole time that it would fluff up properly. I was relieved when it turned out well, even after I added orange extract. Then I realized that I had never frosted a cake before.

My wife came to my rescue, applying a crumb coat and advising me to chill the cake in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes. Then she showed me how to add the rest of the frosting and how to give it some texture. She left me to figure out how to add the orange zest I wanted to use for décor.

Fortunately, the cake was a hit at our friend’s birthday dinner. That gave me a boost of confidence and a rush of ideas for flavors and decoration. This won’t be my last chiffon cake.

Posted by: East and West | 2011/02/10

In the Kitchen: Pasta Crisps

My mother showed me how to experiment in the kitchen, as she frequently assembled a snack or a meal using ingredients that were available at the moment. I’m glad I acquired the confidence to try combinations that made sense only in my head.

When you have the munchies you have an opportunity to experiment. This afternoon I needed the sound of crunching in my head. I wasn’t in the mood for potato chips and there were no shrimp crisps in the cupboard.

I did have a partial box of whole grain pasta. In fact, I’d had some leftovers for lunch with my wife’s excellent Bolognese and grated romano cheese. So I set out to make some pasta crisps.

I boiled a cup of whole grain penne pasta, then drained it and left it out to dry for about 30 minutes. I deep-fried the penne till they were crisp and dusted them with garlic and cheddar cheese powders.

Not earth-shaking but they did the trick. Crunch!

Posted by: East and West | 2011/02/05

In the Kitchen: Remembering Mom

Saturday morning. I used to wake up to watch cartoons. Now I watch cooking shows. Before there were cooking shows, I used to enjoy watching my mother cook. Looking back, I suppose she was my first Food Network star, although in the 1960s celebrity cooks were a select group, were crowned by Michelin, and lived in France.

Mom didn’t know how to cook when she met my father. She lived a pampered, sheltered life in Manila with a surrogate mother who refused to allow her into the kitchen because her slippers could get wet.

After she married Dad after WWII and settled into a life devoid of luxury, she discovered that he knew his way around the kitchen and she set out to learn – quite successfully – how to cook for him and their sons.

Mom eventually outdid my father in the kitchen and fed us quite well – on a tight budget, no less. By the time I was aware of her expertise in the kitchen I rarely saw a cookbook. She cooked from memory and by taste and touch.

We ate an array of cuisines: Traditional Filipino dishes like kare-kare (oxtail peanut stew) and sinigang (beef, pork or shrimp in sour broth). Chinese staples like chop suey and egg drop soup. Spanish callos (similar to Mexican menudo), American fried pork chops with mashed potatoes and corn, and French coq au vin. Desserts and treats like sans rival (meringue butter layer cake), coconut cream pie and fruit cake.

In the early 1980s we moved to California. After she was widowed and had breast cancer surgery in the late 1980s, I asked her to put on paper all the recipes she carried around in her head. The result was a spiral-bound notebook with a compilation of savory and sweet recipes, old and contemporary, all written in her florid hand. It’s one of my treasures, one I’ve shared with my brother and his daughter, both of whom are really good cooks.

I’ve been tempted to cook my way through the notebook, ala Julie and Julia. I’m unsure if my family and I can endure that process. After overcoming my intimidation I’ve tried a few recipes, like the Shanghai-style lumpia and, much more recently, the chiffon cake. I’m encouraged to try more. Mom would be happy if I did…I would be happy to relive the food of my family.

Posted by: East and West | 2011/01/07

Closing the Book on 2010

2010 is over. We’re glad its over. That said, there were moments, people and places we don’t want to forget.

I used to arrive at work in Dublin before 6:30 in the morning. The view from my window was, at times, spectacular.

Winemaker Noah Taylor hosted a zinfandel release and barrel tasting event at his family’s winery in Livermore, Retzlaff Vineyards. The zins were the stars, but fresh, Washington-state oysters sang a great counterpoint.

Fort Mason in San Francisco is an interesting place to visit. Add more than 300 wineries, all award-winners in the annual SF Chronicle Wine Competition, and the old base springs to life.

My wife, son and I discovered street food, a trend that built significant traction in the Bay Area this year. We made our way to Fort Mason (outdoors, this time) to join the crowd at Off the Grid, a collection of food trucks (once referred to as roach coaches) and carts. The variety and quality of foods from around the world made our heads spin and our stomachs full.

Tut mannequin (Photo source: SF exhibit web site)

The traveling King Tutankhamun exhibit found a temporary home at the DeYoung Museum. Though the artifacts were different from the Tut exhibit that visited the Bay Area more than 35 years ago, the new collection was fascinating and educational.

We host Easter dinner every year and we serve a traditional spiral-cut ham. This year we added a twist: a crisp-skinned roasted duck. Our family and friends, as always, graced our table and celebrated the Catholic Church’s biggest holiday.

We host Thanksgiving as well, and usually have a larger crowd than Easter dinner. Two turkeys (one traditionally oven-roasted with butter and sage, another spit-roasted with olive oil, lemon juice and oregano), homemade dressing and cranberry relish, fresh steamed haricots verts, marmalade carrots, and potatoes au gratin were the heart of the meal.

We discovered Shanghai soup dumplings last year, and this was the year the Bay Area appears to have discovered them. A very well-informed critic (my brother, who visits Shanghai at least four times a year) placed the dumplings we tasted in Saratoga as the best he had tasted outside mainland China.

My wife’s best friend and our son’s godmother had never had anyone throw her a birthday party. Imagine her shock when an invitation to a quiet dinner turned out to be a small surprise party for her.

A cousin whom I had not seen in decades and now lives in Houston visited the Bay Area. Emon had met my son in Manila in 2007when he was attending the school at the Ateneo, but she had never met my brother, his wife or my wife. The reunion made for a great evening, during which she surprised us by noting that Mexican food in California was superior to Houston’s.

Another cousin, Tess, also came to visit the Bay Area. She lives in Southern California and had never met any of us until my eldest brother’s funeral in December 2009. It was a pleasure to get to know her and her family better over dinner and dessert.

Christmas Eve dinner, for several years now, has been celebrated with my wife’s cousin. The tradition of that evening is a first course of spiedini (petite Italian meat rolls) and a main course of crab cioppino. And Christmas Day dinner is hosted by my brother and his family. They traditionally serve a prime rib roast (smothered in salt, pepper, fresh grated horseradish, and parsley) and ham. No one leaves either table hungry.

So on we march into 2011. The year has already declared that it won’t be a walk in the park. However, a friend has already laid down a bigger challenge: To learn that everything I am and everything I give to others is valuable, and that for me to be happy and fulfilled I need to accept that I, too, deserve happiness and abundance.

Happy New Year!

Retzlaff Vineyards, Livermore

Posted by: East and West | 2010/12/31

2011: Hope and Naivete

2010 was not the kindest year we’d encountered, so we’re more than ready to let it go. It’s New Year’s Eve and we’re dressing up and stepping out with friends. We’re old enough to know that there will never be a clean break with the last decade, but young and, perhaps, naive enough to hope that the next year and decade will bring joy, peace and kindness.

Smile

Words by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons; Music by Charlie Chaplin

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile.

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