Thursday, March 31, 2011

Baked Fettuccine w/ Asparagus, Lemon, Pine Nuts & Mascarpone

This pasta is certainly a decadent meal but doesn't taste as rich as you would think. I suppose the pasta absorbs some of the sauce while it bakes in the oven because it wasn't overly creamy which I liked. What I dont like? It's definitely not a healthy, low-fat meal! But this is a delicious meal especially if you are looking for something flavorful to cook for your vegetarian friend. If you are looking to cut calories on this, I think it would be just as tasty without the breadcrumb topping.

Baked Fettuccine with Asparagus, Lemon, Pine Nuts and Mascarpone (source: Fine Cooking magazine)
Serves four

2 Tbs. olive oil; more for the pan
2 lb. medium-thick asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces on an angle
8 scallions (whites and tender greens), cut in thin rounds
Finely grated zest from 2 lemons
Juice from 1 lemon (about 4 Tbs.)
A few sprigs fresh thyme or savory, leaves chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
Small pinch cayenne
Generous pinch ground allspice
3/4 cup homemade breadcrumbs
1 lb. fresh fettuccine
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted  


Heat the oven to 450°F. Lightly coat a large, shallow baking dish with olive oil. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and blanch until tender but with a slight bite left to it, about 2 minutes. Scoop it from the water with a large slotted spoon, set it in a colander, and run it under cold water to preserve its green color. Drain well. Keep the water boiling for the pasta.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the scallions; sauté 1 minute to soften. Add the asparagus and sauté briefly, about 1 minute. Take the skillet off the heat and add half the zest, the lemon juice, thyme, salt, and pepper; mix well and reserve.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter and flour over medium heat, whisking until smooth. Cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly, to cook away the raw taste of the flour. Add the milk and cook, whisking all the while, until it comes to a boil. Lower the heat a bit and cook until smooth and lightly thickened (about the consistency of heavy cream), 3 or 4 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the mascarpone, the remaining lemon zest, and 1/2 cup of the Grana Padano, whisking until the mixture is fairly smooth (there will be a slight grainy texture from the cheese). Season with the cayenne, allspice, and more salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and the remaining Grana Padano. Season with salt and pepper and add a drizzle of olive oil. Mix well.

Return the cooking water to a full boil and cook the fettuccine, leaving it slightly underdone. Drain well. Return the fettuccine to the cooking pot. Add the mascarpone sauce, the pine nuts, and the asparagus with all its juices. Toss and taste for seasoning. Pour into the baking dish and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake uncovered until bubbling and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve right away.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Not Your Mama's Chicken!

Tonight I made a Jalapeno Cheddar Crusted Chicken from a recipe I found in a magazine. I served it with fresh guacamole and refried beans. I didn't actually do anything fancy with the beans. They were the canned variety that I found at the wonderful Buford Highway Farmer's Market. This is a great place to wander around if you get a chance! I can find any excuse to make some guacamole. I LOVE it! But I like mine fresh, the store bought kind just doesn't cut it. It's also fun to make it when you have a mortar and pestle. This isn't your usual breaded chicken. There are a lot of flavors in this mix. It's kind of like a flavor explosion in your mouth...not for those with simple tastes. The only thing that I would do differently next time is to serve it with some sort of a sauce, perhaps a poblano sour cream. Please excuse the messy pictures!

Beans, beans, the musical fruit...

 4 Hass avocados
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley or cilantro
1/4 onion, diced
1 to 2 (depends on the level of spice you like) jalapenos, seeded and minced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 dashes of hot sauce
1/4 tsp coarse kosher salt

Place avocado slices in the stone bowl and mash. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Season to taste and serve with thick/durable tortilla chips.

Crispy Cheddar & Jalapeno Coasted Chicken Breasts
Serves 4


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup plain yogurt (I used nonfat but whole milk is preferable)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh Thyme
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
2 tsp. red chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2 cups toasted breadcrumbs (recipe below)
1 1/3 cup coarse crushed tortilla chips
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/2 to  2/3 cup jalapenos, chopped and patted dry (the canned kind is fine)
1 lime

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Put a flat rack on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet.
User a meat pounder to lightly pound the chicken breasts between two sheets of saran wrap.
In large bowl, combine the yogurt with half of the thyme, chili powder, garlic powder, brown sugar, salt, and pepper.
In a shallow dish, combine the breadcrumbs, jalapenos, cheddar, remaining thyme and chips.
Take one piece of chicken at a time and coat well with yogurt mixture before dredging through the crumbs. Be sure to coat well and press the crumb mixture firmly onto the chicken. 
Transfer chicken to the rack.
Bake chicken until it reaches 165 degrees (about 25 minutes).
Squeeze lime over the finished chicken.

Toasted Breadcrumbs
1/2 lb. fresh white bread (or 4 cups of fresh bread crumbs)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt 

Tear apart bread and crumble in food processor into coarse crumbs.  Pour crumbs into large mixing bowl. Toss with oil and salt.

Pour crumbs into a large saucpan and heat over high heat until browned. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for another 6 minutes. Cool before using to coat chicken.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chocolatey Goodness With Omega-3s!

Last night, I made a veggie quiche for dinner. It was a super easy recipe but I decided not to post it. To be honest, I'm not quite certain who my audience is and I'm afraid that some of my recent recipes might bore some of you. However, I am happy to share it if you are interested so just let me know. I will leave you with just a picture. Instead, I will share the recipe for the tasty treats I made today.

These cookies are so yummy! I like to think they are a little bit healthier since I used a butter substitute but either way they definitely take care of my chocolate fix. They have a touch of peanut butter in them so if you are allergic to peanuts, these are not for you. But if you just aren't crazy about PB, I think you will still like them since the peanut butter is so subtle.

Brownie Cookies w/ PB
Makes 2-3 dozen depending on size


1 Smart Balance Omega-3 Butter Stick
7-8 oz. peanut butter and chocolate chip mixture
4.5 oz. dark chocolate bar, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


1) Microwave half the butter stick with the chocolates until melted.
2) Sift flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt in a separate bowl. (See, there is a use for that sifter you received as a wedding gift besides making cupcakes!)
3) Using a kitchen-aid mixer or hand-held mixer, beat the remaining butter with the sugars. Next, slowly add in the chocolate-butter mixture. When combined, start to stir in the flour mixture.
4) Refrigerate batter for 1 and 1 half hours.
5) Preheat oven to 350.
6) Scoop batter in spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet.
7) Bake each batch for 10-11 minutes.  Cool on cooling rack.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another Chicken Soup But Easier

Healthy Chicken Soup With Pasta

2 Tbsp Vegetable/Canola Oil
1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) condensed tomato soup
1 cup water
4- 5 oz. uncooked whole grain elbows (I used Barilla Plus Whole Grain)
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


1.  Heat half of the oil over high heat in a large pot.  Throw in the chicken and cook until it's browned. Remove chicken from the pot.
2. Add the remaining oil to the pot and lower heat to medium-high. Add the onions and cook for one minute. Next, add the carrot and cook one minute. Then, add the celery and garlic and cook for another minute. 
3. Add the broth, water, and soup. Stir until it starts to boil. Then, stir in the elbow noodles. Cook until the noodles are tender. Stir in the chicken and parsley. Let simmer for 5 minutes before serving.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lamb Korma

Do you get those random cravings for Indian food? I get them all the time. Unfortunately for me, the good places aren't close enough for a takeout run. So, I decided to try out a recipe for Lamb Korma. And it did not disappoint. I've seen it made quite a few different ways. This one was slightly different than the traditional kormas that I've had but I loved it. I served it over Jasmine/Basmati rice.

Lamb Korma
produces 8 servings


1 1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 cup butter (melt and skim of milk solids)
4 to 5 large cardamom pods (remove green skin)
2 lb. lamb, cubed
7 garlic cloves, crushed
1/8 - 1/4 tsp fresh ginger, minced 
1 1/2 Tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp red chili powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
8 oz. plain yogurt, lightly whisked
pinch of saffron


1) Brown onions in butter until deep golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and pulse in a blender to form a paste. Crush the cardamom. This can be done by using a mortar and pestle, pounding it on a sturdy board, or using a coffee/spice grinder. Mix it into the onion paste.
2) Add meat to the saucpan; stir over medium-high heat. After a few minutes, add garlic, ginger, coriander, chili, and salt. Stir for a few minutes. Mix in yogurt. Cover and cook over very low heat, 1 to 1.5 hours.
3) Add the paste to the saucepan for the last five minutes of cooking time. Serve over rice and enjoy! (Preferably with some Naan and Raita)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chicken Soup and Knife Skills

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a cooking class on knife skills. It was both informative and fun. I was hoping to come back with all kinds of tips to share on my blog but realized that with knives it's much easier to share by demonstration.  Here are just a few tidbits:

1) When chopping vegetables, (we practiced with carrots, celery, and onions) you must take a thin slice off of one side of the veggie in order to create a flat, stable surface to work with.
2) Keep your knives sharp. A dull blade is more dangerous since you are using more force meaning you are more likely to slip. Using the store-bought knife sharpeners will only ruin the metal on your knives. If you use a whetstone instead, your knives will last a lot longer.
3) You should never hear a "thud" sound when chopping something. You need to find the spot that you want to cut from and work your knife down and through it. You shouldn't hear much of a sound if you are doing it correctly.
4) When dicing veggies like carrots and celery, you start with a long, skinny Batonnet cut and then line up what you've got.  You can then start dicing down the line from there.
5) For chopping and dicing, a Chef's Knife is preferable.
6) You can easily de-bone a chicken using a boning knife. Chickens are actually very easy to take apart alleviating the need to spend more money by purchasing the parts separately.
7) Your hand should form a claw on the item you are cutting as to both hold your item in place and not to chop off any fingers! You will move your "claw" back accordingly as you keep cutting.  Watch out for something really important...your thumb!

We learned other things like how to properly season and taste a dish you are cooking. I liked the way they did the classes here. They start you off with a drink and appetizers to prompt the mingling and then you separate into groups and each work with a chef who will make sure you are using proper technique. The end result will be a dish that you get to eat at the end.

If you are interested in taking cooking classes, you might like the one that I went to, Bradford's On Bishop. I happened to get an awesome deal on the class through Living Social a site that sends you daily deals. Sign up, I've gotten all kinds of cool stuff through them!

And of course, the recipe for what we made...Yum and perfect for those of you suffering through the spring allergies like me.

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup


2 quarts roasted chicken stock (recipe below)
1 chicken breast
1 bunch celery small dice
2 yellow onion small dice
3 large carrots small dice
flat noodles (optional)
1 T thyme fresh chopped
1 head garlic
2 T vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325F, and cut top of garlic head off. Put on small square aluminum foil. Drizzle with a little oil and wrap garlic into a "pouch" with the foil, put into oven to roast. Bring water in a pot to boil, add a pinch of salt and cook noodles to al dente. Strain and run cold water over noodles to stop cooking. While water is coming to a boil, in your soup pot turn to medium high heat and add veg. oil. Once hot, add your chopped vegetables and a pinch of salt. Sautee for 20 minutes or until vegetables have gotten a good golden brown color. Add your chicken stock and simmer. Once garlic is roasted, push from bottom to pop garlic out of skin. Rough chop and add to soup. Cut chicken into bite size pieces, season and add to soup to poach. Add noodles and fresh thyme. Season to taste.

Roasted Chicken Stock
Bones from 3 chickens
2 large onion
1 bunch celery
4 large carrots
2 stems thyme leaves

Roast chicken bones until golden brown, pour off all fat that has been rendered out. Place in stockpot and cover with cool water. Turn on Med high heat and bring up to low simmer. While the water is coming up, proteins will coagulate on top, skim these off. Let go for an hour or two, always skimming. Add vegetables and herbs in the last hour. Turn heat off, strain and allow to come to room temperature before refrigerating.   

Friday, March 18, 2011

Italian Meat Roll-Up

I have to tell the truth here and admit that I didn't just make this one. But I DID make it a little while back and forgot to blog the recipe and can't seem to find a picture. Regardless, I wanted to post it because I remember how yummy it was.  Beginning cooks: it takes a little practice to make this one look pretty. But if you aren't expecting guests, isn't it about how it tastes anyway? I'm pretty certain this recipe was inspired by something that I saw in Better Homes & Gardens so if you think I stole the recipe from somewhere, please let me know!

Italian Meat Roll-Up 
makes 8 servings

  • 4  oz.  pancetta, chopped
  • 2  cups  chopped portobella mushrooms
  • 2  cups  fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1/2  cup  oil-packed dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 2    eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2  cup  chicken broth
  • 2  cups  soft bread crumbs
  • 1/2  cup  Romano cheese, finely shredded
  • 2  cloves  garlic, minced
  • 1  tsp.  Italian seasoning, crushed
  • 1  lb.  uncooked ground turkey
  • 8  oz.  bulk Italian sausage
  • Fresh oregano

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large skillet, cook pancetta until crisp; remove from skillet with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Drain all but 1 Tbsp. drippings from skillet. Cook mushrooms in drippings until tender and all liquid has evaporated; cool.
2. For filling, in medium bowl combine pancetta, mushrooms, mozzarella, and dried tomatoes; set aside.
3. In large bowl combine eggs and chicken broth. Stir in bread crumbs, Romano cheese, garlic, Italian seasoning, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir in turkey and sausage.
4. On heavy-duty foil or parchment, pat meat mixture into a 9x12-inch rectangle. Evenly sprinkle filling on meat mixture. From one long end of foil or parchment, begin rolling the meat mixture jelly-roll-style. Transfer the roll, seam side down, to a 15x10x1-inch baking pan.
5. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 160 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing. Top with oregano.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Detox Meal and Yay For Wine!

With all the heavy meals that we've had lately, I decided we needed a "clean meal" and I wanted to make use of all the veggies I bought at the grocery store over the weekend.  I actually liked this meal and it was so easy and quick to throw together. However, it's definitely not an exciting meal so I wouldn't plan on making this for guests or anything...

Veggie Saute 
makes at least 4 servings

2 tsp flavored olive oil of your choice (I used one that was infused with arbol peppers and sun-dried tomatoes)
Veggies of your choice, here is what I used:
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 small red onion, diced
2 Zucchini, chopped
1 cup of Shiitake mushrooms
a few red kale leaves



 Pour oil in large saucepan. Turn heat to medium. Once heated, add garlic, carrots, and onions. Stir until veggies are slightly tender. 
Next, add in the zucchini and cook until tender but not too tender. Toss some salt in for flavor. Add in the mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Last, add in the kale and cook until the leaves are just wilted. 

I like mine served over rice with a little sauce on top. You can pick up your favorite sauce at the store or make your own. A peanut or soy sauce would work well but I wanted to be a little healthier. I poured a box of Pomi strained tomatoes in a saucepan with a little salt and red pepper flakes. It simmered for 30 minutes while I chopped and cooked the veggies. Then, I served it over wild rice. 

I almost wine from both Robert Young and Harvest Moon Wineries arrived! Actually, they tried to deliver the wine a few times when I wasn't home but this time I was practically waiting by the window and even met the UPS truck outside. The UPS man gave me a good laugh when he questioned if I was 18 and if my parents were home to sign for it. Maybe I should skip the makeup and wear a ponytail more often. I opened up a bottle of the Harvest Moon Zinfandel right away because you know I'm not patient. In case you were wondering, it was fabulous! So much for the detoxing...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dijon Porkchops and Sherry Braised Bok Choy w/ Prosciutto For Two

With these recipes, I give you a disclaimer: These recipes are good but the flavors are intense. If you do not like the main ingredients in either of these, I wouldn't recommend them because the flavors really come out in both of dishes. But on the other hand...if you are a fan, this is a good thing! I hope you enjoy!

Dijon Porkchops

2 bone-in loin pork chops
1/8 cup Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. red cayenne pepper
Parsley (to taste)

Preheat broiler to High. In a small bowl, mix together mustard, Worcestershire, sugar, lemon juice, and cayene.
Place foil along the bottom of a roasting pan and place rack on the bottom.
Season pork with salt on both sides. Place pork on rack.
Brush half of mixture on one side of the chops. Broil about 8 minutes.
Use tongs to turn the chops over and spread the remaining mixture on the chops. Broil an additional 8 minutes or until browned to your liking.
After pulling the chops out of the oven, sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Sherry Braised Bok Choy w/ Prosciutto

2 tsp vegetable or canola oil
2 small garlic cloves, sliced
2-3 heads of baby bok choy, washed well and cut in half  lengthwise
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup chicken stock/broth
1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/8 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 slices of prosciutto, cut into thin strips

Heat oil in large saucepan and add garlic. Cook until garlic is tender and fragrant.
Add the bok choy. Use tongs to make sure it gets coated. Season with salt. Cook approx. 1 minute.
Add sherry and toss around the bok choy once again.  Next, add broth, soy sauce, and sugar.
Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove bok choy from the saucepan and add the cornstarch with 1/2 tsp of water to form slurry.  Stir until sauce thickens.
Turn off the stove and place the bok choy back in the pan and toss with the prosciutto before serving.


Monday, March 14, 2011

A Cheap Wine Find!

Total Wine came to the rescue again with a cheap wine find. Jade Mountain's 2008 Cabernet offered a nice break from some of the heavier Cabs I've had recently. It's definitely a good value since it was part of my "bottles under $15" trek...$8.99 to be exact.  It was made from grapes grown in three different wine regions: Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino. You can really detect the berries in this deep red wine...very prominent tannins!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Healthier Mac & Cheese Plus a Deal

You will probably see me posting more mac recipes in the future because I want to start experimenting with them to find the perfect one (kind of like the chili thing.) It's kind of weird that I'm actually cooking macaroni because I've always been the kind of girl who prefers Kraft or Velveta Shells and Cheese to the homemade kinds despite tasting some great ones. This recipe makes a really creamy mac and cheese.

Slightly Healthier Macaroni & Cheese
serves 4

1/2 lb. Barilla Plus Elbow pasta
7 TBSP Smart Balance Omega-3 Spread
3 TBSP Flour
1/4 sweet or yellow onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp dried Thyme
2 1/4 cups 2% Milk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Pinch of Nutmeg
3 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Cook pasta according to directions on the box.  Drain pasta well. 
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Butter/spray/grease a baking dish. I used a 2 qt. Corningware dish.
Melt 5 Tbsp butter substitute in saucepan over medium heat. 
Add the thyme, flour, onion, and bay leaf; reduce heat to medium low and cook for 3 minutes stirring constantly. It should form a roux. 
Slowly stir in the milk until well-blended.
Raise the heat back up to medium-high until it boils. Then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes uncovered.
Strain the sauce to remove the onions and bay leaf. The onions aren't part of the dish. They help to give the sauce extra flavor. 
Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cheese. Stir until cheese is melted.
Mix the sauce with the pasta before transferring to the baking dish.
Melt 2 Tbsp of butter in the saucepan.  Add breadcrumbs and then spread over the macaroni.
Bake until lightly browned about 35 minutes.

I know that I recently pimped another yogurt. But I have another favorite as well, Atlanta Fresh Yogurt. This stuff is seriously addicting. It's a local company (obviously) who uses grass-fed cows in making their yogurt.  It's a greek-style yogurt (the best I've tasted) and offers more interesting flavors than your average yogurt dealer- Vanilla Carmel, Peach and Ginger, Tropical Sweet Heat, Black Cherry Port Wine (pictured) and their newest a Mexican-Chocolate flavor, Chocolate Rocket. They also sell fresh mozzarella and creme fraiche. However, I will never look at Creme Fraiche the same way after watching South Park. For your enjoyment,

But this brings me to my next point, I went to their store today and got an AWESOME deal. I purchased a case of yogurt, a bulk size yogurt, and a ball of fresh mozzarella for...wait for it...a total of $15! I got this great deal by using Scoutmob, a local deal site. If you are in Atlanta and don't have an account, get one now. You can either download the app on your phone or have the daily deals emailed to you. It is free to use and gets you 50% off at fun local restaurants, boutiques, spas, etc. They also offer this for San Francisco and New York but I'm sure more cities are on the horizon.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

California Dreamin' Part Three

Today, we started off in the Alexander Valley region which turned out to be our favorite. It was absolutely beautiful, quiet, spread out, and also a great place for wines! Robert Young Winery was our first stop. We really enjoyed this tasting. The family poured the wines as they told us a bit about the history of their family and the winery itself. All of their wines were fantastic and we placed an order for their 2008 Chardonnay, 2007 Merlot, and the 2006 Scion which is a red blend (primarily Cab-Sav.) The wine is expensive but worth it (we think.)

Our next stop was Stryker Sonoma. We were starting to get all wined out and our palates were less discerning. But I could tell that their Zinfandel and Petite Verdot were special. I would send a friend here not just for the wine but also for the views. They were gorgeous and there was also a nice patio with fireplace for the warmer weather.

Another favorite that we came across was Hawkes Wine. They had excellent Cabernets! We actually bought futures of each of their Cabs.

After too much wine, we decided to drive to downtown Healdsburg and grab lunch so that we could start fresh later. We went to the Oakville Grocery and picked up some phenomenal meats and cheeses to snack on. (Cypress Grove Homboldt Fog Cheese- creamy, soft, and a bit sharp; Proscuitto; and Spicy Salami) On our Napa trip, we actually went to the same place for lunch at their second location so we knew to look for this. This was a better experience since last time a bird pecked at my head. :-)

Our last two tastings were in downtown Healdsburg. First, we went to the Topel Tasting Room. The wines were "meh" at best. But we were excited to run into some Georgia Tech alumni there. For our very last wine tasting, we went to La Crema. Their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were really good. However, we didn't purchase anything since we see their wine at our local grocery and wine shops all the time.

The place that we went to for dinner was by far our best meal, Zazu. It is on a farm and the theme here is "the pig." There are a lot of bacon inspired entrees among other things. The entire menu sounded so amazing that I couldn't decide what to order. Because of that, we decided to get a variety of things and share.  I would suggest checking out their menu except that it was completely different from what is posted on their website. We really couldn't drink anymore that day so we both ordered root beers which is pretty out of character for us but cute nonetheless :-).  For starters, we shared an order of their bacon-wrapped dates...SO good. Then, we had deviled eggs which were creamy and amazing. I'm not sure what the secret was but they were better than any that I've ever had. Next, we had the brussel sprout salad.  The brussel sprouts tasted like they were pan-roasted in olive oil and were tossed with some asian pears, hazelnuts, and bacon. For the entree, we ordered the "The Black Pig Sugo." It was braised pork in a light tomato-based sauce served over green noodles and arugula. We also ordered a side of bacon. The bacon there is wonderful. You can actually join a bacon club and have packs of it shipped to you. The best part is that the pigs are heritage breed, raised without antibiotics and hormones, and are allowed to roam free range.

To sum it all up, here are my recommendations for anyone traveling to Sonoma:

Restaurants: Zazu, Dry Creek Kitchen, Oakville Grocery (pack a picnic)
For the wine: Harvest Moon, Hawkes, David Coffaro, Robert Young
For the atmosphere: Paradise Ridge, Stryker Sonoma, Bella Caves

We went to additional places (non-wine related) and towns but I didn't want to bore you with more information and pictures. So if you are planning a trip and have questions, feel free to comment with your email address or questions.

California Dreamin' Part Two

After the bad breakfast experience the day before and another one that I won't waste time discussing, we decided we should just do coffee and a pastry for breakfast the next few days. The two that we went to were Peet's Coffee- very similar to a Starbucks and Bad Ass Coffee - a neat little Kona coffee chain.

The first winery of the day was Francis Ford Coppola Winery. It felt kind of disney-esque with all the memorabilia and the grandness of the property.  I thought it was a pretty neat place to visit with the props from his movies (Godfather cars, Apocalypse Now uniforms, Dracula costumes, etc.) I even got up close to a few of his Oscars. His Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon were nice but not exceptional.

Our next stop was another of my aunt's recommendations, David Coffaro.  We really enjoyed the wine here especially their Zinfandels and their red blends. The winery itself was pretty small but appeared to be quite a social scene during this event. They were playing loud music and lots of young people hung around here for awhile. We purchased futures of their 2010 Zinfandel (Neighbor's Zin) which I assume we will receive at the end of this year. 

We then headed over to Bella Vineyards. This place was really fun since you get to taste in their wine caves. While walking through, I couldn't help but feeling like I was in line for Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World.  The wine was decent but nothing that I wanted to purchase. The only dislike about the winery is that they had some sort of a Texas theme going on for the event. We couldn't figure out that trend. But anyways...

Our last stop of the day was to Michel-Schlumberger. This winery was beautiful with their gorgeous gardens and fountains. It was reminiscent of an Italian villa. Their Cabernet Sauvignon was tasty.

Dinner that evening was the famed Dry Creek Kitchen. This restaurant is definitely on the pricier side and would be suitable for a special occasion or night out.

I had a glass of ISC Cabernet Sauvignon with my dinner. I ordered the Prime New York Steak Au Poivre with wild mushroom fondue, potato darioule, and candied red onion marmalade
 We didn't do the full course menu but we did order dessert to share after our entrees. We did a tasting of ice creams and sorbets. (Chocolate Earl Grey Ice Cream- my fave, Pomegranate Ice Cream, Coconut Sorbet, Citrus Sorbet, Pineapple Sorbet, Cinnamon Gelato) Then, they surprised us with a chef's tasting of mini-desserts which included a Samoa (yes, the girl scout cookie), Blood Orange Gelee, Chocolate Cake, and an Herbal Shortbread.

California Dreamin' Day One

Hello my lovelies! I apologize for the lack of posts the past week. I was actually on vacation visiting the wine country in Sonoma County. Since it was basically a trip of eating and drinking, I thought it would also make an appropriate blog post so this will be a long one. In fact, I will break it up by day as not to drive my readers mad. Keep in mind that some of these wines may not be available for purchase yet since we were barrel tasting. While out there, we also got a chance to visit with my aunt and uncle who are always a good time! If you are looking for a recipe, this probably isn't the post you are looking for but I promise to add more soon. The pictures are a little blurry but what would you expect when taking pictures on a wine tasting journey?!

Our hotel was located in the southern part of the wine country in Santa Rosa. Since it was late when we got in, we decided to go eat nearby in downtown Santa Rosa instead of exploring further. But we found a fun spot, Russian River Brewing Co. It's a brewery that has a restaurant attached to it. It seemed like the local hot-spot for groups of friends looking to grab a beer and a pizza which is exactly what we did. I tried the Russian River IPA with the Mama Mia pizza (Pepperoni, Pineapple, and Jalapeno.) I was shocked to find that pizza on the menu since it's sort of my dream pizza. That is the exact combination that I would probably order if it were up to me. But it's not so popular with my friends and family. The pizza was standard but they had an impressive beer list.

The next morning, we checked out a breakfast spot that was recommended by someone and also rated well on Urbanspoon, Hank's Creekside.  It definitely seemed like a locals spot and not touristy at all so we had high hopes. I ordered an egg scramble with tomatoes, green chilies, and avocado. It came with hashbrowns and a biscuit. My husband had the pancakes which were too heavy and tough. We wanted to like it, we really did. Perhaps we are biased since breakfast is expected to be a certain way in the Southeast but it just wasn't good.

We started in the Russian River Valley. Our first winery of the day was Joseph Swan Vineyards. There were two wines in particular that were good here...I surprisingly enjoyed a sweeter white wine that they served, Marsanne/Roussanne. It looked very much like a Chardonnay in the glass but was much richer. It was a white wine with the intensity of a red. I kept detecting a hint of almond but that's just me. The other was the 2009 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel. Neither of us are usually fans of Zinfandel but this trip made a fan of us starting with this winery.

Next, we hit up Harvest Moon Winery which was one of our favorites. The winemaker himself was out pouring the wine and chatting with the patrons. There was even a dog hanging out with us that lives on the property (picture included.) Their wines were a little lighter and fruity. My favorites were the Russian River Pinot Noir, Russian River Zinfandel, and the Dry Creek Cabernet. (Those are also the ones that are being shipped to me, hopefully soon!)

Upon recommendation of a friend, we went to Hook and Ladder Vineyards which is owned by the De Loach family. This was a fun place with a firehouse theme.  The winery owner happens to be a former firefighter. There was also another dog spotting here, a German Shepard! They had some nice cab-savs and cab-francs. While we didn't purchase the wine, we did buy a box of wonderful truffles from a vendor selling them on the property.

Next, we went to Sunce Winery upon my aunt's recommendation. There were some good wines here but it was a bit too crowded to really get in and enjoy all the wines. We did however, leave with a Cabernet-Franc based dessert wine since we really enjoyed it. We don't generally open dessert wines at our house unless we have dinner guests. So if you are my next guest...

After all the wine, we needed lunch so I dragged my husband to the famed, In-N-Out Burger. My cheeseburger and fries were delicious and worth the calorie overload or maybe that was the wine talking? While it was definitely much better than other fast-food chains, I'm not sure why it's so famous. I've had better, fresher fries and burgers at joints around here that are not famous by any means. But then there is The Varsity here that makes it onto all the "must-do" lists and it's garbage.

For the last winery of the day, (yeah we did a lot but I wanted to squeeze in one more) we went to Paradise Ridge Winery. This one is a bit off the beaten path for most people but was really close to our hotel. The drive up to the winery was gorgeous as was the property. This had the best views of the area by far and a really relaxed atmosphere around it.  I liked one of their cabernets but otherwise the wine was hit-or-miss. But maybe it was the hokey "Hoe-Down" theme that they had going on for the barrel tasting that distracted me. Either way, I'd come here again for the views alone.

For dinner, we went to John Ash & Co next to the Vintners Inn. It was quite enjoyable!
Needing a break from wine (note that I said wine not alcohol), I started with a light Lemon Cocktail (so good).

As an appetizer, we ordered the local Hog Island Sweet Water Oysters w/ Meyer lemon granité, hogwash, and cocktail sauce.
My entree: Pan Seared Sea Bass w/ vanilla scented root vegetables, onion soubise, and radish salad