Saturday, August 1, 2015

WELCOME BACK BELLA LUCE

Our Sonoma summer is back, but we have yet to give up beef stew and red wine. Our trick? Simply eat it after the coastal fog kicks back in after 6pm. 

We've had some changes: new jobs, new people, new talents,  and new locations. I moved to Napa, the little sister is in the city (San Francisco) spicing up the corporate life for the summer, and my family signed up with Helpx.net, meaning we have new visitors every month. We have people all over the world coming to help us out at Bella Luce (our 3-acre "farm"). It was a blast showing a French girl and a couple from England what a real American firework show looks like over the 4th of July. I worry that they will be forever disappointed back home after experiencing this years Sonoma fireworks. You sit below the fireworks, and stain your close with ash. 

Not only has the stream of new faces increased, but our network of friends and family has flourish. There is never a quiet faceless day at Bella Luce. Our little spot of heaven in Sonoma is the most beautiful community I have ever experienced. 

My beautiful cousin and her girlfriend have expanded our community through the boundless bungalow. They are renovating an airstream and redefining Bay Area housing standards. 

The stew below has been a staple in my father's cooking for the last 20 years. My dad swears by it stating, "Everybody always enjoys it. There's no stock or anything, you just cook it in wine. There's just a sense of wonder in the thing. It was the first recipe I made with it [the family crock pot], and nothing rang the bell like that one. Throw it all in the crock pot, cover it, and forget about it. What's interesting about it is that you are making a dinner meat dish at 9 in the morning. I always thought that was kind of odd. Everybody loves it." 


Dad's Red Wine Beef Stew
Serving: 10-12 servings
Time: 1 hour prep, 8 hours in slow cooker

  • 1 boneless beef sirloin steak, 3-lbs cut into 1/2-inch pieces (pre-cut stew meat fine)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 20 mini carrots, approximate
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 small new red potatoes, quartered
  • 8 to 10 mushrooms, sliced
  • 20 to 24 fresh pearl onions 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 3 cups of a deep rich red wine (we usually end up using a Napa Cabernet)


Coat beef with flour, shaking off excess. Set aside.

Add a small amount of olive oil to a large skillet. Cook bacon over medium heat until partially cooked. Add beef and cook until browned. Remove both the meat and bacon.

Layer potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, garlic, marjoram, bay leaf, salt, thyme, pepper, bacon and beef mixture and wine in slow cooker. We always use our large slow cooker, as one trial in the medium sized stained some countertops. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until beef is tender. Discard bay leaf before serving.

Remember, just because there is 3 cups of heavy red wine in this stew that doesn't mean you shouldn't add more in your glass.

Gluten Free

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

WALNUT TREES AND WILD MUSTARD



It is easy to forget what we see everyday. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Friday, December 19, 2014

OUR LAST HARVEST: PICKLED PEPPERS



After a couple dry years, our California winter finally returned. It has been raining for weeks. We almost forgot what a normal California winter looked like, wet socks and green hills.  The vines are loosing their color, but the meadows between them are lime green. There are toads croaking everywhere.

Even though winter has returned, it's still mild and the normal rules of winter aren't taken into consideration. As I drive back and forth between San Francisco and Sonoma, I count the baby sheep and cows.  I broke into the barn to dig out my winter coat consisting of a sweater and a rain jacket, and rain boots. Unfortunately the rain boots have a rip along the side of the foot that even the strongest duck tape won't fix. It is time for the return of wet socks warming by the fire.




Almost everything had already been removed from the garden, but our peppers never seemed to end. I gave two bags full to the Winemaker at Deerfield Ranch Winery, Robert Rex, for his Sicilian Grandmother's traditional meat and peppers recipe.  By the time everybody and their mothers were tired of peppers we still had enough peppers to fill a five hour pickling event, including 40 jars.

PICKLING RATIO

  • 4 cups vinegar (preferably apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 TBS salt
Combine the ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Stir to ensure all the ingredients dissolve. 


PEPPERS AND OTHER VEGETABLES

Fill our jars two-thirds full of fresh washed vegetables and other flavoring components. I recommend slicing the vegetables so the pickling process works better. Definitely slice your peppers. 
  • peppers
  • onions
  • garlic
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • bell peppers
  • peppercorns
  • herbs
Pour the hot brine into the vegetable filled jars. Seal the jars through your canning method of choice. Wait at least three weeks for the pickling process to complete. Store jars between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Learn more about canning here. I boiled the jars after they were full, and then let them cool on the counter until all their tops popped indicating a fresh sealed jar. This method also runs the risk of glass jars breaking under the stress of the high heat. 





SCIENCE AND SAFETY

Remember to always sterilize your equipment before using. After the jars have been filled, they need to be sealed, just like making jam in the summer time. There are different acceptable methods of canning.

Pickling works by creating a high acid environment that selects for the growth of the bacteria lactobacilli, which ferment the sugar in veggies producing lactic acid. Not very many microbes can live in high acid environments, so the vinegar is not only selecting for lactobacilli which 'pickle' the veggies, but also deselects for potentially harmful alternative bacteria. The idea in pickling is to create an environment made specifically for lactobacilli, so this good bacteria can out compete all other potentially harmful bacteria.

The addition of salt is used for the same selection principle. At certain salt concentrations lactobacilli grow faster than other organisms. Too little salt allows for the quick growth of other organisms, but too much salt will also kill the good lactobacilli bacteria. Thus, it is important to not alter the suggested ratio of salt and vinegar.

If your jars are not properly sealed and the contents are exposed to oxygen, spoilage it almost always certain. Also the temperature at which you store your fermenting jars will affect your pickled products. Try and keep the contents between 70 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

SONOMA COUNTY MUSHROOM MADNESS




SOMA, Sonoma County Mushroom Association, holds mushroom forays with mycologist who can identity all the mushrooms found. Last time we went mushroom hunting at Salt Point State Park at the Sonoma coast.  We were on the look out for Porcini's, but ended up finding candy caps, shaggy manes, and hedgehogs as well. I was thrilled to find candy cap mushrooms in the wild for the first time. Candy caps smell like maple syrup, which intensifies as the mushrooms are dried. This time, I want to dry my candy cap mushrooms, crush them, and then add them to my holiday hot chocolate. 














SAUTÉED MUSHROOMS

I brought home the shaggy manes for dinner. My go to method for cooking mushrooms is to sauté them with butter, shallots, and garlic.  I generally add the ingredients by feel and taste. The shaggy manes were paired with wild rice and kale sautéed in garlic and olive oil. 

  • 4 shaggy mane mushrooms (or substitute another mushroom)
  • 1 small shallot 
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic
  • 2-4 tablespoons of butter, more as needed

Chop up the shallots and garlic. Heat a cast iron skillet. Once hot, melt one tablespoon of butter, and add the shallots and garlic. Mix over medium heat until the shallots are translucent, and the garlic soft. Melt another tablespoon of butter before adding the mushrooms. Heat over medium heat, mixing occasionally so the ingredients do not become overly crispy. Continue to add butter to the skillet as needed to keep the skillet greased. sauté the mushrooms until they are soft and pliable. The shaggy manes will open up and become slightly translucent when done. 




WARNING: Wild mushrooms are an amazing resource, but when foraged incorrectly can be lethal. Do not forage without the supervision of a mycologist. 




The next forage with SOMA is December 20th. After a forage there is a potluck supplied by the members, full of decadent homemade food often full of mushrooms.  SOMA provides information on mushrooms regarding identification, cooking, dyes and paper, growing, foraging, and health. Membership is around twenty dollars. 




Thursday, November 27, 2014

EAT YOUR HEART OUT

Wild rice and foraged mushroom stuffing, cranberry chutney, bbq turkey, spiced sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, brussels sprouts with bacon and onions, squash soup, carrot and potato gratin, beans, garlic and brie mashed potatoes, sweet potato fries, cumin roasted carrots, kale and brussels sprout salad, baked brie, pomegranate seeds with mint, toasted almonds, an Amador County Barbera, Deerfield Ranch 2005 Meritage Blend, Spiced cupcakes, tres leches cake, apple crumble, flan with homemade dulce de leche, and chocolate cubes. We served twenty people, and a day later, I am already out of left overs. 

Over the past 5 years, I have gone from the potato peeling girl to the one organizing the menu, sending out invitations, and making sure the Turkey makes an appearance by 4pm. I love the creativity Thanksgiving inspires in menu planning and recipe development. Every year I choose one to two new recipes to add to the table, however the kale and brussels sprouts salad always makes a return appearance. My favorite new recipe was homemade dulce de leche simmered down from whole milk with vanilla beans. However, I will share this recipe later in the holiday season, as I have a couple ideas to spice it up with. I have half a mind to mass produce the stuff and send it out as holiday gifts. So if you want some extra holiday dulce de leche, just keep pestering me until I finally whip it up again.


Despite the vast array of recipes scattered across our table, it’s the people leaning against the white linen table cloth that add the real spice to Thanksgiving. Each year our community expands, and someone new is introduced into the family. This year we experienced the return of Emily Ward and her mother. My sister and I lived next to Emily for a good part of our childhood, but she wasn’t called Emily back then. No, we called her the Altoid for that one stray front tooth that grew in a little too early. Our little Altoid, the third Barton sister, is all grown up now, attending University, and just returned from New Zealand, but one thing hasn’t changed a bit; Emily still knows how to bring the party. 

After we gorged ourselves, understanding the real meaning of gluttony, Emily turned up the music, and the living room was roaring with song and dance. We had people getting low, the Macarena, a couple people who could actually dance, and a three year old being tossed from person to person. Every face glowed. In this moment, on the dance floor, we were all connected, and love flowed evenly between us, true holiday magic. 



 HOLIDAY BAKED BRIE

Servings: 10 people
Time: 20-25 minutes

  • 1 cup kahlua coffee liquor
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans
  • 1 round of Brie
  • Water crackers
  • Pomegranate seeds for garnish

Bake the round of Brie in a glass pie pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. 

In a small pot, combine the brown sugar and kahlua. On medium heat, stir until all the brown sugar is dissolved. Then on low heat, reduce the liqueur while stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. After the sauce has thickened, add the nuts, stir. 

Pour the sauce and nuts on top of the baked brie. The sauce will drip down around the sides. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. Line the edge of the pie pan, around the Brie, with water crackers. 



 The evolution of my involvement with Thanksgiving has mirrored my switch from the biotech industry to the wine industry, and marked the beginning of my food blogging. One of the first recipes I blogged was this kale and brussels sprout salad, which I originally obtained from Saveur magazine in 2011. The copy of the recipe below is now my family’s version. This recipe has been passed around, with each new person adding a small twist. It is our favorite hearty holiday salad, and satisfies almost all dietary requirements. Gluten-free, and easily vegan, if the cheese is removed.

KALE AND BRUSSELS SPROUT SALAD

Servings: 12 people
Time: 30 minutes

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 2 large bunches of Tuscan Kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total)
  • 12 oz.  brussels sprouts, finely grated 
  • 1/3 cup almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds. 

For the dressing, combine lemon juice, mustard, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir and set aside. Finely grate or chop all of the ingredients for the dressing to homogenize flavor. 

Thinly slice the kale, but leave the stems behind. Grate the brussels sprouts. Toss the kale and brussels sprouts together, in a large bowl. 

Chop, and toast the almonds on medium heat until browned, but not burnt. Mix in the dressing, cheese, and almonds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. 


WINE

Two wines stood out the most to me, an Amador County Barbera, and Deerfield’s 2005 Meritage.

The Amador County Barbera was a wonderful surprise. Unfortunately, I do not remember the winery from which it originated, but I will update this information once it is rediscovered.  True to a Barbera it was a lighter red wine. However, it lacked a lot of the red fruit characteristics I am used to in Sonoma Valley Barberas. This Barbera was all earth. It reminded me of an Oregon Pinot Noir, without the extra smoke on the nose. I have never tasted so much earth in such a light wine. It paired wonderfully with the heavy Thanksgiving food, and has given me a reason to take a trip to Amador County. 

2005 Meritage, Napa Valley, Trio Vineyard by Deerfield Ranch Winery is a red blend. The winemaker, Robert Rex, has an amazing blending ability, and this wine demonstrates that. The blend contains 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, and 2% Malbec.  The Cabernet Franc and Malbec are evident in the middle of the wine with a burst of red fruit. The earthiness of a Napa Cabernet is present at the back of the palate. This 400 case wine was barrel aged for 40 months in 80% French and 20% American oak. 

I chose this Deerfield wine, because the complexity of its palate holds up well to the vast array of hearty foods on the kitchen table, and because of the pop of red fruit in the middle of the palate. When drinking a heavier red with a rich meal I tend to pick wines with red fruit characteristics.  




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"IT'S GOOD PEOPLE": HOW TO BRINE OLIVES

The diversity of Sonoma does not just lie in it’s soil, but in the richness of it’s people. 

Sonoma is a mix of generations, and cultures. There are true locals who have lived off the land for generations, foreigners who have called this place home for decades, families and their rebellious teenagers, young wine industry professionals, and retired couples escaping the city life. When I went to University, my family came to Sonoma to reconnect with the land after long careers in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, and New York. I followed them here through the promise of the wine industry, California’s new gold rush. 


At the far end of our block, lives a Greek couple, Aglelia and John,  who started one of Sonoma’s farm stands while their family was still young, almost 40 years ago. Now the farm stand has been sold, and their children long grown. They still hold the lands they farmed, but have decreased production significantly. They brought us through their current garden full of merlot grapes, pomegranates, squash, herbs, olive trees, roses, root veggies, and almost anything that can grow in Sonoma soil (not a very restrictive parameter). 

John brought us to his outdoor kitchen, beaming. He had built an outdoor wood burning oven so he could cook a whole lamb for his family. They used to gather here, against the rickety wooden table, drink their homemade merlot, and converse over the freshly cooked (and killed, I may add) lamb. You could see the memories set fire to his eyes. In celebration of life and the land, he brought us to his small cellar, and gave us a bottle of the merlot he had just made this harvest. “Drink today. There are no preservatives.”


As we turned the corner past the vast array of table grapes, the sheep came to sight. No doubt the sons and daughters of meals past. Their pasture lined with large eucalyptus trees emphasizing the vastness of their land. While our eyes devoured the pasture, Aglelia kept repeating, “It’s good people.” She didn’t have to say much more for us to know what she was talking about. 

The diversity of Sonoma is a blessing, but the drastic differences of the converging lifestyles creates challenges. Aglelia and John have been working the land here longer than the majority of the people on our block, 40 years. Most of our neighbors are like my family, fleeing the city life, and thus not accustom to the gritty nature of life off the land. 

Our neighborhood is very close, and well loved, but at times the differences can be drastic. Aglelia and John rely on their land and animals. Coyotes or other predators have been known to attack livestock. In rural Sonoma, it is customary to shoot predators who threaten a person's livestock. This is not a sentiment shared by the new city folk (myself included, but I have come to understand). The problem arose when a new neighbor adopted an out of control dog who continually aggravated their sheep. As stories go, there have been many version to this one, but, from what I understand, the dog continually threatened their livelihood. Even after the matter was addressed, the dog was not able to be controlled, which lead to Aglelia shooting the animal, not something she wanted to do. Like us, she loves this neighborhood and it’s people. Every morning her and John walk the 3 mile loop around the block, with their newest granddaughter. 

When I first heard this story I was astonished, outraged, but the longer I live in Sonoma, the more I understand it’s people and their ways. There are two very drastic lifestyles forced together, neither understanding each other. There is no way around the tragedy of this event, but it did begin to integrate the community together. The barriers between the two cultures are slowly breaking down. Reaching out, Aglelia and John gave the family who lost their dog several of their sheep. 

In fact this trading of animals has been very common on our block. Another neighbor, before they moved away, gave my family two alpacas. I may not always enjoy cleaning up after them, but playing with our alpacas and the water hose during the hot summer months is not something I would have ever imagined enjoying on a regular basis. 


HOW TO BRINE OLIVES

The original reason we were at Aglelia and John’s house was to learn Aglelia’s Greek family tradition of brining olives. She did not have a recipe she could hand me, but instead a wealth of stories that all demonstrated by touch and feel how to create the perfect olives. I created a general outline from her stories. (The olive branch pictured contains olives infected with worms, and were unable to be used in this process)


  1. Poke holes onto three different sides of your olives with a fork. Don’t worry about removing the pit.
  2. Place olives in a jar or bowl of water, half olives, half water. 
  3. Change the water daily for a week. At the end of the week, the olives should reduce in bitterness. Taste the olives everyday. This process is done through the senses and takes practice.
  4. Boil water. Add an egg to the water. Keep adding salt until the egg floats, thats when you know the water has enough salt. 
  5. Replace the water in your bowl or jar of olives with this new salted water. Soak the olives in this salted water to completely reduce bitterness. The time the olives sit in the salted water is completely up to taste. Could be one day or a week. This is where the art of the olive comes in. Replace with new salted water as needed. 
  6. Once the olives are no longer bitter, remove them from the salted water. If too salty for personal preference, re-soak in plain water for up to one day. 
  7. To preserve the pre-soaked olives, begin with placing them in a jar, about 3/4 full with the olives. Fill the holes between the olives with 1/3 vinegar and 2/3 olive oil. Sometimes Aglelia would add some of the salted water as well, depending on taste. Add the vinegar and then seal the top of the olives with olive oil, completely covering the olives.
  8. Add desired spices or herbs based on taste. For example, lemon juice, peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, or anything else that strikes your fancy. 
  9. Cover the jar and age in a dark cool place for at least 2 to 3 days. Aglelia gave me olives she had been aging for 2 years and they were utterly amazing. 
  10. Practice and repeat to develop your own feel for the olives, playing with taste. 


OLIVES AND MERLOT

Food and wine are art forms, and thus can be used to invoke emotion. Until now I have used complementary flavors to create exceptional meals encouraging the reader to live in the moment. Food and wine have been an integral part of human culture, used to celebrate, sustain, indulge, or even forget. I plan to play with the idea of food invoking emotion through food and wine pairings and presentation. However, in this post I am using the idea of drinking Merlot with my brined olives as a way to celebrate Aglelia and John who produce Merlot from their land. It is the concept that is being used to invoke emotion and celebrate our neighborhood, more than the flavors. Although, a specific local Merlot could be picked based on the flavors used during the brining of the olives.