Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Irish roots season dishes with memory

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)
My dad is from Ireland. The home in which he was born is older than the United States. I was a teenager when I first heard this extraordinary fact, and it sunk in with meaningful density. I was awestruck.
Thanks to technology, we are connected to friends and family around the globe in ways never before possible. But there is a web that existed long before the worldwide one – the genealogical link between our ancestors and us.
My brother, who recently visited Ireland, tells me that there is evidence the land my dad was raised on has been in our family for 500 years, perhaps longer. Knowing that members of my family have lived on this one plot of earth for such a great length of time is like imagining the depth of the ocean floor – overwhelming but fundamental.
For the rest of the story, head over to the Los Altos Town Crier.
joanne's raisin soda bread

photo courtesy of steve moore

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lions, lambs and Cab Franc for March

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

I can’t help but wonder whether March will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.
In an attempt to cover both bets, I’m planning ahead. My Lion’s Mane Ragout with Creamy Polenta kicked off the month. And I’ll close out March, and welcome spring, with Lamb Burgers with Harissa Mayonnaise and Rosemary Oven Fries.
What’s great about both dishes is that they pair equally well with Cabernet Franc, an incredibly fruity and bright red wine.
Cabernet Franc is a super comfort-food wine – it’s lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon, which helps it brighten the richness of foods such as ragout and burgers. What’s more, the earthiness of the mushroom ragout and the lamb would make even a modestly priced Cabernet Franc taste pretty darn scrummy – scrumptious and yummy.

Lion’s Mane Ragout with Creamy Polenta

• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 onion, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
• 1 cup dry red wine
• 5 ounces Lion’s Mane mushrooms (or substitute any exotic mushroom)
• 1 pound mixed mushrooms (shiitake, button and mixed exotic work well)
• 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, crushed (such as Cento brand)
• 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
• 1 package polenta
• 1 can chicken broth
• Parmesan cheese, to taste
• Butter, to taste
• Parsley, chopped, to taste
Heat Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Sauté onions for roughly 5 minutes, add garlic and mushrooms. Stir occasionally and cook 7 more minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to simmer. With pot uncovered, continue cooking until most of liquid has evaporated.
Prepare polenta according to package directions. I like Golden Pheasant brand polenta, which I cook in chicken broth and finish with lots of butter and Parmesan cheese.
Serve with additional Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and a glass of Cabernet Franc.

Lamb Burgers with Harissa Mayonnaise

• 1/2 cup mayonnaise
• 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
• 2 teaspoons store-bought harissa paste (more or less, depending on how spicy you like it)
• 1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
• 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
• 1 pound ground lamb
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• Kosher salt, to taste
• Freshly ground pepper, to taste
• 4 slices feta cheese
• Buns
Combine mayonnaise, yogurt, harissa, mint and lemon zest. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
Combine meat, cumin, salt and pepper and form into four burger patties. Heat indoor grill on medium-high. Place burgers on heated grill and cook for approximately 5 minutes per side. When cooked through, remove burgers from grill.
Squeeze lemon half over burgers and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.
Spread desired amount of mayonnaise on each bun and add burger and slice of feta cheese.
Serve with Rosemary Oven Fries and a glass of Cabernet Franc.

Rosemary Oven Fries

(Adapted from chef Chuck Hughes’ fries recipe)
• 4 large russet potatoes, cleaned but unpeeled
• 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
• Sea salt, to taste
• Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Cut potatoes in large wedges. Add wedges to bowl and cover with water. Allow potatoes to sit for at least an hour. This step can be done in the morning – soaking the potatoes longer results in a crisper final product. Drain potatoes and dry using dish towels.
Arrange potatoes in single layer in baking dish and cover evenly with oil, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Bake approximately 40 minutes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cupid takes aim: Pairing wine with dessert

(Written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

When I imagine Cupid stringing his bow and taking aim at a soon-to-be-in-love couple, I envision a platter of some sweet concoction and a goblet of dessert wine beside him. Both seem to be the most fitting fuel for the winged master of amore as he goes about his happy business of sparking love.
Of course, I also imagine that pairing wine with dessert comes easily for Cupid, who knows a thing or two about passionate pairings. For us mere mortals, however, deciding on which wine to drink with dessert can be a bit more hit and miss. To get your aim right this Valentine’s Day, I’m offering some thoughts on dessert and wine pairing.

Pairing basics
When selecting a wine to serve with dessert, I first consider “mouthfeel” – the physical and chemical interaction of the pairing in your mouth. Dark chocolate, for instance, has a creamy, slow-melting mouthfeel with hints of roasted nuts and dark-cherry flavors. It pairs perfectly with a late-harvest Zinfandel.
Apart from mouthfeel, the basic guidance for dessert and wine pairing is to make sure the sweetness of the dessert matches the sweetness of the wine. In other words, you don’t want your dessert to be much sweeter than what you are drinking. If the dessert is too sweet, it will “dry out” the wine.
With these two guiding principles in mind, it’s easier to select a wine that complements your Valentine’s dessert of choice. Whether your date is a fan of fruity pastries, creamy puddings or blocks of chocolate, the following hints will guarantee a sweet ending to your Valentine’s Day.
For the rest of the story, head over to the Los Altos Town Crier.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Matchmaking: Food and wine pairing made simple

Written for the Los Altos Town Crier.

matchmaker: make me a food and wine match!

Valentine’s Day approaches and love is in the air. Perhaps that’s why I recently found myself taking stock of the couples I’m close with. In doing so, I came to the realization that there are two main categories of love that my couple friends fall into.
First, there are the duos that are so alike that they finish one another’s sentences and 
giggle before their partner delivers the punchline. The second type is far less “two of a kind” but just as well-suited for great love. In these relationships, the individuals involved could not be more different, yet they seem their best selves in one another’s company.
Of course, being a wine enthusiast, I couldn't help but notice how my friends’ romances mirror the relationships between food and wine. That is, a food and wine combination works together because the elements are either utterly complementary or so opposite that they pair perfectly.
A great pairing can either echo the attributes of the food it is served with or introduce entirely new flavors and sensations.
Whether you’re selecting the right wine from the by-the-glass menu at a restaurant or creating a menu at home, food and wine pairing might seem intimidating – but it needn't. Understanding the basic way food and wine improve one another will make you a skilled matchmaker.

‘We go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong’

Danny and Sandy from the musical “Grease” may have seemed like an odd pair, but it was underlying similarities that made their love worthy of ballads sung in the streets. Finding what a food and wine have in common is a great way to create pairings, because congruent flavors can elevate one another.
If shrimp salad with green-apple vinaigrette is on the menu, you might know to choose a white wine. But not all whites will work. You should think of balancing the acidity of the salad with the wine.
If a wine has less acidity than the food you are drinking it with, the wine will taste lifeless. Imagine, for example, having that shrimp salad with an oaked California Chardonnay – the pairing would be utterly out of balance. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, however, would be wonderful with the salad because it has enough acidity to hold its own against the vinaigrette.
The same idea works for hearty dishes, too. A mushroom ragu over polenta is rich with earthy flavors. It would pair wonderfully with a glass of supple, earthy red wine. A lighter Nebbiolo from Italy’s Piedmont region would be a fantastic partner for the ragu.

‘We come together cuz opposites attract’

Paula Abdul sang of the way opposites can work, and I agree with her. There are times when being too matchy is a terrible thing.
Bitter with bitter, for instance, is not a good idea when pairing wine and food. Finding a dark chocolate and red wine that work together is tricky for this reason. Both have bitter (“tannic” in wine-speak) profiles. But put that tannic red with a fatty steak and the combination will send your taste buds over the moon.
Tannins cut the richness of a fondue, too – sipping a Syrah while dipping bits of bread into the melted cheese is a scrumptious and romantic meal.

Valentine’s Day ideas

Regardless of the kind of pairing that suits your fancy, wine and romance go hand in hand. Here are few recommendations:
  • Roast chicken and potatoes served with a Fieldfare 2010 Chardonnay from Monterey County ($17.99) would make for a great night this Valentine’s Day.
  • Another swoon-worthy pairing is red-sauce spaghetti served with oodles of Parmesan cheese and a glass of Contemassi 2008 Chianti ($14.99). The acidity of the sauce and the wine are just right together.
  • In the category of opposites attracting, a Washington State Riesling paired with pad Thai would be lush. A bottle of Kung Fu Girl 2012 Riesling ($11.99), full of stone-fruit zing, will change your opinion of American Riesling altogether.
  • If the way to your love’s heart is through dessert, a 2011 Mionetto Moscato ($11.99) and chocolate torte would be a juxtaposition sure to please.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Cocktails

I have a holiday drinks article in today's Los Altos Town Crier. Below are the cocktail recipes I share in the piece. 
My Bucking Reindeer, a holiday riff on the Moscow Mule, is fresh and cheerily pink. The Tropical Sidesleigh puts a holiday twist on the classic Sidecar cocktail.
Keep these recipes handy – they’d be equally welcome at a New Year’s celebration.

Christine’s Bucking Reindeer

• Ice cubes
• 1/4 cup vodka
• 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
• 1/2 cup chilled ginger beer
• 3 tablespoons pomegranate juice
• 1 lime wedge
• Pomegranate seeds
• Sprig of rosemary
Fill tall glass with ice cubes. Add vodka, lime juice, ginger beer and pomegranate juice. Stir thoroughly. Garnish with lime wedge, pomegranate seeds and rosemary and serve immediately.

Christine’s Tropical Sidesleigh

• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger, very finely chopped (can be omitted)
• 1 cup cognac or good brandy
• 1/2 cup Cointreau
• 1/4 cup pineapple juice (plus scant more for frosting glasses)
Pour small amount of pineapple juice into shallow plate. Place sugar and finely chopped crystallized ginger in another shallow plate. Dip rims of four martini glasses into juice and then sugar mixture. Allow glasses to dry for 10 minutes – this can be done earlier in the day.
Combine cognac, Cointreau and remaining pineapple juice in pitcher and mix well. Add half of mixture to cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and then pour into two glasses. Repeat process to fill remaining glasses.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

12 glassfuls for Christmas

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)
Partridges in pear trees and all those lords a-leaping don’t really make it onto Christmas wish lists these days. The idea behind the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is phenomenally festive, though, and served as great inspiration for a list of 12 drink-related treats to get you happily through the holiday season.
In compiling my list, I had the blissful fortune to recruit help from local cookbook author and blogger Erin Gleeson and Laurie Lindrup, director of business development and senior assistant operations manager at Beltramo’s Wines and Spirits, for wine recommendations.
Gleeson’s book, “The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from My Cabin in the Woods” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2014), is full of her photography and watercolor paintings, making it a feast for the eyes. Her straightforward recipes are ideal for entertaining.
Visiting Beltramo’s in Menlo Park this time of year is nearly required holiday preparation for me. The store is my one-stop shop for all things fizzy and fermented – every bottle or brew mentioned is available at Beltramo’s.
For the rest of this really fun -- and useful -- article, head over to the Los Altos Town Crier...
photo courtesy of erin gleeson

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


It's two days after Thanksgiving. We brought all the food north this year. Once home, we threw a leftover party for friends. The dining table is covered in unwashed crystal, and there are things to be done throughout the house. I could take down glass pumpkins and put up Christmas. Instead, I go for a walk. 

I make turkey and cranberry sandwiches and pack a bottle of J Vineyards J Cuvee 20 Brut NV. We walk for a while, then lay out our blanket and breath in the quite afternoon. Rain is coming. We can tell. I'm grateful for that and for the way we linger despite the approaching clouds.

Recipe note: To make my cranberry sauce extra sandwich worthy, here's what I do... To the most basic sauce recipe, I add a good amount of lemon zest and a tablespoon of chopped, fresh rosemary.