Friday, April 18, 2014

A wine for Passover and one for Easter too

Looking for some spring holiday wines? Here are two to try.
A bottle of 2012 Hagafen Oak Knoll Chardonnay is a great kosher choice for a Passover party. The wine’s “yellow apple” attributes give it the softness and ripeness needed to compliment the savory and sweet dishes featured on a Passover table.
Stock up on 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard’s Chenin Blanc because it will be all the rage served beside an Easter ham. Crisp on the palate and flowery on the nose, it is bound to please.
spring entertaining outdoors

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Italian lesson

Today, April 15, would have been Marcella Hazan's 90th birthday. In honor of all she taught us with her passionate and inspirational cooking, I'm reposting what I wrote when she passed away.


Earlier this week, Marcella Hazan died. She was 89 years old. A biologist turned cookbook writer and educator, she can be credited with introducing Americans to authentic Italian cooking.

Her food was simple but executed with the attention of an intense perfectionist. Reading her recipes provide as much critical information about techniques as they do ingredients.

Of her many repeat-worthy quotes, I love in particular that she said: The best ingredient in the kitchen is common sense.  

Yesterday, I made her bolognese. It's a five-hour sauce of uncomplicated ingredients.

Her original recipe includes cooking tips, such as:

The meat must be sautéed just barely long enough to lose its raw color. It must not brown or it will lose delicacy.

Use a fork to break the meat into crumbs.

The meat must be cooked in milk before the tomatoes are added. This keeps the meat creamier and sweeter tasting.

I served the sauce on fresh pappardelle and opened a bottle of Vino Noceto 2010 Sangiovese.   

An indigenous grape to Italy, Vino Noceto Sangiovese is made in Amador Valley, California. Marcella's husband, Victor Hazan, has written extensively on Italian Wine, but I decided to pair a California-grown version.

Vino Noceto Sangiovese is juicy and delicate with lots of cherry. It was lovely with the slightly sweet and creamy bolognese. A meal to truly feed the soul.

A little more on Sangiovese
Sangiovese (san-jo-veh-zeh), is the most widely-cultivated red wine grape in Italy, with more than 12 different clones grown in various regions. The wine can trace its history back to Roman times. Chianti and Chianti Classico are two prime examples of wines made with Sangiovese grapes. A full-bodied wine with medium to soft tannins, Sangiovese is a very food friendly.

Marcella Hazan's Bolognese
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½ cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
¾ pound ground beef chuck
Fresh ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
Whole nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine (but I used Vino Noceto Sagiovese)
1-½ cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, torn into pieces, with juice
1-¼ to 1-½ pounds pasta (I used pappardelle), cooked and drained
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table


1. Put oil, 3 tablespoons butter and chopped onion in a heavy 3-½-quart pot and turn heat to medium. Cook and stir onion until it has become translucent, then add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat well.

2. Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble meat with a fork, stir well and cook until beef has lost its raw, red color.

3. Add milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating, about 1/8 teaspoon, fresh nutmeg and stir.

4. Add wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated. Add tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.

5. Cook, uncovered, for at least 3 hours (5 hours if you're able), stirring from time to time. While sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it will begin to dry out and the fat will separate from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add ½ cup water as necessary. At the end of cooking, however, the water should be completely evaporated and the fat should separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

6. Add remaining tablespoon butter to the hot pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lemons, Madeleines and Prosecco

When it comes to baking, I'm utterly inconsistent. Nonsensical jags of baking, such as my "banana bread: 10 ways in 20 days" journey, will be followed by months of not baking a loaf. 

Some years ago I went about perfecting a Madeleine recipe only to abandon the cause just as I was getting it right. 

So, when this week's spring cleaning unearthed my once beloved Madeleine pan with its 12 dainty shell shaped cups, my tentative Madeleine quest was renewed.

What's more, my lemon tree is covered in a confetti of blossoms -- my garden filled with their tender fragrance. Under these conditions, how could I not bake my Lemon Madeleine recipe in celebration of all things Spring? 

Lemon Madeleines
Makes 48 Madeleines, which = plenty to share or freeze


1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
4 farm fresh eggs 
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Special equipment: Madeleine pan

fresh eggs make a big difference

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F (will reduce to 350 F for baking).
  2. Coat Madeleine pan with non-stick baking spray.
  3. Melt butter and allow to cool.
  4. In medium bowl, sift flour and baking powder together and set aside.
  5. In an electric mixer, beat eggs, lemon zest and lemon extract on high for a full five minutes.
  6. Add powdered sugar in stages with mixer on low, when fully added turn mixer to high and mix for additional five minutes (mixture should be think and creamy looking).
  7. With rubber spatula, fold in flour mixture and melted butter until fully incorporated but being careful not to over mix.
  8. Using a tea spoon, fill shell cups 2/3 of the way full.
  9. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.
  10. Bake for eight minutes.
  11. Remove from oven, allow to cool for three minutes in pan and then turn out onto cooling rack.
  12. Repeat backing process until all cookies are made.

these are ever so slightly crispy on the favorite way

What to Drink

These Lemon Madeleines are gorgeous with a bowl of fresh berries and a glass of Prosecco. I like 2012 Silvano Follador "Cartizze" Prosecco DOCG Brut served very cold. 

wrapped and ready to share with friends

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How to judge a wine by its label... And spring party wine thoughts

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

They catch your eye from across the crowded store. Intrigued, you move closer to see what they’re all about. But somehow, the nearer you get to the wine section, the more confusing the process of selecting a bottle becomes.
Friends have told me that if they want a “good” wine, they will buy the most expensive bottle they can afford. But a fantastic wine doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
Knowing how to use the label to make your choice will give you the power to purchase using more than just price as your guide.
With the spring entertaining season off and running, wine-label wisdom will help you select a bottle you’d be proud to introduce to your mom’s Easter ham, serve for Passover brunch or even bring to a discerning boss’ spring barbecue.
For the rest of the story, head over to the Los Altos Town Crier.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Inner peace and Albarino

Coal and Feed
Last year, several close friends and I went on a somewhat unintentional grand food tour. I say unintentional because wallowing in local, ambrosial food was the joyful fringe benefit of our mini(*desperate-for-a-break*)-staycation in Northern California. 

After a gluttonous and sun-drenched few days in the town of Healdsburg, we headed to Marshall, where we had rented Coal and Feed (and, yes, this place is just as special as it looks in the photos). 

Nick's Cove
If you're not familiar with Marshall and the surrounding towns, you should get to know all of it. There is incredible food to be found: cheese; oysters; beer; meat; even cooking gear

All this is to say it was a GREAT trip. The kind that gives you happy memories to float on for months, even years to come. 

So, last week as I toiled away on an especially unpleasant task, I found myself daydreaming about our days of epicurial pleasure. 

In particular, I played over in my mind a wine and a plate of oysters. The wine was Tangent Albarino and the oysters were Hog Island's Kumamotos. Each on their own are beautiful expressions of the bounty of California. Together, they are a memory I cherish.

It's one of the great things about our senses. When we're using smell, taste, touch and even hearing while eating and drinking, we are cataloging joy. Then our wine and food experiences become rich and emotional memories that we can slosh around in should ever we need an escape.   

A little more about Albarino (al-baa-ree-nyo)
Albarino is a Spanish white varietal loved for its crisp minerality, fresh aromatics and juicy tropical notes. It is a wine that goes so well with shellfish you'll feel transported to a seaside town when you pair it with shrimp tacos, sushi, mussels and fries, or some very Spanish recipe such as grilled squid

Tangent, from Edna Valley, is one of the few producers of California-grown Albarino. What they are producing is incredible. If you can't find Tangent, look for producers from Spain's Rias Baixas (ree-ahs buy-shuss), which is really the motherland of the varietal. There are many amazing and well-priced Rias Baixas Albarinos on American shelves--Martin Codax, Burgans, Condes De Albarei are three good options.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Today a Haiku

We haven't seen much rain in Northern California. I took a walk through a vineyard after a much needed storm. 

February Vines

Finally the rain

Limbs lift up to tender sky

Soft beneath my feet