Thursday, April 26, 2012

April in Carneros

I was introduced to the festival scene in Carneros 3 years ago for a friends November birthday. I can't remember now if we partook on purpose or found it by accident but from the first time I was impressed with all the value added. I have been to quite a few wine events (be they in one location or at multiple wineries) and this has been one of the best. Branded as Holiday in Carneros in November & April in Carneros in April over 20 wineries participate offering numerous food pairings as well as vendors with artisan foods, jewelery, and art for sale.
 In the past we have taken a limo up to the event so everyone could enjoy themselves. There are a few drawbacks to the limo however. Firstly- it can be pricey and you are on a firm timeline to arrive home before it gets even more expensive. In the past we have paid anywhere from $50 - $70 a piece to hire one for a day like this. The second draw back that I have experienced is that it never seems to fail that the driver has no clue where he is going and ends up wasting considerable amounts of time in between wineries trying to figure it out (even when we have provided them with an itinerary well in advance). They are often rude and unaccommodating and we have left with a bad taste in our mouths more than once. We decided this time around we would take matters in to our own hands! We rented a mini van for $96 for the day and were exceptionally lucky to have one friend who wanted to join us for the day but didn't feel like drinking. After gas we paid less than $30 a piece and had a much better time.
Our first stop for the day was Jacuzzi Family Vineyards . You may remember them from my post about the Lavender sugar that I had purchased at the Olive Press shop on their property. There are so many reasons to love this winery. First off the property is beautiful. Modeled with an Italian Villa motif of the founders homeland there are pieces of family history everywhere. From the references to the planes they were building in the early 1920's to the Jacuzzi hot tubs made later by the family.
With their Italian heritage it is no surprise that they produce a vast array of Italian Varietals. According to their web site they first planted Zinfandel (a descendant of the Italian primotivo), Carignane, & Mourvedre. Today they produce more than 20 different white & red Italian varietals including a sparkling proseco style. For me this makes them very unique and I enjoy their wines quite a bit. They are at a great moderate price point so you feel like you can enjoy them anytime. This is my favorite place to start anytime I come to Carneros. For this event they had a clear tent covering their courtyard and had set up 4 different tasting stations with pairings.
We started first with their Pinot Grigio which they had paired with some freshly made focaccia bread using any herb seasoned sea salt. Next in line was Sangiovese paired with an Aribbiata sea salt seasoned meatball (spicy & delicious!).
Next a Merlot of with a sea salt chocolate and lastly their late harvest dessert wine served in a chocolate shot glass (a signature).

Along with the stations we were able to taste their other wines at the bars set up near the edges including the new proseco. It was such a hot day if I had to pick a favorite wine I would have to go with the Tocai Friulano and nice crisp white wine with tropical fruit flavors. It was so refreshing in the 90 degree heat!

One thing that strikes everyone when they visit Jacuzzi is what a beautiful venue it would be for a wedding. Their large barrel room event space almost has a feeling of a  rustic basilica with the perfect front alcove to stage the ceremony and their outdoor spaces would lend themselves beautifully to the reception.
From Jacuzzi we headed right across the street to another favorite Cline Cellars.The Cline's are actually an extension of the Jacuzzi family. Valeriano Jacuzzi's Daughter married a Cline son. According to their website the Jacuzzi/Cline's son Fred grew to love the vineyard and wine making business after summers with his grandparents. He received a degree in Agriculture Management from UC Davis and went on to begin his own vineyard. In contrast to Jacuzzi's Italian varietals Cline focus's on Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne. Their biggest focus however is their Zinfandel's. Again I think we were a little biased by the heat but throughout the group it was unanimous that their Mourvedre Rose was by far our favorite.
For their food pairing Cline did a variety of sausages. Along with each station having sliced bites they were also serving them on hearty rolls with a variety of artisanal mustards. This site was particularly crowded so we did not spend as much time here as I maybe would have liked but we were able to taste lots of good wine, and lots of good sausage!
Our next stop just down the street (after some harrowing cross the road driving.... the never ending line of cars does not make it easy!) was Gloria Ferrer. A Beautiful estate with grand sweeping views of the Carneros hills and valleys they specialize in sparkling wines Their methods are inspired by Spanish wine making in small distinct lots. When we arrived on site we were directed to one of the small terraces where they serving the festival specifically. The pours were generous however there was not much offered in the way of snacks. We all enjoyed the VA de VI the most of the wines they were serving (their still wines- the Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, and sparkling Va de Vi, Brut, & Rose). I think it may be the unique trace of the muscat grape added that really makes this sparkler special and appealing.

Little did we know when we were planning our trip that Kelly's uncle & his wife would also be enjoying the festival! After running into them at Jacuzzi we decided to meet up with them at Ceja for our final stop. Since we still had sometime we made two more small stops along the way at Anaba & Homewood wineries. Anaba had nice wines but was a bit under staffed and unlike the times I had been there in the fall did not seem to be as into the event with less organization and less to offer. Homewood was very organized giving each attendee a punch card to help keep track of the wines and food pairings they had enjoyed and there was space to rate your favorites. For a small more industrial site they did a great job putting forth the effort to be a worthwhile stop.
 After those two quick stops we made our way down the road to Ceja. We decided this would be the stop to break out our picnic spread after our hours of tasting wines. This was a little tricky as most of the good tables were in use by this point in the day but we were able to grab the end of one large table (albeit in the sun which was probably why it was free).
Let me just say- we are wine tasting day pros. Full case of water in the car, hummus, pita chips, & veggies, strawberries and all the fixings for a lovely Italian baguette sandwich (salami, prosciutto, sliced fresh mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, basil, and oil & vinegar) as well as other treats!
 After settling in we each took turns going to their tasting stations to check out their wines. Ceja is another beautiful family built winery.  The owners are of Mexican heritage and it adds a special influence to all that is done at Ceja.

They were featuring fun live music, wines served in doors & out (the inside decor is like a beautiful Spanish style custom home) and they even have bocce ball!

I'd be lying if I didn't come right out and say that the quality & quantity of food available complimentary with your ticket (which is a value at $39 pre-sale, covering the whole weekend if you stay up there!) is what really makes this for me. So many times you go to tasting events and they advertise the food offerings available but after spending $60 on your ticket you arrive to find out you need to spend even more on the food. This is not one of those events. We came prepared regardless with snacks and picnic food but it was almost rendered unnecessary.

April definitely had a more laid back feel from the Holiday event, and the crowds were big ( In our opinion the amazing weather had a lot to do with that). I would absolutely suggest checking it out this Fall!

Check back on the Hospitality de los Carneros website for updates on future events!

Friday, April 13, 2012

2012 is off to a great start for CBTP!!!

Hi All!!

I haven't ever really posted anything specific to just the blog before but after a year of working on it I wanted to let you know some cool things that are happening!

First off about a month ago one of my favorite Foodie sites Food52 featured my blog post about participating in their Community Picks recipe testing on their site! It was so gratifying to be recognized by a site I respect so much and I received a ton of traffic and positive feedback from the post. You can see their write up and link to the post HERE.

Secondly I am soon going to start doing some guest blogging for the fabulous craft site When Creativity Knocks . They are a fantastic resource for fun how to craft video tutorials as well as interviews and other cool stuff. We are going to start with a video cooking demo (my first time on camera, yikes!) later this month that I will link up here for all your viewing pleasure. I can't wait to start working with Ana & Scott I know I will be able to learn a lot from them on how to make a website your business!

Lastly I have finally been able to add an e-mail notification feature for those that follow the blog. If you look to the right side of the page you will see a box to add your e-mail to the list so you don't have to check in all the time to see if there is anything new, you will a receive an e-mail showing you what's up! A few other adds are a link to share the post you are reading on facebook or twitter, and a link to follow my CBTP twitter account where you can get lots of fun extras that don't make the blog.

A Big thank you to all of you that have supported this little project, it has been a ton of fun to work on and I'm so glad that people are enjoying it! I look forward to bringing you lots of great recipes, cool restaurants, and other exciting info in the future.

- JB

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A day of eating & drinking SF - Outerlands & Straw

I got the great pleasure of spending all day on my birthday in San Francisco with one of my bestest buddies who has been living up there for going on 4 years now. Being squired about town by a "local" is one of the best ways to find unique eats in any city and Andrew didn't disappoint. We started off the day with brunch at a hip spot in the outer Sunset district called Outerlands.

 As soon as we entered I was instantly taken with the aesthetic of the dining room, counter, & service station. Everything is rustic wood, a blend of finished and unfinished pieces. From the walls to the table to the decor the earthiness is undeniable. Described on their website as a haven for seafarers you feel a bit like you have entered an upgraded beach shack where ship wreckage's have been refused to build a sanctuary from the waves. As you can see in the picture on the left they have a very sophisticated coffee set up for those that love their brewed to order pots. Fresh house made baked good and caramels are displayed on the counter to tempt you as you order.
Tables are seated by the staff but you order and pay at the counter. The tables are quite petite so be prepared to shuffle things about to fit it all. Their menu focuses on simple rustic fare and their partnerships with local farmers are reflected in the high quality and fresh flavors of their dishes. Andrew and I both opted to try one of their open faced warm sandwiches topped with two fried eggs.

Served on a thick slice of their hearty house made bread that has been toasted and lightly buttered. I chose the asparagus & portabello with garlic & oregano pistou and crescenza cheese (pictured left). As described in epicurious' food dictionary crescenza is an Italian uncooked cow's milk cheese that is very creamy and becomes soft and spreadable at room temperature. I found it to have a very mild flavor in this dish and added mostly a "sticking power" to keep the veggies affixed to the bread. This is exactly the kind of dish I cook for myself on a Sunday at home and I enjoyed every bite. The nice dark green rounded out the plate with their slight bitterness and fresh palate cleansing power.

Andrew chose the Maple Smoked Ham with apples, caramelized onions, black pepper, Gruyere, & dill. so many good sweet and savory flavors piled together I even found myself enjoying the dill in the bite I tried (it is taking some time but I am ever so slowly coming around to dill). I love the choice to add the very thinly sliced apples as they complement ham and Gruyere so well.
Since I was celebrating I also had a lovely glass of proseco to start my day. All in all a great time at Outerlands. It is a bit off the beaten path but definitely worth hunting it out, you will feel very in the know ;)

With lots of time to kill we headed down to the Ferry Building to check out their farmer's market and shops. This is such a fun place filled with true food artisan's. It is so cool that it will deserve it's own post a future date when we gather ingredients from the different shops and cook a fabulous feast (hopefully sometime in May -Stay tuned!)

Hayes Valley was calling our name for the late afternoon. After reading about them in the Huffington post I had been fascinated by a new bar called "Two Sister Bar & Books" . It is exactly as it sounds, a tiny almost hallway of an old timey bar run by two sisters with lots of reading material! We stopped by for their happy hour and were impressed by their local draft choices (Racer 6 IPA & Anchor Steam Liberty Ale, an Anderson Valley selection along with others) I enjoyed their happy hour cocktail of choice a blend of whiskey, cherry bitters, & sweet vermouth. They also offer a selection of small plates from their kitchen located next to the bar. We had some excellent Camembert paired with a strawberry balsamic jam made by their mother, a roasted head of garlic and some sliced baguette. I am sorry now that I didn't take pictures to share with you but perhaps I'll recreate the experience soon and update the post!

Soon enough it was time for us to head to our dinner reservation at Straw. This goes in the book as one of the more unique establishments I have been a patron to. Carnival themed Straw brings out the child in all of us while simultaneously raising our cholesterol. The decor and menu's are whimsical... while almost being slightly creepy (and aren't all carnivals just a little bit like that).
Yes that is a booth made out of a ride carriage you see in the window

With menu items titled things like "the contortionist" (pretzel bite appetizer) "the bearded lady" (pulled pork sandwich) & "the ring master" (burger served between two doughnuts) you know you are in for an experience. While we waited for Michele to join us I got started with one of their signature cocktails. Blended table side you are first presented with a glass filled with their house made cotton candy. The server then pours from a separate glass the blend of sabe vodka infused sake & champagne that melts the Cotton candy letting it add it's sweet flavor and color to the drink.

My not so secret secret weakness in the arena of junk food is corn dogs. I can't help it the crunchy sweet batter wrapped around the salty meaty hot dog gets me every time. Mini corn dogs with assorted dipping sauces? even better!
 When the waiter came around to take our orders for entrees and offered us the options of french fries, house made potato chips or green salad all of our guilt raised its head and the unanimous vote was green salads! I'm not sure how anyone could digest this stuff without a liiiiiiitttle roughage! I chose the Fried Chicken & Waffle Monte Cristo, and Andrew & Michele went for the pulled pork sandwich with blackberry BBQ sauce and the piece de resistance- The Ringmaster Cheeseburger with bacon served between two glazed doughnuts. And it was all delicious! For being awfully bad for you it all had amazingly good house made taste. You could tell this was some high quality junk food. I enjoyed everything I tasted and I hope to try a few other things the next time I go.... in 6 months after I work off the calories I consumed!

I couldn't end this post with out a picture of their incredible tiny bathroom filled with childhood memorabilia (read: junk) and fun house mirrors!

All in all it was a fabulous birthday doing my favorite things in my favorite city! 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Brunch in a Baguette (Trader Joe's Post #2)

I think I've made it amply clear over the year + of this blog how much I love brunch. Easter is pretty much the holiday for brunch (oh and you know Jesus rising from the grave and stuff... I'm sure he would be down for some delicious eggs after 3 days travelling through hell etc too). If you are looking for something easy and unique to serve or bring to a pot luck this year this is a great recipe! I first enjoyed it with the gals I watch Glee with each week and had to have the recipe to share with all of you. It was unique and so yummy! A baguette is made into a boat filled with yummy things like prosciutto and asparagus and rounded out with a great egg mixture that cooks up like a quiche or fritatta. Cut in slices this is an easy hand held dish great for garden parties or sitting around a living room, very little chance for mess.

Originally featured in Martha Stewart Living Magazine the first time I had it our cook for the evening (we take turns bringing items for Glee nights) had the great idea to add the asparagus spears which I thought was exceptional and did as well when I made it! I'm doing double duty with this recipe as you can find everything you would need at Trader Joe's! So this is also my made from TJ's post for April.


1 Baguette (15 inches long- the wider the better but still thin enough to be considered a baguette)
5 Large eggs
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
3 Tablespoons whole milk (I used half & Half)
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Coarse salt & Freshly ground pepper
4 slices thinly sliced prosciutto (2 oz)
5 Asparagus spears

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Slice 1/4 inch off the top of the bread, using a spoon (or your fingers... which is much easier) hollow out the inside of the loaf, set the top and the bread innards aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, zest, milk, parsley, & Parmesan. Season slightly. Stir in a 1/2 cup of small bread pieces
(the recipe initially calls for pieces from the top you cut off but from making it myself I think I would rather use the innards. Since the bulk of this dish is the crusty crunchy outside adding more crusty crunchy ends up with.... a lot of crusty crunchy. My suggestion is use the middle parts from the bread they will soak up the egg batter more making this almost a savory bread pudding )

3. Place hollowed out bread on parchment lined baking sheet. Place prosciutto slices along the inside of the bread to cover and lay the asparagus spears down the middle. Slowly pour egg mixture to the brim. (helpful hint- scoop out the bread chunks with a spoon and lay them on top of the asparagus, then slowly pour the remaining liquid egg mix over the rest. Maybe grate some extra parm over the top if you are feeling sassy)

Bake until eggs are puffed up and cooked through, about 30-35 minutes (there may be a teeny bit of extra liquidity from the asparagus cooking, go with you gut but the eggs should be cooked just fine in this amount of time)

4. Slice into 2-inch pieces and serve.
-if you are bringing this to a party wrap it whole in aluminum foil and slice it when you get there for ease of transportation
- great hot, decent room temp, gross cold

If you are serving this as an entree we did a simple arugula salad with Dijon vinaigrette and pinenuts as a side that was way yum and way easy. Most importantly brunch is meant to be enjoyed and shouldn't be a fuss so enjoy this simple but super classy dish with all your loved ones! 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hay Market Willow Glen

It's sometimes easy to forget some of the little treasures in our own neighborhoods. Abbie recently stumbled onto one in Downtown Willow Glen called the Hay Market. Willow Glen has always been a  lovely Upper Middle class neighborhood with some great mainstay restaurants (Taiwan & La Villa for example) but sometimes lacks the trendy aspects that other neighborhood downtown's have picked up. Sure they have a wine bar, but beyond that not much else. Hay Market is here to fill that void. Their aesthetic as well as menu scream "farm to table". The bulk of the dining room is made up of 3 communal tables seating up to 11 people a piece, the decor is farm chic, and they run your credit cards on an iPad.

In an effort to beat the Friday evening rush we arrived at about 5:30. Although parking was quite the task we were surprised to be the first guests in the restaurant. We got our pick of seat (which with communal tables never hurts, we chose the end by the wall) and got down to business burning off some of the weeks stress with a bottle of Sav Blanc. What goes better with a nice crisp sav blanc than a cheese plate and some olives?? not much I tell ya. With a selection of cheeses like Brillat Savarin (my favorite!!) Papillon, & Beemster how could I resist? My intention of course wasn't to torture Abbie who gave up cheese for lent, but I'd be lying if I said I was disappointed I couldn't share. So I wasn't munching alone we also ordered their olive plate which was served with some artfully crumbled feta and the same hearty bread that was served with the cheese plate. I also appreciated the little shot glass the was provided for the pits. There's nothing more awkward than enjoying olives at a restaurant with no where to put your pit.

 Along with enjoying our wine and treats we couldn't help enjoying the view...of our gorgeous waiter. I would be a miss if I didn't mention how incredibly good looking (and sweet) our waiter Ben was. I was pretty much driven to blushing distraction every time he made his way over. While we were waiting for our entrees a single woman was seated next to us who is a regular and as she eventually joined our conversation about up coming weddings and careers she had nothing but nice things to say about him as well. I'll be 100% honest in admitting that my main impetus in wanting to visit Hay Market again is in hopes of seeing him there, if only to drool over him and hope he smiles that rakish grin my way.

I know I say this every time but my girlfriends are such good sports when we eat out and always make sure we order a nice variety from the menu. For our entrees we chose the Acorn & Spaghetti Squash, The Game Hen, & the Black Angus New York Steak, and a side of their Mac & Cheese.

I had chosen the squash as my entree. The plating was pretty and the combination of flavors with the Chevre goat cheese, honey, & pumpkin seeds were great. The one down fall for me was that the squash were grilled with the skins on a little too long. So while the flesh was tasty the skin was inedible because it was so tough and chewy. After a solid effort with one piece I resolved myself to scrapping the edible parts off and leaving the skins behind.

Abbie's steak was also nicely plated with a generous helping of blue cheese on top (that she scrapped off in a continued effort to keep with avoiding it for lent, I helped myself to some though it was yummy!) The meat was tender and cooked to her requested temperature. The creamed cabbage was a unique addition and really enjoyable. This was a hearty piece of meat I was actually surprised with how big it was.

The Game Hen was impressive looking as well. Served with some sauted kale, greens, & roasted potatoes this had the quintessential farm house feel. The skin had been baked to golden perfection and the meat inside was moist. There is always the struggle however with how to gracefully eat something that is served in it's entirety like this and I know Kerry tried valiantly to meet the challenge but at points wished she didn't have to deal with dismantling her meal herself.

This was areally unique take on mac and cheese. Wide thick pappardelle noodles and a chewy cheese layered together underneath an herbed breakcrumb topping. It was tasty but didn't have that soul warming creaminess that I think most people are looking for in mac & cheese.

With our entrees Abbie and I both opted for an additional glass of wine and we were surprised with new glassware. When serving a bottle of wine diners are given classic stemware, but when wine is ordered by the glass it is served in what I can most succinctly describe as a water glass. It's cute and kitchsy in it's own way although I don't really think it adds that much to the theme. It mostly just comes off like they are either trying to be sneaky with something or they ran out of stemware. The beers served in mason jars went further to develop the motif than the wine in water glasses in my opinion.
We couldn't give a proper review of the restaurant without trying the dessert so even though we were all pretty full by this point we decided on two- the Paris Brest an almond cream filled flaky croissant like pastry and the Fig, Chocolate, & Camembert Tart.

I enjoyed the Paris Brest which was nice and light and had a good flavor. If you enjoy cream puffs you'll enjoy this dessert. I think we were all unanimous in our verdict that while it was good the fig tart really didn't need the cheese. It felt like it was trying to hard and really didn't add anything to flavor profile. The dark chocolate ganache that made up the bulk of the filling was rich enough.

At the end of our meal our bill was presented with three little dark chocolate cookies... and some temporary tattoos! After about 3 glasses of wine by this point I figured why not? and slapped one on my wrist. Thank goodness it came off in the shower the next day!

Over all we had a fabulous time dining at Hay Market and I will definitely be back again soon. I could see comeing here just for wine and cheese as I think that was my favorite part of the meal all together... well that and the staff ;)