My Achilles’ Heel-William Chris Enchanté

There have been a few moments in life that I have surprised myself with my own strength. Hiking the Na Pali coast, natural childbirth (x2), and the Dr. Junger Clean Gut diet that I have been doing for the past 14 days. No coffee, alcohol, grains, sugar, fruit, or fun. I resisted pizza (x2), cut an Italian cream cake without a lick. I made apple crumb pie and while others oohed and aahed, I had raspberries with almond meal. We held dinner parties, a football party. Nothing swayed me. But last night I crumbled. My Achilles’ heel, it turns out, is William Chris Enchanté.

I would say that I’d had a perfect track record until last night, but that wouldn’t be the case. I went to both the pick up party and industry party at William Chris last week. I had the tiniest of tastes, then dumped or shared, except for the Enchanté. I couldn’t resist; no dumping for this gem.  But honestly, that’s some dang good will-power.

IMG_4404Then last night, we made a belated birthday dinner for my father-in-law who is visiting from Sonoma. My husband and I teamed up to make something delicious that I could eat without cheating. We decided on grilled lamb chops with rosemary. For sides I made acorn squash with braised balsamic leeks and a kale salad which I massaged with avocado, garlic, lemon juice and salt. I was home free. Until my husband asked me to pick the wine.

I tried to pick something I wouldn’t mind missing, but it was staring at me. I knew it would be perfect. Merlot, Cab, Malbec, Petite Verdot. The acid, bright cherry, subtle tannins. It was too much. And I knew that if I opened it, I would not be able to resist.

So I did what any Texas-wine loving, soft-spined woman would do. I listened to my “gut” (ha,ha) and declared it Splurge Sunday. And I’m so glad I did.

It was honestly one of the best pairings I’ve had in a long time. Each dish brought out a different nuance in the wine. A bite of acorn squash brought out subtle notes of baking spice. The lamb complimented the earthy Malbec notes. After the kale, the bright red cherry notes shined.

It’s not easy to impress my Sonoma father-in-law but the 2013 William Chris Enchanté did just that. How impressed was he? Well, I am writing this from the back seat on our way out there. Well done, gentleman. You made a believer out of him and broke my will. But it was well worth it. I may have to create my own “cleanse” that allows wine in moderation.  The question is, do I pretend it never happened and continue to day 21?  Or just avoid everything but wine on the weekends?  I’ll be pondering that, but in the meantime, I’ll be planning my Texas Wine Month post-cleanse splurge. Cheers, y’all!

 

Salad Days

The heat and humidity are picking up here in central Texas, so sometimes I need to keep it really simple in the kitchen.  I scratch plans for anything that requires turning on the oven and improvise.  Last Wednesday was one of those nights.  I was in the mood for a rose so I opened a sample I recently received from Fox Run Vineyards in the Finger Lakes, Pinot Noir rose to be specific.

Good floral and herbal notes on the nose, palate was similar with subtle red fruit.  A bit of a bite at the end when sipping but that faded when paired with the food.  I had the hubs grill some Brat Hans Spicy Italian chicken sausage  (you can find it at Whole Foods) and threw together a salad of fennel, grape tomatoes, and basil with a little red wine vinegar and olive oil.  I love it when pairings works surprising well. The fennel complemented the sausage and the wine.  The sweet basil brought out the herbal notes in the wine. It was ridiculously simple and ridiculously good together.

This was the second rose I’ve tried from the Finger Lakes region.  The first, I didn’t care for, but this was a nice, easy food-friendly wine and well priced at about $15.  It is fun to see more pink coming from more places and I’ll keep my eye out for more.

Not one to waste good fennel, I incorporated it into another, very different but equally tasty salad.  The main dish was grilled red snapper with herbs and lemon zest.  This time I used butter lettuce, blood orange, fennel, and pistachios with a rice wine and honey vinaigrette.  So simple and super tasty.  What would I pair with this meal?  Sauvignon Blanc, of course.  I love it all the time but when the temps rise, I crave the crisp acidity of a good Sauv Blanc.

Because today is Sauvignon Blanc Day in the wine world, let’s spend a little more time on this perennial favorite.  So here is the thing about SB and me.  I love it all.  Okay, almost all.  Whether the label says Sancerre or Fume Blanc, New Zealand or Chile, I am usually a fan.  This would be a great place to tell you my favorites, but that is just the thing.  I don’t have any.  I am constantly trying new ones, and pretty consistently happy.  There are a few bigger names that I don’t feel the need to buy again, but if it is poured, I will enjoy it.

This past Monday I had the pleasure of trying two from a region typically associated with fantastic Zinfandels.  The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley were in town and I had the good fortune of dining with them at Justine’s Brasserie.  The first two wines poured were Sauvignon Blanc and they were equally delicious.

The first wine from Fritz Underground Winery was 90% tank fermented with 10% done in French oak to soften the wine.  Beautiful tropical notes, great acidity.  A very elegant wine.  The second was from Dutcher Crossing.  They add a little Viognier which comes through in the nose and the texture.  Again, great tropical fruits, stone fruit, and citrus.  The people were as wonderful as the wines.  More on this to come.

So what are your favorites salad wines?  Any favorite SBs I need to look for?  For that matter, what are some favorite summer salads you can throw together quickly and painlessly?  I’ll be sharing more of my faves as the summer swelter begins.

{The Fox Run was received as a media sample and the dinner was part of a media promotion.  I received no other compensation and the thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

 

Calling my Name- Bodegas Protos

Wait, did you hear that?  Oh, there it is again!   It happens every time I’ve opened a bottle from Ribera del Duero.  It is Spain calling my name.  It’s been happening more lately.  Maybe the voice is getting louder and more persistent, but the voice is balanced and never too much.  They are lively little wines.  Zesty, spirited so maybe that is how it keeps jumping in my cart.  Or maybe it is the fact that our kitchen remodel has me looking at value a little more.  The region is packed with value.

Recently, one even showed up on my doorstep!  Fate?  Kismet?  A sign from above?  (Ok, it was a sample from Gregory White PR but no matter.)  The voice was clear.  From the bright fruit, the acid to the depth of flavor without the heavy tannins, this wine speaks to me.  It was from Bodeagas Protos, the 2011 Tinto Fino.  And it was yummy.

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I paired it with a flatbread for happy hour.  It is a new go-to appetizer.  Easy, quick and impressive.  I take store-bought pizza dough, spread it on my pizza stone, brush with olive oil.  Throw on some garlic powder, Italian herbs, salt and pepper to taste and thin strips of prosciutto.  Bake for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, slice grape tomatoes.  Toss tomatoes and arugula in olive oil.  When the flatbread is done, cover with veg and shaved parmesan.  Cut into rectangles, or whatever you want, really.  Simple.

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It paired really well: the smoky flavor of the prosciutto, peppery arugula, salty parm all complemented the wine.  But, really this wine is so easy to drink, so versatile you could go in many directions.

I first became acquainted with the region last year at the Drink Ribera event in Austin.  My crush has only gotten bigger.  I have yet to see this wine in the stores yet, but I’ll be stalking the Spain aisle.  And dreaming of the day we can meet in person.

{This wine was received as a sample from Gregory White PR.  The thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

Dinner with the Don

2009_2[1]Last fall I was invited to a dinner in Houston hosted by Concha Y Toro to introduce their 2009 flagship wine, Don Melchor.  The winemaker, Enrique Tirado, would be hosting the event which included a vertical tasting of the wine.  It sounded like a fabulous event, but without much notice, I couldn’t get away.  Fortunately for me, the company representing *Don Melchor, Gregory White PR, knows how to make a great impression.  As a consolation, they sent me a bottle of the 2009 to try at home.

So I did what any food-loving, wine-loving person would do.  I researched the menu from the event and did my best to create a meal worthy of the wine.  I invited some friends, those friends, that I knew would really appreciate the wine and we made our own event.

Grown in the Puento Alto Vineyard in the Maipo Valley of Chile, on vinestock that hails from the Bordeaux region, the fruit in this wine has the potential to rival any Cabernet from around the world.  Enrique Tirado’s natural talent and dedication to research have elevated the wine to cult status.  Each final blend is tasted with Jacques Boissenot, one of Bordeaux’s most well-respected consultants.  Old world vines, new world soil, old world methods, new world research.  It is truly an expression of the best of both worlds.

According to the Examiner article, the wine worked really well with roast lamb with fennel.  So, I headed to the local Farmer’s market to get a couple of racks of French cut grass-fed Lamb rib from I.O. Ranch, well worth the extra stop if you are in the Austin area.  And if you don’t, they ship!  From Johnson’s Backyard, I picked up fennel, turnip, and carrots.  My goal was to use what I knew about the wine and to bring out earthy notes with the root vegetables.  I used my brother-in-law’s rack recipe.

20140129-113950.jpgSear the lamb rack on high heat, 2-3 minutes per side.

Coat the rack with a combination of goat cheese and Dijon mustard.  Then coat in seasoned (rosemary, salt and pepper) Panko bread crumbs.

Cover the tips with foil so they don’t burn.  Roast on a rack at 400 degrees until medium rare. (20min depending on size)

20140129-114010.jpgFor sides I boiled and mashed equal parts turnip and Yukon gold potatoes with horseradish, milk, butter, salt and pepper.

I roasted whole carrots with sliced fennel, leeks, olive oil, salt and pepper for about 45 minutes.

When the lamb was roasted, we pulled it, let it sit for about five minutes, sliced it and then drizzled it with au jus, frozen from the Christmas Prime rib, which I reduced.

We decanted the wine for about an hour.  Aromas of black fruit, cassis and berry.  Spice, tobacco, and cocoa.  The flavors echoed the aromas with big, smooth fruit, velvety mouthfeel, layered finish.  The elements of spice and tobacco were there but in balance with the fruit.  It paired beautifully with the dish.  The earthy lamb and turnip, the sweet fennel and carrots, the richness of the au jus with the soft tannins.  It was fantastic.

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This wine is in the very special Weekend Wine (or holiday) category with a price point of $125.  As I’ve said before though, if you are cooking at home, you can justify a splurge in the wine realm.  Rack of Lamb and Don Melchor at home or a crowded Prix Fixe chicken dinner and paying $75 for a $25 bottle on Valentine’s Day?  No contest.

It is hard to rival the experience of delving into new wines with the winemaker, especially wines of this caliber.  Of course I wish I had been there.  But I will also say, it is hard to compete with dinner at home with those you love.  Many thanks to the people at Gregory White PR for the invitation and for allowing me to “join” from the comfort of my crazy home.

*This wine was provided as a media sample by Gregory White PR.  The opinions are my own.

Less is More-Clean Slate Riesling

There was a time when a meatless meal would be cause for a mini-revolt.  But I’ve gotten better at creating delicious, satisfying vegan meals and my husband’s gotten better about not complaining.  Less meat is just better for your health and the environment.  It’s a win-win.  Less is more.

There was a time when my day was so crazy and I was so overwhelmed that I wanted a glass of wine every night.  Now I get a break during school hours and am more in the groove of the SAHM thing.  So instead of having a Monday wine on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I generally have one or two glasses of something tasty, once or twice a week.   Less is more.

I have had a few samples of wine that I have been meaning to try, but when you drink less, you drink less.  So yesterday I opened a bottle of Clean Slate Riesling that has been in my refrigerator for weeks.  I’m glad I did.  The wine hails from the Mosel region of Germany which is known for producing some great Riesling.  While choosing most German Rieslings can be intimidating because of their classifications, this one is straightforward.  A look at the label will give you a good hint about what you are getting.

Clean floral and fruit notes with little residual sugar and a lot of minerality.  Just as the photo indicates.  Citrus, stone fruits, and a little spice.  When people ask about minerality in wine, I always think of the smell of slate.  I think of climbing on slate river beds as a child and the taste of your hands after.  No, I didn’t go around licking my hands as a child, but it happens, right?  If you’ve ever done it, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, open a Mosel Riesling.

With a price point around $10, it is a great Monday wine.  I wish I’d opened it on Monday, in fact, because it would have been perfect with the meal I made.  I was in clean-out-the-fridge mode so I used what I had and it turned out to be, in my husband’s words, the best vegan combination I’ve made so far.

I cubed and roasted some butternut squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and then added mint.  I made brown rice with sautéed leeks, currants, cilantro, cumin, cinnamon, and a little lemon juice at the end.  I also roasted brussel sprouts which I finished with a little Sriracha and lemon juice.  It was delicious.  The warm, fall flavors with a little heat would have paired perfectly with the wine.

You may have read that I was cutting out this, that, and most things in between.  I was really strict at first, then I loosened up on the weekends.  But after two months without the weight budging, I got discouraged and my husband started to complain.  Understandably.  So I adopted my sister’s 80/20 lifestyle.  Eat in the anti-inflammatory way 80% of the time, but when I’m at someone’s home or on date night, I’ll loosen up.   And if I have a sample begging to be opened, I’ll open it.  I’ll just pair it with something healthy.  I’ll still make overall health the goal, but I’ll lighten up on the rules.  Less is more.

Here’s the Skinny

And by “skinny” I mean the low-down, the nitty gritty, the scoop. Not my waist-line.

So I am now at day 13 of being wheat-free, dairy-free, nearly sugar-free. You’ll notice that I did not say alcohol-free. I have done a little imbibing on the weekends. Coffee and a drink or three have been my weekend treats. But overall, I have been a clean-eating fool. I’ve basically been doing the anti-inflammatory diet and I think I feel better and the scale is showing some results. It hasn’t been as hard as I imagined and I have found some tricks that are worth sharing. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

1) I can actually have coffee without milk

I’ve used So Delicious coconut creamer and it’s not bad. It’s not milk, but I will survive.

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2) Detoxinista

She has some great Paleo and Vegan recipes. The Harvest Breakfast Cookies saved me the first week. Easy to make, delicious, and healthy.

3) Vega One shakes

A vegan protein powder with tons of great stuff- maca, probiotics, omega 3, greens, antioxidants. Good stuff. The Vanilla Chai with frozen blueberries tastes great and lasts. It’s not cheap, but it is on sale at Whole Foods right now.

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4) There’s usually an alternative

Swap Brown Rice Syrup or Maple syrup for sugar. Swap coconut oil for butter. Swap Coconut/Buckwheat/Spelt(related but different from wheat, not for celiacs but fine for someone like me) flour for wheat/white flour. The internet is such a wealth of inspiration and information. It has given me a new challenge in the kitchen that is actually enjoyable.

5) Cashew cream sauce

Makes a great alternative to peanut sauce, salad dressing, cheese, etc. Delish. I made Veggie enchiladas with brown rice tortillas, cashew cream in lieu of cheese for me, cheese for the fam.

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6) Chia pudding pops

Blend chia seeds, cocoa powder, almond butter, coconut milk, banana, sea salt. Pour in popsicle molds. Healthy fix for the sweet cravings.

7) I can have a glass and still lose, but not more.

Whether it is the inflammation, the calories, the dehydration factor or all of the above remains to be seen but the scale goes up or stays the same when I have more than one. Regardless, I know that I can stay on this long-term as long as I can have a glass of wine here an there. Which means I will have more to write about. On that note…

8) I’ve got another writing gig

Starting next week I’ll be doing some guest writing for Living Direct’s wine blog, blog.winecoolerdirect.com. I’ll send links or you can check the site directly. Next week I’ll start with a piece on South African wines. We will be drinking them (and more) with “those friends.”  Stay tuned.

Happy weekend!

Going Out with a Bang

Ok, so I am doing it.  Trying it.  Ok, starting it anyway.  I eat healthy.  I exercise (sometimes more vigorously than others).  And I can’t drop the last ten from my now 3-year-old “baby.”  My sister has been eating the anti-inflammatory way since she discovered it, for the most part.  She was motivated by arthritis but the weight loss is a welcome “side effect” so I am going to try.  Which means no dairy, gluten, sugar, booze, etc.  Which means that I won’t be 100% long-term, but I can be strict for a while and then do some figuring out what works for me.

So I went shopping yesterday for some new supplies but when I got home I realized I had one “last supper.”  I should have planned ahead and made it more exciting, but I did want it to include wheat and dairy with a dash of decadence.  So I did a play on Pasta Carbonara and popped open a wine I’ve been waiting to try all summer, Dane Cellars 2009 Chenin Blanc.  I met the winemaker, Bart Hansen, at SXSW last spring and he sent me a few samples.  I was trying to wait for other wine writers to taste them with me but summer schedules have not permitted any get-togethers.  I got tired of waiting.

In typical fashion, I popped the cork while I was cooking to taste while my palate was clear. And just because.  I think of Chenin as a summer wine, but last night I tasted early fall.  Growing up near MacIntosh apple country, I have a weak spot for a crisp, slightly tart apple.  That is exactly what I tasted when I tried the wine.  Clean, tart early harvest MacIntosh apples.  Add a touch of acid and floral and there you have it.  The recipe I used suggested Sauvignon Blanc but this pairing worked well too.  Basically what you want with Carbonara is some acid to cut the richness of the pancetta and cheese.  The Chenin had that in spades. And at around $15, it nearly qualifies as a Monday wine.

I also didn’t have pancetta since this was on-the-fly gluttony, so I used olive oil and a touch of bacon grease I had in the freezer.  While the pasta was cooking (no spaghetti, just wheat gemelli), I sautéed the garlic and thin ham strips until the garlic was soft and the ham was crisp.  While that was happening I grated about a cup of parmesan cheese and mixed that in with two whisked eggs.  When the pasta was just out of the water, I tossed it in the pan and added the egg/cheese mixture.  (If you want to thin the sauce,add some pasta water).  At the very end I added about a tablespoon of thinly sliced green onion, a touch I adopted from La Traviata.

It wasn’t fancy, but everyone loved it and it paired really well with the wine.  The hubs even ate anything that was left on the kids’ plates.  I’ll make it again, I think?  Or if you know of a good vegan gluten-free version, let me know. (Or any other favorite adaptations).

So I won’t have a lot of new wines to share in the next couple weeks, or maybe I’ll have time to write about ones I’ve already had.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Either I lose that stubborn ten or I get to go back to Pasta Carbonara.  I call that Win-Win.

“Simi”lar stories, Fabulous Pairings

They have similar backgrounds and similar goals, so it is not surprising that Simi Winery and Chef Kolin Vazzoler make a great pair.  Both from Italian heritage, the winery and Chef Kolin focus on producing high quality wines and foods that are sourced locally.  Kolin learned about the culinary arts from his mother and grandmother.  Now he teaches others in the industry about pairing the Simi wines and mentors those new to the profession.

kolinI had the opportunity to talk with Kolin yesterday at the Austin Food and Wine Festival.  Kolin grew up in British Columbia where he earned his culinary certification and began his career.  He moved to San Francisco to work with Gary Danko and spent eight years honing his skills in the city before heading to Healdsburg to work at Simi Winery.

I asked him how working at a winery differs from the restaurant world.  If you’ve spent any time in the industry you know that the hours can be daunting, so that is one benefit the winery offers.  In a restaurant, the chef creates the dish and then you seek out the wine that will work best with the food.  At the winery, the opposite holds true.  He is creating a dish that will best highlight the wine.  In the creative process, adjustments often have to be made, but Kolin has learned a few tricks that we can easily apply.  For example, if the wine is coming across “hot,” add some acid, lemon or salt.  If the wine seems to be falling flat, add savory notes, herbs perhaps.

appeAt the festival, Kolin was pairing the 2010 Sonoma County Pinot Noir with Crispy Chicken Skin, Mushroom Purée, and Dried Cherry.  And what a pairing it was.  The mushroom puree accented the earthy notes in the wine.  The dried cherry echoed the red fruits and the ginger salt highlighted the spice.  Delicious.

So what food and wine combinations have surprised Kolin?  He now enjoys pairing seafood with reds.  Catalan stew, Cioppino, Acqua Pazza all have ingredients which create depth and spice and they need something heavier, spicier to compliment the dish.

And what is his current favorite pairing with the Simi wines?  The Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon is both bright and rich.  Great fruit is balanced by fresh earthy notes.  Full, but not heavy, he enjoys pairing this wine with one of their specialty pizzas with charred radicchio and gorgonzola.  Yum.

My brother is also a chef in the Bay area and about the same age as Kolin.  I’ve watched him go from creating complicated, multi-ingredient works of art to a much simpler approach.  Find good food, in season, locally sourced and you don’t need to do much to it.  The food speaks for itself.  Your job is to find the combinations that work well together and let the natural beauty of the food shine.  From talking with Kolin, it is apparent that he has gone through a similar transition.  Eat what is available, fresh.  Play with it, but keep it simple.  Returning to his roots, this style of cooking is a natural fit for Kolin.

Although the restaurant is not generally open to the public, they do have private events and are working to make his dishes more accessible.  During summer weekends, pizzas and other rustic Italian fare are available.  They are looking into creating dishes to be enjoyed at home and “pop-up” dinners as well.  If you can’t make it to Healdsburg, Simi Wines are readily available and Chef Kolin has shared many of the recipes for his favorite pairings on the website.  Now to find the time to execute them…Cheers!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a pass to the Austin Food and Wine Festival in order to write this piece.  The opinions and thoughts are my own.

Transitions- Part 1

Spring is a time of transitions.  Some are surficial: purging closets, boots to sandals.  Some are botanical: bud break, the emergence of a crocus.  Some are spiritual: an awakening, a yearning.  All around, there is a renewed energy, a pull.  All week-long I have felt the need to write, a to-do list of pieces that need to be written, but I haven’t had the focus or time.  I awakened this morning after ELEVEN hours asleep, with the idea of transition.  It is the theme that is both pulling me to write and connecting the jumbled ideas, which cover the aforementioned range.  To spare you the crazy of my thought patterns, I’ve decided to break it into two parts.  I’ll start with the surficial.

It has been a brutal winter for many of you, so I hesitate to share that we have had a few days in the 80s.  When the thermostat begins to hit that range, it generally means I get my first cravings for Sauvignon Blanc.  Our grill died last fall and my husband finally had time to go pick out a replacement on Saturday.  So, I headed to the store for something to grill and some SB.  I don’t know about you, but I pick fish based on what is wild and what looks the freshest.  I had a preparation in mind, so I had already gotten the sides.  My shopping buddy also thought the Coho salmon was the “shiniest” so that’s what we chose.  (BTW, I didn’t even tell him what to look for, he’s got the instinct.  His uncles would be proud.)   He also did well with the Sauvignon Blanc label picking.

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I started with the Israeli couscous so it had time to cool to room temp.  I browned it in sunflower oil for about 5 minutes, boiled for 15, then drained.  I added olive oil and salt so it wouldn’t be sticky, then started on the fish.  I  drizzled with olive oil, added salt and pepper, chopped rosemary and oregano, and lemon zest.  For the salad, I used bibb lettuce, toasted pine nuts, shaved parmesan, and grilled raddichio.  While the boys grilled the fish and raddichio, I tossed parsley, oregano, lemon juice, and the extra pine nuts in the couscous.  On the side, I had Castelvetrano olives.

Since my brother-in-law moved here, we’ve shared many meals and he’s been very complimentary.  It means a lot to me since he went to culinary school.  This was the first time, however, that he’s said, “If you gave this meal to professionals, they would not tell you to add one thing.  It is perfectly balanced and complimentary.”  Who-hoo!  Love it when that happens.  Especially with a meal that is healthy and easy to throw together.

The wine I paired it with was a 2012 Doña Paula Los Cardos Sauvignon Blanc.  Bright fruit, a bit of herb and a lot of grapefruit.  This paired perfectly and, priced around $12, it is a wine you can drink anytime.

If you want something a little more elegant, the 2010 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc would work nicely too.  It has the lively citrus and herbal notes, but the addition of 6% Semillon and 5 months in oak soften the wine a little.  The wine has some briny, savory notes that would play well with food.  This wine retails around $20 and was provided as a sample*.

Saturday was in the eighties, Wednesday was in the fifties.  Transitions are like that.  A few steps forward, a few steps back.  Progress, regression.  They can be slow and daunting, or immediate and undeniable.  Regardless of the results, the process, the learning, the discovery often has its own rewards.  Some are intrinsic and some are as simple as a delicious meal with people you love.

*{Disclosure: I was provided with the Robert Mondavi wine from PR Firm, Folsom & Associates. All statements and opinions expressed in this article are my own.}

Amigos Especiales-Gun Bun Tempranillo

Last Sunday we had an afternoon dinner with THOSE friends.  You know, the ones.  We used to travel to Sonoma together and make Bacchus look like a monk.  Those weekends translated into all day food and wine festivals in our own backyards, almost every weekend. Corks flying, pans frying.  Until we added to the brood.  Now we are lucky if we can get together twice a year.  And until recently, one of the ladies was left out because of maternal matters.  But, we are coming out of that phase and their birthdays (one week apart) served as the perfect excuse to get together, even though it looks a little different now.  (Fewer) Corks flying and (more) pans frying and the occasional baby crying.

It was a beautiful day here in Austin so we decided to plan around the weather.  I thought we’d go Spanish.  I picked up some Manchego, Brazos Valley Eden brie (with vegetable ash-divine), olives, peppers, salami, and some veggies for appetizers al fresco.  I’ve learned to make a separate snack plate for the littles or my cherubs will devour all the olives and cured meats.  That’s just not good for anyone.

While the kids ran wild in capes and gowns, blowing bubbles and having tea parties, the adults were able to sit under the pergola, sipping Tempranillo and catching up.  It was wonderful. 

For dinner, I planned Flank and Flap steak with Chimichurri sauce, Patatas Bravas, and asparagus.  I marinated the steak in olive and sunflower oil, garlic, and salt. The good thing about this dinner is tha can do most of the work ahead of time.  For the Chimichurri I used a ton of parsley, oregano, olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, salt and a little crushed red pepper.   I made the tomato sauce with a bunch of garlic, olive oil, choppped tomatoes, chicken broth, smoked paprika, and a little cayenne. 

Many recipes call for frying the potatoes, but I roasted them in sunflower and olive oil at 450.  We did the steak in a cast iron pan.  I blanched the asparagus and then quickly sautéed them in the pan I had used for steak while it sat.  For wine, we broke out a Tempranillo with a story.

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Gundlach Bundschu has a special place in our hearts.  If you’ve been reading for a while, you know how instrumental they were in my decision to start writing.  While on a tour there, we heard a great story about their Tempranillo.  I won’t name names, but somebody may or may not have snuck some rootstock back from Spain.  They may or may not have had some a stinky cheese wheel in said bag that may or may not have been confiscated at customs, allowing the rootstock to find a new home in Sonoma.  Legend has it, anyway.  No matter where this rootstock came from, it is doing great things in its current soil.

This wine is beautiful in the glass and its color represents it well.  Red and blue fruits, acid and earth.  Bright and smooth.  Complexity in the tobacco and cocoa notes.  I love this wine and it paired perfectly.  It was like they were made for each other.  Well, in fact they were. 

I guess you could say the same about our friends.  You know, THOSE friends.  The ones you can come to when your face is puffy and tear-stained.  The ones that you can tell anything to and know you are safe.  The ones that can make you laugh, let you vent, and tell you when to zip it.  Friends that are worth celebrating.  Cheers to that.