Dec 28, 2010

Terroir: the ultimate statement

It's true: from now on, no discussion about terroir will be complete without a reference to the video below, which is both hilarious and perfectly on-target. 

Tasting Dirt--True Terroir was created by Ryan O'Connell, a young American living and making wine in the Cabardès wine region of France. He and his parents own Domaine O'Vineyards, just north of the ancient walled village of Carcassonne. As a winemaker, Ryan's philosophy is to "blend the best techniques and attitudes (and drinking habits) of the new world with the refinement, wisdom and character of the old world."

He's apparently doing so quite successfully, as he's had stunning reviews from people like Jancis Robinson. And he's doing it all with great humor, creating wines with names like Mediterranean Mojo (Cab-Merlot blend) and Les Amèricains (Merlot, Cab, Syrah).

Ryan's also put together a handsome, fact- and photo-filled book, The Wines of Carcassonne; it includes a map and overview of the Cabardès, an index of that AOC's wineries, and much more. You can try to win a downloadable copy at the Wines of Carcassonne Book Contest (the odds are pretty good that you'll win).

Meanwhile, sit back and enjoy Ryan O'Connell's take on terroir:

 Visit the Culinary Gadabout Store

Dec 22, 2010

Holiday Recipes from Napa's St. Supéry

One of my freelance gigs involves writing about wineries in Napa and Sonoma for a travel destination website with a healthy 60,000 unique hits per month. For that reason I've spent time on  many winery websites, and I've developed a fondness for wineries that offer free recipes from their own kitchens.

From time to time I've run winery recipes in The Culinary Gadabout, but today I've got something that steps it up a bit: a very nicely done downloadable collection of Holiday Recipes from Ron Barber, Chef at St. Supéry Winery in the Napa town of Rutherford. The recipes, which serve 10-12, include Brined & Roasted Turkey with Cabernet Sauvignon & Herb Gravy; Classic Cornbread Stuffing; Old Fashioned Glazed Sweet Potatoes; and Pumpkin Pie.

If that sounds a bit too Thanksgiving-ish for you, download it and put it aside until next November. And then download St. Supéry's other collection, "Recipes from Napa Valley." It's got some yummy temptations that would be great not just during the Holidays but any time this winter—I'm dying to try Lamb Loin with Fennel, Tomato and Olive Ragout. And doesn't  Pan Roasted Breast of Chicken with Sauteed Granny Smith Apples & Toasted Walnuts sound dee-vine?

Happy Holidays!

 Visit the Culinary Gadabout Store

Dec 15, 2010

11 Food Trends for 2011

After analyzing the search and recipe-viewing behvaiors of more than 25 million home cooks on its website (and incorporating other research data), has released its projections for the top food trends of the coming year. According to the report, "What American Families are Eating & Cooking: 2011 Insights and Trends," cooks will "embrace greater speed, convenience and diversity in their kitchens," and technology and digital communities will play a large role in their doing so.

Here's a summary of the report (which you can also download in its entirety):
  1. Going Mobile: Mobile devices and wireless computing are serving up newfound meal planning freedom. Cooks of all ages are using laptops, smartphones and tablet devices to find recipes, check competitive pricing and make grocery lists whenever and wherever inspiration strikes. In 2010, page views from mobile devices surged 340 percent; top food activities among smartphone equipped cooks were finding recipes (63 percent) and creating shopping lists (60 percent).
  2. Shrinking World, Expanding Kitchen: Just a few years ago ethnic cuisine typically involved a night of eating out or ordering in. In a likely effort to save money without compromising variety, cooks are increasingly taking a DIY approach toward satisfying their cravings for favorite ethnic dishes. Consumption of ethnic dishes increased 29 percent in 2010 with the fastest growing cuisines coming from South America, Japan and Korea.
  3. Where the Drinks Are: It can be safely said, the economy is driving consumers to drink—at home. Wine, beer, and cocktails have become part of the make-it-yourself mix. More than half of consumers surveyed are drinking more at home vs. a year ago—top motivations include cost savings, entertaining more at home, and the enjoyment of creating signature cocktails. The fastest growing spirit? Tequila.
  4. Farewell to Fad Diets: Dieting is so 2009. This year, healthy eating is the focus, and the road to health is paved with good eating intentions rather than bizarre diet interventions. Long gone are the days of carb-free, grapefruit only, diet fads. Now "healthy" is considered eating a well-balanced meal with lots of fruits and vegetables, and a limited amount of sugars and processed foods. According to a recent Allrecipes survey, 75 percent of cooks feel they are eating more healthfully today. 
  5. Local Artisan Shops: Seeking quality, community and variety, everyday folk are increasingly gravitating to locally-owned specialty shops and markets for everyday food items including meat, breads and vegetables.
  6. Pies Take the Cake: Pies of all types—hot and cold, sweet and savory—are picking up in popularity. In 2010, slices of savory pie were as often a part of dinner as sweet pie was the star of dessert. Bucking tradition, ice cream pie was 2010's fastest growing pie type.
  7. Pre-made Ingredients: Cooks are taking a 'can-do' approach for getting favorite dishes on the table in record time. Mixes, cans and refrigerated dough are making supper time a snap. 
  8. Small Kitchen Tools Rule: Since a full blown kitchen makeover is likely not in the budget, cooks are snatching up colorful silicone kitchen tools and fun kitchen gadgets to make meal prep more festive and fun.
  9. Countertop Appliances: Adequate storage is always a struggle, but it's clear that countertop appliances, with their ease of use, are overtaking the stove inch-by-inch.
  10. Men in the Kitchen: More men are cooking, and appear to be the primary cook when the family hosts a crowd. Male cooks are feeling just as comfortable in the kitchen as behind the barbeque—particularly the 20-somethings. 
  11. Home is Where the Food is: While potluck dinners and formal sit down dinners have traditionally been the most popular forms of entertaining, the casual sit down dinner – a mash-up of the two - will be the entertaining format of choice in 2011.
BTW, that Mathematica-derived graph at the top signifies nothing; it just looked complex enough to capture the 2011 food scene!

Dec 5, 2010

An App for San Francisco's Glorious Waterfront

Happy days! My first-ever app—for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch—has just appeared in Apple's iTunes Store. San Francisco Waterfront: Bridge to Ballpark, which I co-authored with Laurie King, is a guide to one of the most captivating city waterfronts on the planet.

With more than 220 entries and 2000+ photographs, the SFW app takes readers from the Golden Gate Bridge to the city's state-of-the-art baseball stadium...and beyond. Along the way are not only top attractions such as Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz Island, historic Fort Point, and Ghirardelli Square, but also dozens of parks and plazas, countless public art installations, restaurants for all tastes and wallets, sophisticated nightlife, a wide variety of museums, historic ships, elegant hotels, sports venues, superb shopping, and so much more:
  • Many 'Hidden Gems," the destinations locals love (but travelers don’t know about)
  • More than a dozen walking, hiking, and biking trails
  • Self-guided walking tours for chocoholics, fans of maritime history, and more (including a thrilling Secret Agent Escapade!)
  • Entries are sortable by useful criteria like Guilty Pleasures, Arts & Entertainment, Kid-Friendly, and more
  • Fun-to-read original text by two long-time SF residents (who also happen to be travel writers)
  • Maps for each destination
  • Share your thoughts with interactive comments, and save your favorites
  • Share photos and entries via e-mail
  • Offline content you can access at any time without an internet connection.
  • In-app calling from your iPhone so you can make reservations, book tickets, etc.
  • Works with your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad
By the way, apps make a perfect "stocking stuffer" gift. Follow these foolproof directions to gift an app or to simply buy one for yourself.

For more information, check out the SFWaterfront Facebook Page; click the "Like" button to stay updated on periodic news items about the ever-changing San Fran Waterfront. You can also learn more about our app by going directly to the app's description in the iTunes Store. You'll land on the page shown below (be sure to click More under the first heading, Description).

Nov 16, 2010

Tasting an 1837 Port

The 1837 Queens Port    (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
About 35 years ago, my longtime friends Don and Ann Jackson—travel writers and, in Don's case, President Emeritus of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association—bought an older home in Los Altos Hills, California. After moving in they made the sort of discovery most of us can only dream about: descending into the 1000-bottle wine cellar, they found more than 300 bottles left behind by the former owner.

The Jacksons presumed that the former owner believed the abandoned wines to be undrinkable. And in most cases (including—ouch!—dozens of bottles of 1934 Korbel champagne) that assumption turned out to be correct. Some of the red wines had held up well enough, though, and were enjoyed by the couple and their friends over the years.

 The cellar’s real prize: nine bottles of Port made around the mid-Nineteenth Century. The oldest bottles were dated 1837; the youngest, 1840. When Don and friends pulled the cork from the first bottle and took a tentative taste, the wine was still good. That’s surprising but not shocking because Port, as a fortified wine, can have a very long life.

Good journalist that he is, Don delved into researching the Port. Unfortunately, the difficulty of doing such research in pre-Internet days was compounded by the fact that he possessed almost no information. The labels, printed in black ink,  provided only the date and the words “Queens Port” on the 1837 bottles and “PORT WINE” on the others. The bottles contained no seams and were obviously hand-blown, but had no identifying marks. The corks were sealed with wax, as all wines were long ago.

In high-end wine stores Don was invariably assured that the bottles could be sold for a good bit of money to a collector, but nobody could tell him anything about the Port itself. In later years, with the help of the Internet, he contacted a major Port association in Portugal, providing the little information he possessed. A staff member there could tell him nothing about the bottles, but advised that properly-stored port could remain drinkable for more than 200 years. “By the sound of it,” the man wrote, “you have some really damn good old ports [but] the best place to store your old bottles of port is in your memory. The value could be anywhere from $2,000 up to much more for each bottle. But why sell? Enjoy them!”

In the end Don and Ann decided this was good advice, and they have enjoyed the Port ever since on special occasions or with certain friends who have a keen interest in Port or oenology. They started with the youngest Port (1840) and have slowly worked backward. Given the rarity of this treasure and their desire to share it with as many friends and family members as they could, they have tried to make every drop count.

I knew nothing of this until last weekend, when Don, Ann, and I ended up in the town of Napa at an industry event. We chatted while waiting to board the Napa Valley Wine Train, and suddenly Don asked a question that rendered a schmoozer like me completely speechless: Would I care to return to their hotel room later to sample an 1837 Port?

So later that night (along with our colleague, wine writer Bob Ecker), we stood around the granite kitchen counter in the couple’s room at the Napa Westin Verasa Hotel. Don explained that, when he had first opened the bottle we would sample, the cork had disintegrated. This is common with very old Ports, and meant that the black cork minutia must be filtered out before we could enjoy the wine.

While Don slowly strained the wine through a Melita coffee filter, he told us that he believes it to be Vintage Port. Sometimes referred to as “The King of Ports,” Vintage Port is only made in years when grapes are at their best. It matures in the bottle, improves with long cellaring, and is one of the longest-lived wines in the world.

Filtering the black cork minutia   (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
As I waited, I speculated about who had grown the grapes and made this wine 173 years ago. Very few Europeans lived in California at that time, so I doubted the Port had been made here (and surely a European, almost certainly a Brit, was responsible for labeling the wine “Queens Port”). It might have been produced on the East Coast or perhaps in Portugal, making its way ‘round the Horn at some point. After all, wine and spirits were popular trading items when ships traveled along California’s coast in pursuit of cow hides back in those days. Or maybe it made the journey later, over land, ending up in the wine cellar of a Gold Rush millionaire.

I also wondered what major events had taken place in 1837. I knew that the Industrial Age was just getting started, and the Civil War still lay years ahead, but that was about it. Later, a little research revealed that, in 1837:
  • Charles Darwin made his first speech to the Geological Society of London
  • Charles Dickens published The Adventures of Oliver Twist
  • Abraham Lincoln was admitted to the Bar
  • Andrew Jackson completed his second term as President of the United States; his hand-picked successor, Martin Van Buren, was sworn into office in March
  • Wild Bill Hickok was born
  • Eighteen-year-old Princess Drina of Kent ascended Britain’s throne and took the name of Victoria
But let’s return to the present: the filtration process was finished, having produced enough Port for each of us to have a small glass of perhaps six sips.

I held my glass to the light: the Port was light-colored and slightly cloudy. The herbal aroma was faint, but the fact that it was still intact after 173 years made me smile. Finally I raised the glass to my lips and sipped that long-ago past. The taste was mild and harmonious, with a slight sweetness and a very pleasant mouth feel. The "Port-ness" had faded considerably so that it seemed almost, to my palate, like a light wine. Amazingly, it didn’t seem even remotely old or tired.

Was it remarkable? No. Not in a technical sense.

But to me that Port was glorious, and I’ll remember those few sips for the rest of my life.

Nov 10, 2010

St. Helena Media Wine Tasting 2010

The Rudd Center  (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
Last week I attended an exciting annual event, the media tasting of wines from Appellation St. Helena (ASH), one of fourteen sub-appellations within the Napa Valley Appellation.

This year’s tasting was again held in the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies on the California campus of the Culinary Institute of America, just north of St. Helena. On its exterior the Rudd Center is a handsome, ancient stone building; inside, thanks to a multi-million-dollar renovation a few years back, it’s a sleek and modern state-of-the-art destination for wine studies. Our event was held in the Tasting Theatre where, beside each seat, is a light box to examine a wine’s color and a small sink for easy wine disposal.

Inspecting the wine's color  (Credit: Culinary Institute of America)

People often ask how I can drive home after tasting so many wines, and the answer is simple: I taste but rarely swallow. Like most others sitting in that room, I use the provided spit cup. The  idea of spit cups makes some people squeamish, but they're simply a practical tool if you're tasting many wines. Once in a great while I like a wine so much that I throw caution to the wind. I probably did that five times in the St. Helena Tasting. To paraphrase Elaine's pronouncement about sponges in an episode of Seinfeld, I consider such wines to be "swallow-worthy."

The Tasting Theatre, with first flight prepared for takeoff   (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)

 We tasted 52 wines in five flights, with a short break in between as glasses were replaced and the next flight poured. Here are my top picks, with the suggested retail price, in no particular order:
  • Jaffe 2007 Metamorphosis ($58): This proprietary blend (85% Cabernet, 15% Merlot) has a beautiful and bright color. It was perfectly balanced, with lots of ripe fruit and just the right amount of acidity. I was also enthused about the Jaffe 2008 Transformation ($58), a 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend—soft, floral, yummy. Jaffe Estate
  • Eglehoff 2007 Walton Cabernet Sauvignon ($45): Very deep color, flowery aroma. Rich, perfumed flavor. Should develop increasing complexity. Good value. The Eglehoff 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) was just as good. Egelhoff Wines
  • Calafia Cellars 2006 La Reine ($65): This red meritage blend is composed of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petite Verdot, and 10% Malbec. One sip of this wine and we were instant friends. In technical terms, it was simply delish! This one navigated past my interior guardian and was declared “swallow-worthy.” Calafia Cellars
A partial lineup of wines tasted    (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
  • Chase Cellars 2007 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel ($45): A big, smooth Zin with a nice long finish. If, like me, you like big Zins, this is a must-try. I liked the Chase Cellars 2007 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel ($45) almost, but not quite, as much. Chase Cellars
  • Midsummer Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($40). Lots of berry, fruit-forward, balanced. A lovely wine and, for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, a good value. Midsummer Cellars
  • Charnu 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($75): Deep-garnet color, lots of berry, full-bodied, complex and layered. A  newish addition to Napa, and one to watch. Charnu Winery
  • Spottswoode Estate 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($130): Excellent, even exciting wine—everything works harmoniously in this one. Spottswoode Estate
View from my seat     (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
  • Titus Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($41): A top value pick of the day. A wonderful wine, an enticing aroma, lots of intense berry flavor. It had a nice long finish, too. The 2007 Titus Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($63) was equally excellent. Titus Vineyards
  • Varozza Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45): Deep garnet color, balanced, lovely, lots of minerality, rich and earthy. A lovely wine, a good value. I also really liked Varozza’s 2007 Petite Sirah ($35), with notable purple fruits, good balance, approachable tannins. Varozza Vineyards
  • Vineyard 29 2007 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($225): The most expensive wine on the tasting menu, so of course I was geared up to be hyper-critical. However, I liked it a lot. This Cab is extremely harmonious—and yet it’s very layered and complex. You take a sip, and the story just keeps unfolding while you sit there. Lots of fruit, very long finish. I also enjoyed the mellower 2007 Vineyard 29 Aida Estate CS ($175).  Vineyard 29
  • Robert Biale 2008 Old Kraft Zinfandel ($44): Yes! Co-fermented with Petite Sirah from the same vineyard—just like farmers did a century ago—this is one amazing Zinfandel with oodles of complexity. If you buy this, lay it down for a few years. I was also a great fan of the Biale 2008 Thomann Station Petite Sirah ($50)—a beautiful wine! Robert Biale Vineyards
  • Salvestrin Estate Winery 2008 Estate Petite Sirah ($48): Dense perfumed aroma, very dark garnet color, huge plum and berry, excellent finish. Salvestrin Winery
Empty your spit cups!   (Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez)
  • Trinchero 2008 Central Park West Petit Verdot ($50): I love Petite Verdot, which is usually found in blends and not by itself. But a few Napa wineries are beginning to highlight this varietal on its own. Trinchero’s Petite Verdot is smooth and lovely, an excellent example of the grape. Trinchero Family Estates
  • Wolf Family Vineyards 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc ($60): Blended with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, this Cabernet Franc is elegant and supple. Terrific wine. Wolf Family Vineyards
  • Ballentine Vineyards 2008 Petite Sirah ($24): One of my favorite wines all day. Cherry, berry, lots of depth, and a long and happy finish. A big wine. Great value! Ballentine Vineyards
  • Titus Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel ($25): Surely this was one of the day’s best bargains—and that’s after two other bargains from Titus, discussed above. I’m going to keep my eye on this winery, which seems to be turning out excellent wines at value prices. This is a marvelous Zin (10% Petite Sirah), well-structured, good mouth feel, complex. Titus Vineyards
  • Charles Krug 2007 St. Helena Zinfandel ($25): A mellow Zin (76% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignane) offering up berries, cherries and a  hint of spice. Another of the day's good values. 
    Download Appellation St Helena Overview, a free PDF written by ASH President and Vineyard 29 owner Chuck McMinn.

    Nov 4, 2010

    Cure your own olives, Part 2

    Part 1 of this two-part post covered the initial steps in curing your own green olives: pick ‘em, nick ‘em, and stick ‘em (in water). Now let’s move on to the fun stuff…

    As I mentioned in Part 1, it takes about a month of changing water daily to remove the harsh bitterness from olives. You don’t have to completely remove the bitterness—some of you, like me, might like to retain just a bit of bite. When the olives have reached a state that pleases you, it’s time to add some flavor:
    1. Empty the jar of olives into a strainer. Rinse the olives under cold water and set aside. Wash the jar and lid you’ve been using with hot, soapy water and also set that aside.
    2. Mix 3 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt in a small pan; bring to a boil and let salt dissolve. Let the mixture cool.
    3. Put the olives back in the clean jar. Fill the jar to the top with the salt mixture. Set aside for three or four days in a cool place. 
    4. Taste the olives. Do you like the taste, or do you feel they need a saltier brine? Either way, empty the water. You’ll now create a final brine, adjusting it to suit your taste. So if you want saltier olives, add more salt to the mix given above. Then let the brine cool before filling the jar. Store the olives from now on in the fridge. You'll make them delectable by using one or both of the alternatives below.

    I took this photo last year at Toronto's fabulous St. Lawrence Market  Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez
    • The Simple-but-Luscious Olive Alternative: At this time you can add other things to the jar, such as lemon wedges, oregano, and/or slices of garlic. Some people add vinegar or lemon juice, and even olive oil, but I don’t. In fact, I just keep the olives in a plain brine. I love them that way, but I also jazz them up in small batches (see the next step). 
    • The Creative & Oh-So-Luscious Olive Alternative: Remove olives from the jar—let’s say a cup’s worth. Let your imagination run riot. For instance, you might marinate the olives in a mixture of olive oil, oregano, and garlic. Maybe you’ll throw in a dash of lemon juice or some thinly-sliced lemon rind, or even a dried chili pepper. Let the olives sit at room temperature for a few hours, turning them around with a spoon every once in a while. They’ll be fab—and you get to tell your guests that you made them yourself!
        A caution: I usually make a few jars of these olives, munching them and giving them as gifts in little jars over the space of a month or so--that's how long they stay good in the fridge. After that they get soft and squishy, which I for one find incredibly unappetizing.

        So enjoy! The olives in Sonoma are just beginning to turn black, so in a couple of weeks I’ll create a batch of salt-cured olives. I love these for cooking. They store just great in the freezer, so I use them all year long. I’m  just getting to the very end of last year’s batch and am ready for more.

        And if you love olives, you'll love this cookbook: Olives: More than 70 Delicious & Healthy Recipes.

        Bon appétit!

        Nov 2, 2010

        Yountville now has 6 Michelin stars!

        The French Laundry        (CC 2.0: Peter Merholtz)
        Here’s some amazing news: Napa Valley’s Yountville now has the largest concentration of Michelin stars per capita on the planet. That’s thanks to the just-released Michelin Guide 2011, which has awarded stars to four Yountville restaurants:
        And consider the other top—though as yet non-star—eateries in that town: Bistro Jeanty, Bottega, Mustards Grill (one of my all-time faves), Brix, ad hoc, and many more. We’re not talking a major city here. Yountville is tiny; you can walk from one end to another in 15 minutes. Nonetheless, within that small space are 6 Michelin stars, and many other restaurants that rank very high with Zagat, OpenTable, and others. What a feat!

        Here’s what I find so interesting. Over the years I’ve talked to many people who grew up in Yountville back in the 1960s and 1970s, and they all say the same thing: “When I was a kid, Yountville was really just a poor farming community. Really poor.”

        I’m not sure when the phrase “poor farming community” stopped characterizing Yountville. Most people credit Thomas Keller and The French Laundry with a lot of what’s happened—Keller opened his restaurant in 1994 (he also owns one-star Bouchon). But surely Domaine Chandon’s residence beginning in 1973 helped move things along. When Cindy Pawlcyn opened Mustards Grill in 1983, it was a foodie revelation—though no one used the word “foodie” in those days. People from San Francisco descended on Mustards every weekend; the place was always packed (still is).

        There’s definitely a compelling story in Yountville and how it changed from a down-on-its-heels farming town to a very upscale getaway. Maybe it will get written.

        For now, though, let’s just celebrate the stunning news that this little town in Napa Valley has garnered six Michelin stars.

        Buy the 2011 Michelin Red Guide to San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country

        Read my post about the 25th anniversary party at Mustards Grill 

        Read a fun historic article about Yountville by Curtis Van Carter

        Oct 26, 2010

        Wine & Dine while watching the Giants/Rangers game

        Can't nab tickets to watch the San Francisco Giants whollop the Texas Rangers in the World Series this week?  Help is on the way! The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau has compiled a list of venues where you can view the game with other fans--with plenty of beer, wine, and food to energize your cheering. Go giants!

        Americano Restaurant & Bar at Hotel Vitale
        8 Mission St.
        415- 278-3777
        Hours: 11:30 a.m. - midnight
        Overview of promotion:
        Games played on a large 50” television in Americano Bar.

        Aurea at The Stanford Court Renaissance San Francisco Hotel

        905 California St.
        Hours: For the duration of the games (Wed.: 7:30-10:30 p.m.; Thurs.: 7:30-10:30 p.m.; Sat.: 3:30-6:30 p.m.; Sun.: 5-8 p.m.; Mon.: 4:30-7:30 p.m.; Wed.: 7:30-10:30 p.m.; Thurs., 7:30-10:30 p.m.).
        Overview of promotion: Aurea will play the games on five flat-screen televisions.  As part of this “rally cap” promotion, guests will receive 50 percent off on all small plates and bar snacks (starting at $2.50)

        Bar 888 at the InterContinental San Francisco

        888 Howard St.  
        Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m. – midnight; Fri. and Sat., 11.-1:00 a.m.
        Overview of promotion:
        Bar 888 is featuring a special Giants cocktails called the Ultimate Pitch with Hangar One Mandarin Vodka, Andrew Quady Sweet Muscat, Cinzano Bianco, fresh squeezed orange and lime juice and Angostura bitters for $12.

        The Grille at Seven Fifty

        Hilton San Francisco Financial District
        750 Kearny St.
        415- 765-7878
        Overview of promotion:                       
        Surrounded by five flat screens, specials during the games include: Anchor Steam Draft Beer $3.50, Lobster Sliders $14, Kobe Beef Slider $12, Pulled Pork Sliders $9, and Slider Sampler $14.

        Fog Harbor Fish House
        Pier 39
        Overview of promotion: 
        Happy hour Mon.- Fri.: 3 -6 p.m. in the bar.

        4th St Bar & Grill
        55 4th St.
        Hours: Tues.:1-11 p.m; Wed. and Thurs., 4-11 p.m.
        Overview of promotion:                       
        Watch the Giants on one of 22 televisions and enjoy nightly happy hour specials 4- 6 p.m.

        101 Fourth St.
        Overview of promotion:                       
        View the games from a 50-foot video wall.

        Kyo-ya Restaurant

        2 New Montgomery St. in the Palace Hotel
        415- 546-5089
        Overview of promotion:
        A sushi platter and sake for $25 while cheering on the home team.

        303 Second St.
        Hours: Mon.-Sun.: 4:30 p.m.- close
        Overview of promotion:
        Go Giants margarita with Herradura Antiguo and pomegranate for $9 glass/$34 pitcher; $5 margaritas/mojitos/house wines and well drinks, $3 draft beers and $2 tacos.

        Knuckles at the Wharf

        555 North Point St.
        Hours: 6:30 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.
        Overview of promotion:                       
        "Bearded Wilson" cocktail and "Uribe Homer" cocktail.

        McCormick & Kuleto's Seafood Restaurant

        Ghirardelli Square
        900 Northpoint St., Suite H301
        Overview of promotion:  
        “Special Giants Happy Hour” includes the Happy Hour Menu - $5 drink specials, $3 beer specials, $1.95 to $4.95 food items. Game 1- Wed. Oct. 27: Happy Hour from 4 p.m.-7 p.m.; Game 2- Thurs., Oct. 28:  Happy Hour from 4 p.m.-7 p.m.     

        Midi Bar & Restaurant

        185 Sutter St.  
        Overview of promotion:                       
        11 a.m. to midnight Happy Hour prices during all games, including $5 specialty drinks and wine and $3 beers.

        Pied Piper Bar & Grill
        2 New Montgomery St. in the Palace Hotel
        Overview of promotion:
        The Pied Piper has added more televisions for viewing in the lounge.  Giants special: Kobe beef burger and a beer for $25.

        Pier Market
        Pier 39
        Overview of promotion: 
        Happy hour Monday through Friday 3-6 p.m. in the bar.     

        Royal Exchange

        301 Sacramento St.
        Overview of promotion:                       
        Guests can root for the Giants (on one of their 17 big-screen TVs) while enjoying Deschutes brewery Mirror pond pale ale and black butte porter for $4; beef and chicken nachos, sliders and buffalo hot wings for $5.

        Wipeout Bar & Grill    
        Pier 39
        Overview of promotion:  Watch the Giants games on our giant projection screen TV.   

        Oct 20, 2010

        Sustainable fishing can work

        Everybody knows that over-fishing is a serious problem, but nobody seems to do much about it. Think I’m exaggerating? Go watch the fast-paced documentary, The End of the Line. Filmed over two years—in locales ranging from the Straits of Gibraltar to the coast of Senegal, from the pristine wilds of Alaska to the Tokyo fish market—it focuses on scientists, fishermen, activists, government officials and others to arrive at a grim conclusion: If we continue fishing as we have been, most seafood will be gone by 2048.

        There is some hope. More and more people are choosing to buy only sustainably-harvested fish. Monterey Bay Aquarium has long had a Seafood Watch Pocket Guide that helps consumers make sustainable choices. Today the Guide comes in six US editions (West Coast, Southwest, Hawaii, Central, Southeast, and Northeast) as well as a National edition and a Sushi Guide (download any or all for free). You can also get the National guide as a free iPhone app at the iTunes store (it's one of the most popular free downloads).

        Another example of increasing consciousness: Wal-Mart, a huge seafood retailer, recently announced that shoppers can now find the safe-to-eat Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) independent blue eco-label on ten of its fish products in locations across the US.

        Here's another good thing: The End of the Line cites Alaska as an example of responsible and sustainable fishing. Seasonal fishing limits for various species are pre-determined based on location and current estimated species population. For instance, this year’s Red King Crab harvest season in Bristol Bay, which opened on October 15, has a limit of 15 million pounds (a small decrease from last year’s harvest). Once the limit is reached or the season reaches it’s official end, that’s it: no more fishing until next year.

        According to a press release from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska is dedicated to seafood sustainability. The words "seafood marketing" may not seem to have anything to do with sustainability, but in fact they do. The Institute says that seafood is “so essential to our [Alaskan] way of life that our constitution has a mandate that ‘fish…be utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained yield principle.’” (See the video below, No Shortage of Wild Salmon in Alaska, to learn more about Alaska’s sustainable approach to seafood.)

        The seafood industry is Alaska’s largest private sector employer. If the seafood disappears, Alaska is in trouble—so residents understand the need to protect fisheries for future generations. Instead of ceaselessly and greedily sucking up everything they find, they're taking some seafood and leaving the rest to re-populate. The world's seas need more of that kind of sustainable management.

        Meanwhile, go see The End of the Line (it’s a free selection for Netflix members).

        Oct 18, 2010

        Cure your own olives, Part 1

        Fresh-harvested olives     Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez
        Sonoma and Napa counties abound with olive trees, and in the town of Sonoma, where I live, they are everywhere: in parks and private gardens; surrounding commercial vineyards; even scattered throughout the town's ancient cemetery.

        I’m a certified, life-long olive aficionado who has rarely met an olive she didn’t adore (and devour). So when I moved here a few years ago I decided to attempt curing my own olives. As it turns out, the process is easy—and, despite what you may have heard, you don’t have to use lye or any other nasty products.

        I make two different sorts of olives: water-cured green olives and salt-cured black olives. Young olives are green, but as they mature on the tree they turn black. Right now, in mid-October, hanging olives have attained full growth but are still green.

        Last week I harvested a pound or so of green olives and now have my first batch underway. If you’d like to cure your own green olives, follow these steps:
        • Locate a large glass jar with a lid, sterilizing both in boiling water. A large-size mayonnaise jar is about the smallest you’ll want to use (I use a jar that’s about half again as big as a large mayo jar). If you're having trouble finding a good-sized jar, try a thrift shop: they abound in glass jars.
        • Go pick your green olives. Choose unbruised, fleshy olives. You’ll want enough olives to almost fill the jar, leaving at least 1” of empty space at the top.
        Placing a tiny cut on the olives     Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez
        • Place the olives in a cold water bath. Then remove them one by one, placing a small but deep cut in the flesh with a paring knife. Try to hit the olive’s pit. Then place the olive in the jar.
        • When all olives are in the jar—and remember to leave at least 1” of space at the top—fill the jar with cold water. Put the cap on and tighten it. Then place the jar in a coolish location (but somewhere you'll be sure to see it each day).
        Olives beginning the curing process    Credit: Suzanne Rodriguez
        • Once a day for the next 3 weeks, empty the jar’s water and replace it with fresh cold water. The consecutive cold water soaks remove the bitterness of the raw olive, something done quickly in olive processing factories with lye. If you go away for a night or two and can’t change the water, that’s okay. If it’s longer than that, though, give the jar to a neighbor and ask them to replace the water each day. By the way, the beautiful chartreuse color of the fresh-picked olives will begin to fade about Day 3. Don't be alarmed; that's just part of the process.
        • After about three weeks, nibble on one of the olives. If it’s still bitter, continue the daily change of water. If it has only a bit of bitter tang, that’s when I move to the next step; I like an olive with a little bite. But you may prefer an olive with no bitter tang at all, and that's fine. The bottom line: when the olive reaches a state that pleases you, it’s time to move on to the next phase of olive curing. I’ll discuss that phase next week in Part 2.
        Also, in November I’ll show you how to salt-cure black olives. These black olives are yummy additions all winter long to spaghetti sauces and hearty stews.

        Oct 14, 2010

        10 Wine & Food Pairing Tips

        Wine Tasting, California   (Courtesy: Robert Holmes)
        Yesterday, after publishing a post entitled Two New Books About Wine & Food Pairing, I came across 10 wine/food pairing tips from the Wine Institute, an organization representing more than 1,000 wineries and affiliated businesses throughout California.

        Given that, it's easy to see why these tips are geared to California wines. In fact, though, the tips are appropriate for the same varietals grown elsewhere. But, hey, let's face it: California wines are not only the best in the nation, they hold a strong and equal rank with the world's best.

        At any rate, here are the tips:

        • When enjoying cheeses either before or after dinner, consider a California sparkling wine alongside. The effervescence will stimulate the palate in such a way that both the cheeses and the wine will soar. For a festive and tasty flourish, serve fresh California pomegranates with the cheese and add a few arils, as pomegranate seeds are called, to each glass.
        • Enjoy smoked fish—oysters, salmon, lox, trout, sturgeon and sablefish, for example—with California sparkling wine.
        • California Sauvignon Blanc loves green vegetables of any kind, from artichokes and green beans to tender lettuces and zucchini. It is also an excellent match with goat cheeses and fresh mozzarella.
        • California Chardonnay and Viognier blossom with corn and carrots. Serve with corn on the cob, corn chowder, creamy polenta topped with California Teleme cheese and corn salsa, corn or carrot risotto, oven-roasted carrots and carrot fritters.

        Oct 13, 2010

        Two new books about wine & food pairing

        Wine & Cheese Pairaing -- Courtesy Bellwether Farms
        Much has changed on the American culinary scene over the last couple of decades, including how to properly match wine to a meal. That was a pretty simple task when dinner usually consisted of protein, a veggie, and a starch. Now, when a meal can be composed from any sort of ingredient sourced anywhere in the world, matching is a tougher trick.

        That’s why I was happy to receive review copies of two recent books—one glamorous, one not—on the subject of wine & food pairing:

        The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine & Food Pairing: Co-authored by Certified Master Sommelier Jaclyn Stuart and freelance culinary writer Jeanette Hurt, this fun and straight-ahead guide breaks the pairing process into its basic parts. You’ll learn how wine aromas and food flavors work together (or don’t), how to pair by terroir or intuition, how to match wines with Asian, Mexican and other international cuisines, how to plan a pairing party, and a lot more. The final chapter takes the pairing principles you’ve learned and applies them to beer, spirits, coffee, and tea.

        The authors really drill down into these topics, which is what makes this book rock. I particularly liked the chapter on the science of pairing, which taught me a lot about intensity, acidity and sweetness—and how to work with them. Once you understand a few rules such as “acid likes acid,” it’s easy to pair something like a Chicken Piccata with a high-acid Chardonnay. If you know that “sweet likes salty,” you’ll match those potato chips you're hankering after with a demi-sec sparkling wine.

        The Appendix, nearly 40 pages  long, contains a helpful glossary, a tasting journal, an alphabetical master pairings list (e.g., Club Sandwich with unoaked Chard, sparkling wine, or an Oregon Pinot Noir; Tandoori Chicken with Gewürztraminer, Shiraz or Zin). This book is well worth the $!6.95 list price ($12.95 on Amazon).

        Buy The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine and Food Pairing

        Oct 4, 2010

        Culinary Gad News Roundup (10-4-10)

        View of Dry Creek Valley from Michel-Schlumberger     (Credit: Michel-Schlumberger)
        The periodic Gadabout Roundup compiles news from a variety of sources--press releases, industry associations, consumer publications, and more--on the subjects of food, wine, spirits and/or travel.

        h2hotel: Green Luxury
        A New Green (Wine) Trail: The Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County) and the new h2hotel in Healdsburg (photo) have teamed up to offer a new package, the "Green Trail of Dry Creek Valley." It's designed for those who want to explore the region’s certified organic and biodynamic wineries, including Hawley Winery, Michel-Schlumberger, Montemaggiore, Preston of Dry Creek, Quivira Vineyards & Winery and Truett Hurst Winery.

        Each participating winery along Dry Creek Valley’s meandering back country roads will offer Green Trail guests a complimentary wine tasting, along with (if desired) a discussion about how the winery became certified organic or biodynamic, how this affects the wine and why it's important to be green. At Michel-Schlumberger, organically farmed vineyards incorporate beehives, a beneficial insectary and a wildlife sanctuary into the terroir. At Quivira, visitors can visit the colorful 1-acre produce garden, a variety of farm animals and a Steelhead spawning stream, along with sampling artisan wines. Truett-Hurst’s preserved creek allows for sightings of Coho Salmon, Steelhead trout, otters and ducks. And expect to see plenty of sheep, herbs, olives, heirloom fruits and vegetables...

        The stylish h2hotel is a sustainable inn located just off Healdsburg's historic downtown square. Guests receive a two-night stay in a standard guest room; a welcome bottle of Dry Creek Valley wine; a picnic lunch for two from the hotel's southern Mediterranean-style Spoonbar restaurant; and bicycle loans. The package is available through December 2010. 

        Wine Searcher 2009 Statistics
        Most Popular Wine-Search Site: The LA Times recently published an article describing the increasing power of New Zealand-based website According to the story, entitled " levels the wine industry playing field:"
        In the last four years, a single website, the search engine, has done more to transform [the wine industry's] commercial landscape than any other, affecting every facet of the way the wine business is conducted, certainly in this country and increasingly on a global scale. For better or worse, it has leveled the playing field on getting, buying, pricing and selling wine. If you're a wine lover and you're not using this tool, it's time to start. And if you sell wine, on any level, you ignore it at your peril., which employs 20 full-time programmers, has access to the inventories of more than 17,000 retailers worldwide, making it easy to compile and compare price lists--something that's good for a casual wine buyer but fantastic for a collector. The article goes into detail about how makes money (both the search and service are free, but retailers who pay a yearly $4,000 fee get a competitive edge).

        Sep 28, 2010

        Wine Country Recipe: Figs with Honey & Sherry

        Figs with Honey & Sherry     Credit: Cosentino Winery
        Lucky me, with a generous neighbor whose back yard harbors an ancient, high-producing fig tree. It’s just about to come into the year’s second crop, so I’ve been searching out new ways to try figs.

        On the website of Napa Valley’s prolific Cosentino Winery I discovered a beaut: Grilled Rosemary Skewers of Black Mission Figs with Honey & Sherry. The site suggests pairing with a 2003 Semillon from Edie (a Cosentino brand). But at $48 for a split-size, that’s not a realistic choice for most of us. Semillon is a good idea, but also consider a Pinot Noir or a Sauternes.

        If you like this recipe, take a look at others by Cosentino.

        Grilled Rosemary Skewers of Black Mission Figs
        with Honey and Sherry

        • 8 fresh figs, black mission, kadota, or brown turkey
        • 4 rosemary branches, 2/3 of leaves removed
        • 4 thin slices prosciutto
        • 4 fig leaves, cleaned and dried
        • 4 pieces of Laura Chenel’s cabecou goat cheese
        Sherry reduction
        • 1 cup honey
        • 1 cup sherry
        • 1 sprig rosemary
        • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
        1. Over low heat, simmer sherry reduction ingredients for about 30 minutes, until reduced to a glaze consistency.
        2. Cut figs in half and place cut-side down on a flat surface.
        3. Skewer 2 figs on each rosemary twig, and brush with glaze. Grill over medium heat 2-3 minutes, flat side down. Remove from heat. Brush with additional glaze.
        4. To prepare fig leaf, lightly oil a leaf on the shiny side. Place a piece of cabecou cheese on each fig leaf and grill over medium-low heat until cheese is warm and fig leaf is slightly wilted.
        5. To assemble, place 2 slices of prosciutto on the center of each plate. Set the fig leaf with the cheese on top of the prosciutto. Angle the skewer to the side of the cheese. Drizzle with more glaze on top and around the plate.