Tag Archives: Napa

Napa is my favorite place to disappear.

Fran Berger and friends in Napa.

Thinking about Napa. It’s so much more than just a place to drink wine.

One of the best things I learned over 20 years ago when I opened my first restaurant was that Napa is not just a place to drink wine.  It’s much, much, more.

With my first restaurant I had to learn about wine lists and how to build them with my customer in mind – not just what I liked to drink.  I’ve been drinking wine since college (not always the best wines – trust me!!). In the beginning there was a budget to pay attention to.  Building the wine list had me looking at wines in a whole new way and I realized that I didn’t know much about them other than what I liked: a dry white, a dry ‘big’ red, and I hated jam.  I still always say that you should never chew your wine!

The need to create a successful wine list started me on an educational journey that I absolutely love to this day.  I was semi-familiar with the Napa area. I went to high school in the South Bay near San Francisco and my first year of college was at UC Davis where they have a world-renowned Viticulture and Enology Department (grape growing and wine making) – all within an hour or two of the Napa Valley.  My focus turned to Napa – and I’ve been going there to taste new wines ever since.  I was one of the first group of visitors when the wineries reopened after the devastating fires last year.

Fran and friend in Napa

I’m there, at a minimum, twice a year and more often it’s four times each year.  I never miss Spring – at ‘bud’ – or when the vines start to have buds on them.  Everything is just starting to grow and the anticipation for the new crop is palpable.  There are festivals all year long – most centered around food and wine – and wonderful concerts in the summer.  Harvest in the Fall is really fun to see – a literal bee hive of activity all over the valley to get all of the grapes in at just the moment the winemakers are looking for to create their wines.

For me visits to Napa have become fabulous learning opportunities, much needed times to ‘zone out’ and just breathe and relax, times to reconnect with friends, eat great food, taste new wines and of course – to let loose.  Over the years I have tasted some of the most amazing wines and joined the wine clubs of a few of my favorite wineries – one of which I’m a member of their Founder’s Club (capped at 150 members) which gives me access to wines that are not sold outside the club.  Many of the better wineries clubs either only sell to their club members or have specific wines that are only sold to members because the production of those wines is so small.

So, if you already enjoy wine or are just beginning to discover all the beauty and nuances of flavor to be found in your favorite glass of red (or white or bubbles!) and you want to learn the why and how then a visit to Napa should be in your future.

Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, with bottles of "Phase V" Cabernet Sauvignon.Glasses for Silver Oak, Napa. Crates of wine.


Above left: Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, and bottles of “Phase V” Cabernet Sauvignon.

Recipe for a Quick Pickle

A quick pickle VERT

An easy “pickle” recipe that’s great for home or as a gift.

I had a great Bloody Mary at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, and they served a simply wonderful vinegary/garlicky green bean as one of the vegetable garnishes – no celery stalk!   I was so impressed with the taste and simplicity, I brought the idea home and decided to try it for myself.

What I found out was that quick pickling is very easy. It requires no specialized equipment or skills, and it’s not at all like canning food. The recipe itself takes VERY little time, and it can be done with just about any firm vegetable – green beans, carrots, cucumbers, onions, asparagus, etc.

The main ingredients for the pickling “sauce” (brining liquid) are vinegar, water, Kosher salt (or pickling salt), and maybe sugar. You can use apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and so on depending on the flavor you are going for. Do not use balsamic or malt vinegar (no aged vinegar). Know that table salt is just way too salty and too hard to control so you want to stay away from that. I use Kosher salt because it is so easy to manage the taste.

Also, the veggies do not have to be cooked, but I recommend that you blanch them to bring out their natural color. Check out my video on the simple way to blanch veggies.

Before you start, think about the flavors you want for your pickled vegetables. There’s no science to it – it’s all to taste. For instance, I used lots of mustard seed and sliced garlic because I love garlic and I think the pickling tastes great when there’s a nice little kick at the end. I may also use more salt and vinegar than you want. If you want sweeter vegetables, add more sugar to the brine mixture.

Finally, for presentation (critical!) I settled on these 8oz (240ml) tall jars that have 2” mouths, about 6” tall, and gold colored lids. They’re not too big, just right for pickling, and you can get them from Amazon. They make a lovely presentation – especially if you’re planning on giving them out as gifts. And you’ll want to add gift tags to your jars. I found some cute rustic looking gift tags from Amazon as well that I think adds a nice touch.

Here’s my video for quick pickling veggies. You can see that everything is mix and taste. My recipe is loosely based on Michael Symon’s recipe for pickled onions. And you can find some helpful instructions for pickling from one of my favorite websites thekitchn.com.

Instructions:

  1. Wash the jars and dry thoroughly.
  2. Prep your veggies to the shape you want to fit into your jars. Tall stuff should be a tad below the “shoulder” of the jar (below the rim). And don’t forget to blanch the veggies for great color!
  3. Pack your blanched veggies into the jars and set aside on a tray so that when you add the liquid the excess stays in the tray and you don’t make a mess.
  4. Mix your pickling brine. Start by pouring equal parts of vinegar and water into a large pan. Add kosher salt. Add sugar (if you want it). Add more vinegar (if you need it). Add spices. I used mustard seed, black peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander seed, fresh dill, and sliced garlic. Remember, this is to taste, so start easy and work your way up to the flavor you want.
  5. Bring the mixture to a boil. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar (if used). Taste the brine as you reach boiling and adjust seasoning (e.g., add salt, vinegar, spices).
  6. Ladle the brine mixture into the veggie filled jars. Make sure that you scoop up some of the spices. Be sure to add enough brine to cover the veggies, but leave some room at the top of the jars. If you decide to use the jars I suggested, then you’ll want to fill the liquid to the “shoulder.”
  7. Tap the jars to remove air bubbles that may have formed.
  8. Screw the lids on loosely and let them cool to room temp.
  9. Tighten lids and then refrigerate.

Your pickled veggies will get some flavor in as little as 6 hours, but I think you should leave them for at least 24 hours so that the vegetables absorb the full flavor of the brine. Remember that this is not like canning so they won’t last very long. Keep them in the refrigerator.  Recommended shelf life is about 2-3 weeks.

The whole experience made me think about how simple it is to make something that tastes great. And how cool is it to give a gift that you’ve made yourself.