Tag Archives: personal dining

We love our Avocados GREEN

You love green avocados

An easy to remember trick to keep your cut avocados from turning that unappetizing brown.

If you have been following me for a while, you know that I collect little stories about this and that. I think that’s one of the skills that a home entertaining expert should have: being able to dole out a quick story for any moment or situation. It’s better than trying to crack the ice at a party with talk about the weather. Right?

Here are a few tidbits about avocados.

If you haven’t heard, the avocado is actually a fruit. Botanically, they belong to the same plant group as do laurels. So, basically, we eat what amounts to an enormous berry that has a single large seed.

Originally, avocados were thought to have come from Mexico. A while back, a friend of mine who is an anthropologist (yeah, I have one of those too), told me that there was some new evidence that suggests that avocados started off as several distinct varieties that came from Peru, the Guatemalan highlands, and along the Central American isthmus. They’ve even found the remains of an avocado plant that they think is 15,000 years old!  It’s crazy that avocados have been around for that long.

Now for the practical part.

I love avocados. They’ve always been one of the staples in my home – ready to slice and eat at a moment’s notice. They’re a great “go-to” easy snack for friends who drop by and perfect for salads, sliced with veggies, or as guacamole (more on that later).  Don’t forget the ever popular avocado toast that you find in almost every restaurant and that is so incredibly easy to duplicate at home!

The downside for avocados – they have an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase that causes our tasty fruit to start browning almost immediately after cutting. This is really inconvenient when you want to save half in the fridge for tomorrow’s snack. I mean, who wants to spread brown avocado on toast? Seriously.

Everyone has their own little trick to keep their avocados from turning brown. Twenty years in the restaurant business – I’ve heard them all, seen them all and tried them all!

One of the most popular tricks is my least favorite: drip lime or lemon juice on the cut parts, which is the same trick we use on cut apples. It works but, in my honest opinion, not very well. They still turn brown after about 4 hours and then the avocado has an extra flavor that you might not want.

Then there’s the one about keeping the pit attached. I don’t know why, but it seems to work for about 4 hours or so, and then the oxidization starts. The big downside is that the pit has to be attached to the uncut half. You can’t add the pit back to an avocado that’s been sliced.

The fact is, many of us will eat an avocado that’s been stored in the fridge and has browned a bit, but not for company consumption.  So, a near miss just doesn’t cut it for me. If it’s going to work, it has to work really well.

The best method – tested in my own kitchen – place the cut half of an onion into an airtight container with your cut avocado. The onion releases sulfur dioxide which is a natural preservative – which puts a full stop on the browning. The great plus for this method is that it’ll keep cut avocados nice and fresh (cubed, sliced, peeled) for about 24 hours! And now you have a little onion to add to that toast.

See my video on this method. And enjoy your avocado!

The Right Way to Enjoy Al Fresco Dining

al fresco dinner ware

Dining outdoors – perfect for longer, warmer nights.

Days are getting longer and the nights are warming up – a perfect combination to dine al fresco with friends or a significant other.  It’s more than simply eating outside or just two Italian words that mean “in the cool air” – it’s a whole experience when done properly.  It’s creating the perfect table setting, candle-lit ambiance, just the right amount of casual and, of course, the perfect menu.

Many people think of white paper plates and red solo cups when they think of having a picnic, but for me, it’s always more than that.  Whether it’s dinner in the backyard by the pool or in the park with a big group of friends or perhaps a concert at The Hollywood Bowl, it’s important to make every dining occasion special but also worry-free!

There are so many fantastic unbreakable options now.  Crate and Barrel has an entire selection of beautiful rustic melamine (plastic!) in several colors that all coordinate well with bowls, plates and service pieces in different patterns (also melamine).  Add their “glassware” made from different polymer materials unbreakable glasses in all shapes including stemmed wine glasses and margarita glasses. You’ll have the basics for a colorful, fun and worry-free table setting. Yesterday, on my video, I showcased other options from Williams Sonoma. Use woven placemats in a coordinating color with a white linen napkin and colorful napkin ring to complete the look.  All you need now is simple flatware (really only a fork and knife), and you’re set.

Candlelight is important to set the mood.  Hurricane lamps with candles (include some citronella candles – to keep away the flying insects) to set around.  Make sure that the top of the candle is lower than the top of the hurricane lamp otherwise even a small breeze will blow out the flame.

Create simple centerpieces for height and color. Keep it casual.  You can use flowers, but then you need to worry about vases with water that can tip over.  Some of my favorite centerpieces are just twigs with small flowers (cherry blossom branches, birch branches, manzanita branches, etc.).  And sometimes it’s even simpler than that – just a large bunch of green – even Magnolia leaves in a big enough bunch are casual and beautiful.  You don’t need water – just a fun container.

Plan the menu appropriately for wherever you will be dining and how far you will be traveling to get there.  If you’re in the backyard, your menu can include hot food straight from the kitchen or BBQ. If you’re traveling (even around the corner to the park with friends) plan a menu that only includes food that can be served room temperature – salads, grilled in season vegetables (asparagus, artichokes, broccolini, et cetera – look at the farmer’s market for ideas). Veggies can easily be added to a plate of cold pasta salad to add color and flavor, along with cold sliced roast and cold fried chicken – you get the idea.  Don’t forget an easy batch cocktail – margaritas, negronis or keep it simple and bring wine.  And don’t forget the wine-opener.

One last safety note – warm evenings and nights also bring bugs. I hate bugs, but I especially hate mosquitos that can be a real pain (literally). Some of your guests may be uncomfortable about dining outside without some protection. Remind your guests to wear their preferred insect repellent lotions (et cetera) or ask them what they prefer and bring some just in case they forget. I also burn Tiki torch fuel that’s spiked with citronella – it seems to do the trick. Start them up about an hour before your guests arrive and you’ll be bug-free for hours.

You may enjoy this so much, you’ll make it a regular event all summer!

Tomato and Cabbage Tabbouleh

tomato-and-cabbage-tabbouleh

In Tomato Heaven with Cabbage Tabbouleh

I love tomatoes – served any way that is possible.  I’ve been known to simply salt them and eat them like apples – one bite at a time (I always remember my Father eating them like that) or if they’re tiny then I just pop them in my mouth and enjoy their natural sweetness.  Delicious!  This recipe stopped me because of the beautiful colors from the tomatoes and mint AND it’s so easy.  It would be great for a BBQ.  It was created by Anissa Helou and published in bon appétit July 2014. Serves 8, all you need is a room full of friends and family to enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bulgur (not quick-cooking)
  • ½ medium head green cabbage, cut into 1”-thick wedges, then very thinly sliced crosswise (about 4 cups)
  • 1 small sweet onion (such as Vidalia), finely chopped
  • 4 cups assorted small tomatoes, halved, quartered if large
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt

Directions

Place bulgur in a large bowl and add 1½ cups boiling water. Let soak until softened and water is absorbed, 40–45 minutes.

Toss bulgur, cabbage, onion, tomatoes, mint, oil, lemon juice, and Aleppo pepper in a large bowl to combine; season with salt.

DO AHEAD:Tabbouleh (without oil and lemon juice) can be made 4 hours ahead. Toss with oil and lemon juice just before serving.

 

 

Easy Recipe for Gnocchi Skillet with Sausage and Tomatoes

Gnocchi on your Favorite Skillet

Food Memory in the Making with Gnocchi, Chicken Sausage, Tomatoes and your Favorite Skillet

This recipe is so quick and easy to make and looks beautiful on the plate – color in the dish is always important as we eat with our eyes.  It reminds me of a favorite food memory – the first time I ever tasted Gnocchi – they were so soft and delicate.  I found it on a great website, thekitchn.com, in their 23 Romantic Recipes post this week.  One of the best things about this recipe is that you can use store-bought gnocchi and any type of Italian sausage you like. Spicy, anyone? They also suggest that if you want to finish the skillet with Parmesan that you can but that it’s not necessary if you’d rather not have cheese. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 9 ounces (about 3 links) cooked chicken sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 to 2 ounces fresh basil, julienned (1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed)

Preparation

  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Heat a 10-inch or larger cast iron skillet over medium heat with a light drizzle of olive oil. Add the sausage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Push the sausage into a pile at the edge of the skillet and turn the heat up to high.
  3. When the skillet is quite hot, add the tomatoes, skin down, crowding them in if necessary. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they are blistered, then stir in with the sausage. Cook for 2 more minutes, until both tomatoes and sausage are slightly browned. Stir in gnocchi and cook just until all is combined, but the tomatoes have not broken down into sauce.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Cooking tip: a cast iron skillet is preferred only because it will give you the best color and sear to the sausage and tomatoes but any skillet will work as long as it does NOT have a non-stick coating.  That will interfere with the browning.

Recipe for a Sweet Potato Casserole You Can’t Put Down

Spiced Sweet Potato and Parsnip Tian

This recipe is by Anna Stockwell

I think everyone has had a Sweet Potato Casserole at Thanksgiving. It almost doesn’t matter if dinner was at your house, your Grandmother’s or a neighbor’s, someone made a Sweet Potato Casserole. But here’s the thing – the old standard of Thanksgiving can be brought in any time, for all kinds of holidays and family celebrations. And people will love you for it. Food memories, anyone?

Anyhow, most recipes call for puréed sweet potatoes (of course we just referred to it as mashed) with cinnamon and butter. But, the most important thing about it was the perfectly browned mini-marshmallows. Sometimes, they were just sprinkled across the top but if you were really lucky, the person who made it placed a cloud of mini-marshmallows on top so every bite had some sugary sweetness. You always knew who took time with making the casserole because the marshmallows were in a design or rows on the top. Now that was perfect!

As great of a memory as that is, I’ve been searching for an alternative and I think I’ve found it in a recipe that I just read in the Epicurious November 2015 edition. It looks so pretty, but seems so simple to prepare and sounds great. It will definitely be on the menu for my next celebration dinner party – especially because you can make it up to 2 days ahead. Any recipe that lets me spend more time with my friends before dinner is a GOOD one.

Ingredients
  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 6 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 8 medium), peeled, sliced into 1/8″-thick rounds
  • 2 pounds parsnips (about 3 extra-large), peeled, sliced into 1/8″-thick rounds
Instructions
  1. Special equipment:
  2. A 4-quart casserole dish or braiser, preferably round
  3. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 325°F. Bring cider to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, add butter, thyme, Aleppo, and 2 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring, until butter is melted. Let cool slightly.
  4. Place potatoes and parsnips in a large bowl. Pour cider mixture over and toss to coat. Stack a handful of slices about 3″ high, then place vertically in casserole dish. Using a measuring cup or small bowl, keep slices standing up as you go, working around the perimeter and then into the center, forming concentric circles. Continue arranging slices in pan until tightly packed (you may have some leftover). Pour in cider mixture to come halfway up sides of dish; discard remaining cider mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tsp. salt and cover tightly with foil.
  5. Bake, covered, 1 hour. Remove foil and brush pan juices over tops of slices with a pastry brush. Increase oven temperature to 425°F and bake, uncovered, until golden brown on top, 35–40 minutes more.
  6. Do Ahead:
  7. After first round of baking at 325°F, let cool, then chill for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature, then bake, uncovered, at 425°F for 40–50 minutes.
  8. Cooks’ Note
  9. If you have a mandoline, use it to slice the sweet potatoes and parsnips—it will help you get thinner, more even slices in less time than by hand. The number of potatoes and parsnips you need to fill your casserole dish will depend on their width, so buy extra just in case, and try to seek out parsnips that are as close as possible to the width of your sweet potatoes.

 

A Memorable Night

Print Szie untitled-8954-EditOn December 16th, I was honored to be able to co-host an amazing holiday party at The Farm of Beverly Hills.   The invitation was sent out by Lisa DeTanna of Raymond James’ Global Wealth Group. Lisa and I were joined by Barbara Fairchild, former Editor-in-Chief of Bon Appétit, who gave us all great information on the food and wine pairings for the evening along with Richard DeTanna (Lisa’s father), former chef at Balboa Bay Club and Marina City Club, who shared stories of the many dishes he served to his celebrity clientele including Marty Allen, Frank Sinatra and John Wayne.

You know the party is a great success when not only do people arrive almost an hour early, but they stay more than an hour after it is supposed to be over. Print Szie untitled-8819-EditWe all had the best time and being joined by Barbara Fairchild for this event was just the icing on the cake! I can’t thank everyone involved enough for making it the success that it was.

Stopped by a Recipe: Cider-Brined Pork Roast with Potatoes and Onions

 

Cider-Brined Pork Roast with Potatoes and Onions
Author: Recipe by Dawn Perry
If a recipe stops you more than once then you definitely need to actually make it. I have seen this recipe reprinted on a couple of different sites that I subscribe to and it has stopped me on each reading – So now I’m going to have to have friends over so I can actually make it! The photos that have been printed with it are so beautiful and the recipe seems so incredibly simple that it’s on my very short list. The one thing I would suggest whenever you are looking at any recipe is to read the reviews. I’ve found that there are very often some great suggestions or comments on the recipe directions that can be extremely helpful. Sometimes they are seasoning suggestions or just what to serve it with but they are always helpful. With this recipe the suggestions I’m going to follow are to add baby carrots to the veggies and after the roast is cooked to put the veggies back in the pan in the oven to crisp up. I LOVE roasted vegetables with crispy edges – They’re like candy to me. I may even follow the suggestion of using a boneless pork roast and reduce the cook time to 60 minutes. It might not be as pretty but it will cook a little faster for sure. Always allow your roasted meats to rest. That way you won’t have juice running all over your cutting board and those precious juices will stay IN the meat where you want them. You don’t need any other vegetables, just add a green salad and your favorite wine and you have a party. The best part is your house smells GREAT. I found this delicious recipe by Dawn Perry featured in a reprint from Bon Apetit, October 2013.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup kosher salt plus more
  • 8 bay leaves, divided
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds, divided
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns plus more freshly ground
  • 1 quart unfiltered apple cider
  • 1 8-bone pork loin roast (about 5 lb.), chine bone removed, rib bones frenched, tied with kitchen twine
  • 6 Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 lb.), unpeeled, quartered
  • 4 medium red and/or yellow onions, halved, stem ends intact
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Instructions
  1. Bring brown sugar, 1 cup salt, 2 bay leaves, 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds, 1 tsp. peppercorns, and 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar and salt dissolve, about 4 minutes. Transfer brine to a large bowl and add cider and 2 cups ice.
  2. Let cool.
  3. Place pork and brine in a large (2-gal.) resealable plastic bag. Seal bag and chill at least 8 hours.
  4. Remove pork from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Let sit at room temperature 1 hour.
  5. Toss potatoes and onions with 4 Tbsp. oil in a large roasting pan or on a large rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  6. Place rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425°. Using the side of a chef’s knife, crush remaining 2 Tbsp. coriander seeds. Season pork with salt and pepper and rub all over with crushed coriander. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook pork until browned on all sides, 8–10 minutes.
  7. Transfer pork to roasting pan and nestle in among vegetables.
  8. Tuck remaining 6 bay leaves under kitchen twine over top of pork. Wrap bone tips with foil to prevent burning and roast, turning vegetables halfway through, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of pork registers 140°, 60–75 minutes.
  9. Remove foil from bones and transfer pork to a cutting board; let rest 30 minutes before slicing between ribs into chops.
  10. Do Ahead: The pork can be brined 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

 

Recipe for Shakshuka with Red Peppers

Shakshuka with Red Peppers

This recipe comes by way of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It caught my eye because I love eggs – the more runny the yolk, the better. Not only that, but I love eggs for any meal, especially dinner. They are my go-to in many forms when I can’t think of anything else to make or am too lazy to get crazy in the kitchen. This is a recipe I found on one of my favorite sites, Epicurious. It is from their April 2015 edition and is by an amazing pair of chef partners in London, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. If you have the opportunity, do not miss one of their restaurants in London.

If you’re like me you will need some toasted or grilled bread to soak up the vegetable/tomato mix that is with the eggs. Dipping is one of my favorite things to do. This makes an exceptionally easy Sunday night dinner for two. In fact, I think I’m going to put that on the calendar!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Pilpelchuma or harissa
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 2 large red peppers, cut into 1/4-inch / 0.5cm dice (2 cups / 300 g in total)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 5 large, very ripe tomatoes, chopped (5 cups / 800 g in total); canned are also fine
  • 4 large free-range eggs, plus 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup / 120 g labneh or thick yogurt
  • Salt

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the pilpelchuma or harissa, tomato paste, peppers, garlic, cumin, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes to allow the peppers to soften. Add the tomatoes, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for a further 10 minutes until you have quite a thick sauce. Taste for seasoning.
  2. Make 8 little dips in the sauce. Gently break the eggs and carefully pour each into its own dip. Do the same with the yolks. Use a fork to swirl the egg whites a little bit with the sauce, taking care not to break the yolks. Simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes, until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny (you can cover the pan with a lid if you wish to hasten the process). Remove from the heat, leave for a couple of minutes to settle, then spoon into individual plates and serve with the labneh or yogurt.
  3. I have two suggestions with this recipe (they were part of the reviews section and I agree with them both):
    • Saute the garlic, peppers first and add some sliced onions to the mix – Whenever I have had Shakshuka in a restaurant there are always onions in the mix.
    • Definitely cover the pan with a lid to insure that the whites of the eggs get cooked

 

Recipe for a Smashing Rack-Roasted Chicken Dinner

rack-roasted-chicken

Easy Brined Rack-Roasted Chicken

This recipe is by Dai Due, from Austin Texas. I have no idea why, but I’ve always thought that a simple roast chicken would be so hard to do well. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never attempted it. I do crazy other stuff, but somehow this one thing has been scary for me. Well, that and I only like white meat chicken and have always felt that it would be a waste to make a whole chicken. But, I do have plenty of friends who love chicken legs, as well, so I really have no excuse other than my fear.

After reading the September 2015 issue of Bon Apetit, I have no excuses left. They featured a recipe from Dai Due in Austin, Tx – the Rack Roasted Chicken and it kills two birds (sorry!) with one stone. You get a perfectly roasted chicken AND amazing roasted vegetables all at the same time. Make sure that you use the Dai Due Master Brined Chicken recipe (found in the same issue) in this recipe. Brining a chicken adds huge flavor with very little effort. I’m going to make this for my next Sunday dinner with friends!

Ingredients

  • 1½ pounds small fingerling potatoes
  • 1 pound small shallots, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • [url href=”http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/dai-dues-master-brined-chicken”]Dai Due’s Master Brined Chicken[/url]

Instructions

  1. Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 425°. Arrange potatoes and shallots in a roasting pan or baking dish just large enough to fit them all in a single crowded layer. Drizzle with oil and season with a little salt and pepper, then toss to coat. Place pan on lower rack, then set chicken, breast side up and tail facing oven door (this will make it easier to remove when it’s done), directly on rack above vegetables. Roast chicken and vegetables until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of chicken thigh registers 165°, 35–45 minutes.
  2. Insert a long-handled wooden spoon into the chicken’s cavity and carefully tilt the bird toward you to allow juices in cavity to drain into pan below. Remove vegetables from oven, then, using spoon, remove chicken from oven and place on top of vegetables. Let rest 10 minutes before carving.
Serving size: 2

 

The Quest for Food Memories

old-fashioned-cookbook-300wAs long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading recipes. I didn’t cook them often while I was growing up, but I loved reading them. Reading cookbooks was a favorite too. While I was reading a recipe that caught my eye, I would imagine the steps the chef was taking and how the meal would appear; how it smelled and tasted. I guess this was the beginning of my love for food and feeding people. I still have a Chinese food cookbook from the 1940’s that was way out of print when I bought it at a used bookstore. I don’t cook Chinese food at all (I’ve always imagined it to be way too complicated), but I loved reading the recipes.

The funny thing is that I didn’t learn any of this from my parents or grandparents. My Grandmother could make one thing really well – Boston Cream Pie – FROM A BOX.  But, I asked for it every birthday. It’s comfort food for me, and I can’t find it anywhere the way she would make it. I always joke that my mother could burn boiling water. Yet, she could bake up an amazing pie crust (which has yet to be replicated-even by my niece who’s an amazing baker) and great rum balls that my parents gave as gifts every holiday season. I still remember sheet trays of them drying on top of the refrigerator.

My father always cooked the Thanksgiving turkey and then made a fabulous Turkey carcass soup with barley, another comfort food memory. He also made a Russian peasant dish with noodle dough and mashed potatoes and onions. This I will try to find a way to duplicate some day. The last time he made it was on my kitchen table more than 20 years ago. I wish I would have written the noodle dough recipe down. I can duplicate the potato/onion/chicken fat mixture for the filling but can’t do the noodle dough! So annoying! He didn’t make the dinners but again, what he made well was amazing.

The first meal I made for entertaining was dinner for my Junior Prom date in High School. I still remember it – marinated Lamb and a savory rice. It wasn’t anything I had ever made before or since but it was a definite hit then! I still have my recipe box from that time with 3×5 index cards filled with recipes that I wanted to cook. My handwriting was SO good back then. If I attempted that now, I wouldn’t be able to read one ingredient!

Recipe for Personal Dining: Wine Blends

wine and wine blends

Back to Wine Basics with “Blends”

All of my friends know that my wine of choice always includes bubbles – pink ones if I’m to be completely honest about it. But, having said that, I just love a good bottle, white or red, just not sweet and chewy – ever! Something that not everyone knows, however, is that just because a bottle has a specific grape name on the label (Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon) that bottle may not and often is not the only grape in that bottle.

Wine makers often add in other grapes to create the flavor profile they want to create in that bottle. The law actually allows up to 25% other grapes in the bottle for blending. So, very often the grape name on the label is only 75% of what is actually in the bottle. Having said all of that, I think that the blending makes wines way more interesting. So, just because a wine isn’t 100% of a specific grape doesn’t mean it’s still not a great wine.

Silver Oak Winery

Silver Oak Winery makes an amazing Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, it’s the only varietal that they do make! They also use small amounts of other varietals in their Napa blend- Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. I don’t really care what they use, their Napa Valley Cabernet is always so velvety smooth and delicious! It’s a little pricey but I’m never sorry I spent the extra dollars on this one.

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Cab

Last Saturday, I got to do one of my favorite things – An impromptu casual dinner with a girlfriend. We just made some pasta and salad but I had a 2008 Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon that we shared. It was a real treat. I let it breathe for about 20-30 minutes and it was amazing! This cabernet is one of the “blends” that I mentioned that has more than 75% Cabernet Sauvignon grape, it’s 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc (a common blending grape). Besides making wonderful Cabernets, the Winery is California Certified Organic! How cool is that?

Chateau Montelena

One of the perks of being a restaurant owner is that I get to visit some fabulous wineries and drink wine with some very interesting people. One of these is Chateau Montelena. This is the winery that produced the Chardonnay that beat out all of the French entries in the 1976 Paris competition, which was immortalized in the 2008 movie, Bottle Shock. But, the wine that they make that I really enjoy is their Cabernet Sauvignon, and fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying several of their vintages. They have, in fact, several wine clubs specifically for their Cabernet Sauvignons. What a great way to make sure that you don’t miss a great vintage.

Fresh Ricotta Recipe – Quick and Easy Share With Friends

Fresh Ricotta Recipe with Roasted Grapes, Fresh Thyme, on Grilled Bread

I love to invite my girlfriends over for a party and I especially love to try new recipes on them but my problem is that I tend to go a little overboard with the number of dishes and how complex (steps not fancy) they are. So when I decided to have them over for my housewarming I started to go a little crazy with the planning. This can happen – just ask my friend that I stuffed 75 mini artichokes for when she had a baby shower for her second son over 30 years ago. I’m hopeless.

Anyway, I started to plan by looking up easy party appetizers and found the simplest recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen for Roasted Grapes with Fresh Thyme and Fresh Ricotta on Grilled Bread. She gave credit to Real Simple Magazine Sept 2011 but wasn’t able to find the exact recipe so she just listed the ingredients. The point is that it was so simple I decided I would start with it.

This all looked extremely simple and then there was the issue of the fresh ricotta. The challenge (I thought) was to actually make fresh ricotta, but it turned out to be the most impressive but absolutely easiest thing I’ve ever done in the kitchen. Here is where my own personal crazy pops up because I had decided that I was going to “go for it” and make it fresh, a first for me. I looked for “best fresh ricotta” recipe in Google and came up with [url href=”http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/homemade-ricotta-recipe.html”]this recipe[/url] from Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa).

I have to say that this was the most simple and delicious thing I made. It was great room temp and cold. It was just more than I could have hoped for. I decided to drizzle some organic honey over the crostinis-it was a hit! These roasted grapes would have been fabulous over ice cream too!

Ingredients

  • Grapes
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • Good rustic bread, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces
  • Fresh ricotta, preferably homemade

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450ºF.
  2. Spread grapes onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Lay thyme leaves over top. Toss all together gently with your hands.
  3. Place pan in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until grapes just begin to burst. I prefer the shorter roasting time — it’s nice when some of the grapes remain intact.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. Brush the bread with olive oil. Grill until nice and toasty.
  5. Assemble the open-faced sandwiches:
    • Spread fresh ricotta over bread.
    • Top with roasted grapes.
    • Discard thyme sprigs – while the thyme sprigs look pretty, it’s a little impractical to serve the sandwiches with the sprigs… they don’t taste so yummy.