Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In My Kitchen.

Commence random thoughts...

Having a small kitchen is not easy, but I'm used to it. I think our last kitchen was probably only 8x10 feet with no room for a table, only a chopping block that now doubles as a workbench in our garage. Our new (or new-ish) kitchen is a galley kitchen, with barely room to turn around in but an open bar top counter to socialize over whilst whipping up foods.  Thank goodness for the laundry room, which serves as a walk-in dry goods closet as well or I'd have piles of rice, beans, breads, spices and canned goods overflowing onto my dining room table.

I bring this up because I've discovered, through my obsessive-compulsive cleaning & organizational tendencies, that there are certain items I simply must have in my kitchen at all times.  Here are a few of my favorites right now...

Chef's Towels
Cotton, white (so you can bleach the daylights out of them when needed), 16x19in- Great for sopping up messes, using as a potholder, wiping clean chopping boards and cleaning blades. I keep one on the counter and one hanging off my apron.
-Chef Revival Red Stripe 100% Cotton Bar Towel-12/Pack for only $10.49 here.

Santoku Knife
Easy to handle, sharp, inexpensive and can chop, slice or pound just about anything. I like the 5 inch version for everyday use. 
-J.A. Henckels International Forged Razor Series 5-Inch Santoku for $26.99 here.

Barkeepers Friend
This stuff cleans everything without using abrasive ingredients. Pots, pans, knives, sinks and so much more. Cheap and dependable since 1882.
-Bar Keeper's Friend® 21-Ounce Cleanser And Polish $1.99 here.

Microplane Grater/Zester
Perfect for grating/zesting everything from citrus fruits to fresh Parmesan cheese. Helps make the rather tedious job of fine grating go quickly and cleanly.
-Microplane ® Grater-Zester can be found here for $14.95.

Wine Forest Wild Foods 'True Wild Rice'
A mix of jasmine brown rice, genuine wild rice, dried porcini, dried shallots & parsley. Based out of Napa, CA too! Great as a side dish or a full hearty meal. 
-You can find this rice for $14.00 and all other sorts of treats on their website here.

Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning
If I could eat this with a spoon, I would. We braise chicken in it, smother pork, sprinkle it on fries, simmer fish and sometimes just dash a little on garlic bread. Savory, zingy & spicy all at the same time.
-Grab the original for $3.50 or check out the wide array of Tony Chachere's seasonings here

Huy Fong Sambal Oelek
Ground fresh chili paste. I use this in sauces, soups and if I'm feeling freaky, topped on a baked potato. Excellent combination of heat, vinegar & garlic to sass up subtle foods. A staple in our house.
-Find it here for $5.99 or just take a trip to the grocery store and grab the biggest jar you can find.

Thai Red Curry Paste
I've been obsessing over Thai curry lately, drowning rice noodles and fresh vegetables in a broth I make with pastes like these. Try steamed tilapia, mung beans and cilantro for a soothing winter bowl.
-6 Can (4oz. Each) of Thai Green, Red & Yellow Curry Pastes for only $17 here.

Persian Cucumbers
Crunchy, cute, thin-skinned & nearly seedless, these cucumbers have taken the place of potato chips in my daily snack attacks. I slice them and sprinkle Maldon sea salt over them- such satisfying bites! Also great in salads or in place of lettuce on sandwiches.
-Grab a container of 6-8 at Trader Joe's for $2.29!

Jeff's Naturals Whole Golden Greek Pepperoncini
I might be one of the very few people who enjoys eating pepperoncini like candy, but hey, a girl's got her weakness. I love the flavor of these particular peppers, not too heavy on the vinegar. Jeff Mezzeta's family has been in the business for years, based out of the North Bay, using locally farmed produce for their products.
-Pick up a jar for roughly $4 at your local market, Whole Foods or Sprouts.

Better Than Bouillon
All natural beef, chicken, fish (and so many more!) flavor bases perfect for braising, roasting, creating stews or just giving oompf to whichever protein you choose. A little goes a very long way, so this jar is worth the dough.
-Available just about everywhere for $8.50 a jar, so keep an eye out or click here.

What are some of your favorite kitchen staples? 

Be well,

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lula Cellars- Mendocino County.

Sixteen years ago, in the quaint town of Mendocino, my husband took a knee in the middle of a grassy field and proposed- this year we will be celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary together... Hard to believe that the time has passed so quickly. Our adventures over the years both as a couple and accompanied by friends have been full of laughter, great food, really good wine and unforgettable memories. Oddly enough, and much to the puzzlement of our native Mendocino friends, we haven't been able to return to that area of Northern California since that fantastic day in August of 2000. Time got away from us, calendars filled up and before we had even realized, our beloved beach town became further and further away.

Our luck turned a bit this past month, as were invited to return to Mendocino County to discover and explore the region and all of its splendors by the lovely folks at Lula Cellars...

Located in the bucolic town of Philo, Calfornia (about 5 miles west of Booneville, smack dab in the heart of the Andersen Valley), Lula Cellars sits quietly along Highway 128, surrounded by rolling hills and dense redwood forests. An unassuming little red barn-like tasting room, complete with vineyard dog "Honey", await guests as they ramble down the gravel driveway. I immediately fell in love with the simplicity of the new tasting room at Lula: comfortable stools, a dog to play fetch with, a space heater to keep warm on a chilly day and of course, really good wine.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by one of our gracious hosts, Mr. Dan Reed, keeper of the homestead and wine gentleman extraordinaire. Dan pours at Lula Cellars pretty much every day of the week, so he's entirely immersed in Lula's wines and can lead guests on a tasting journey through the many different wine styles that Lula produces. We'd be staying with Dan on property for the weekend in Lula's refined rustic cabin, with 360 views of Anderson Valley's "deep-end" picturesque terrain. If you are ever in the Philo/Boonville area, keep an eye out for Dan as he can regularly be seen toting around town with Honey the dog in Lula's 1958 Morris Minor 1000. 

100 miles away from home and worn out from a very winding road, we were both ready to settle in and make ourselves comfortable in our cozy little guest quarters. A slower pace of life forced us to sit back, relax and enjoy the view from the porch as the sun went down over the woods and vineyards. Not much to do, nor the need to do much when you are absolutely engulfed in the beauty that is Northern California. Ogling the clouds is a fine way to spend an evening and falling asleep to mist dripping on your tin roof from redwoods overhead is even better.


The next morning, we were up with the shining sun and found ourselves walking back down to the tasting room, eager to begin our tasting of the wines and also eager to meet Jeff Hansen, winemaker for Lula Cellars.

"Jeff Hansen, winemaker for Lula Cellars, brings nearly 30 years of grape growing and winemaking experience to the brand. Jeff’s handcrafted, limited production Mendocino Coast Pinot Noir, along with Zinfandel, Dry Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Rosato (Rosé of Pinot Noir) reveal the passion he has for producing world class wines."

Jeff was great company- cheerful and witty, well-spoken and he very obviously possessed a wealth of knowledge regarding the Anderson Valley appellation. His casualness and warmth is welcome breath of fresh air, bringing ease and civility to sometimes otherwise terse wine tastings. Both the hubbs and I thought him entertaining and friendly, and the level at which he could speak about his wines, vineyard details and overall wine philosophy was greatly appreciated. It certainly didn't hurt that he had great restaurant recommendations as well, helping us with reservations and tips along the way.

Now for some of their fabulous wines...

One of my favorites of our tasting was the 2012 Costa Vineyards Pinot Noir- with classic aromatics of tea and rose petal, deep plum flavors and a beautiful ruby color. "The five acre vineyard this wine comes from is a hidden jewel located in the mountain town of Comptche, which is eight miles east of the Coastal Village of Mendocino, 700 feet above sea level." Jeff suggested a nice Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce to pair with this elegant wine.

Also high on my personal list was the 2013 Mendocino Rosato- ripe red strawberry, watermelon flavors and a crisp, clean finish. I'm a rosé girl, so I was immediately intrigued when I saw this beauty on the shelf. I was not disappointed.

I'm not usually interested in Zinfandel, but Lula Cellars 2012 Mendocino Zinfandel was enough to change my mind a bit. There's a juiciness and fruitiness to this Zin that is in no way heavy or overpowering. Not too spicy either, which makes it distinctive in its own sense. A pairing to consider with savory Braised Lamb Shanks.

Another surprise from Lula is the 2012 Mendocino Pinot Gris- "The 2012 vintage marks the first release of Pinot Gris. The vineyard this wine came from is located south of the town of Ukiah, on the east side of Highway 101, a perfect climate for the varietal." Crisp, clean and citrusy. As a special treat, Jeff pulled out a round of the most incredible St. George cheese, made by the Matos family of Sonoma County. Enough to swoon over, I tried to escape with pockets-full of the buttery cheese, but alas, will have to make a special visit to the dairy on my own one day soon.


So many thanks go to Jeff Hansen and Dan Reed of Lula Cellars for their generous hospitality during our visit. If you are interested in visiting Lula Cellars, they are located at 2800 Guntley Road in Philo, CA @ Hwy 128 and are open from 10am-6pm every day of the week. Stop by, say hello to Honey & by all means, nab a taste (or a bottle) of their dreamy Anderson Valley wines.

Lula Cellars ~ 2800 Guntley Road, Philo, CA 95466 ~ 707.895.3737 ~ info@lulacellars.com

Monday, January 5, 2015

Goodbye 2014... You were a weird one.

Hello 2015.

I'm embarrassed to notice the date of my last posting.

Hello friends. I told myself that beginning today, I would get back in the saddle and continue my writing fervently and with newfound enthusiasm. After the year I've had, I'm ready to start anew and move forward with my passions. Food, travel, nonsense and debauchery? Let's do this.

This past year was full of so many losses, I feel I can only begin this year with a hopeful heart. I want things to be easier, to be happier, to be more positive and lovingly comfortable. We are now truly at home here in the Napa Valley and I want my writing to reflect all of the good I am surrounded by on a daily basis.

The hubbs and I have some really interesting and wonderful trips coming up in the near future that I'm just itching to write about and photograph. Along with my usual banter, the occasional pug photo and perhaps a recipe or two, I will be adamantly focusing on the good life- our good life, one that we're working very hard to maintain, enjoy and share with others.

Wave bye-bye to the negative. It is time to bring forth a smile.