Donkey & Goat’s Take on Orange

stone crusherOrange wine is not just for wine geeks.  Although some wine critics have dismissed orange wine as a fad, there is a growing appreciation that the best of these wines offer an exciting new palate dimension.  They are especially interesting wines to pair with food.

But I’m jumping ahead in the plot. First, what is an orange wine?  The short answer and the only one needed here is that an orange wine is a white wine that has been left on the skin for several days, up to several months in extreme cases.  Leaving a wine on the skins (white or red) adds tannin and astringency to the wine.   It also adds an indefinable complexity, a layering of flavor that fully engages the palate.

Also, orange wines are usually fermented without adding commercial yeast and fermented in open top wood vats or sometimes in clay.

Just speculation but I am guessing that the white wine that Marc Anthony and Ms. Cleopatra shared had an orange hue. How orange depends on how long the wine is left on skins.

What all this is leading to is the bottle of Donkey & Goat 2013 Stone Crusher Roussanne that The Chef (Ann Walker) and I shared one recent evening.  The Berkeley winery has long been a favorite of ours but somehow we had never tried their orange wine, even though they have been making it since 2009.

The Chef immediately declared it an excellent wine for pairing with vegetables, especially the Kaboucha squash and mild Thai red chili soup she had made that afternoon. As we slowly tasted our way through the bottle—finishing the last glass with Blue Lupine, a blue cow and goat cheese from Weirauche Farm and Creamery in Sonoma.  The Chef further declared it would go well with a great range of food, especially richer more intense dishes.

“I’d like to make a roasted leek and herbed mushroom bread pudding to taste with this wine,” The Chef said as we regarded the empty bottle at the end of the evening.

Considering the wine itself, the orange tint is not deep. In a bad light it could pass for a rosé in color. Not in the mouth, of course.  There is an intense minerality, a tangy acidity leading to a long wrap around finish that leaves the taste buds asking for “more, please.”

Try a bottle. If you like it as much as we do, ask The Chef to design a menu for you based on Stone Crusher Roussanne.

I’m still waiting for that mushroom bread pudding.

===Larry Walker, The Wine Chap

 

Make Yourself Comfortable

Back Camera

There is a lot of talk about comfort food but just what is it, anyway?  I asked The Chef (Ann Walker) to define comfort food.

“Can’t be done,” The Chef said. “Comfort food depends on where you are from, how old you are, whether you are a man or a woman.”

Tell me more, I said.

“Let’s begin at the beginning.  It is a fairly new term, as food talk goes,  First used in 1977 according to Webster’s Dictionary.  I do get a lot of clients who tell me they want comfort food and when I ask what is comfort food for them, it’s just all over the place.

“For some, comfort food is grilled cheese sandwiches. Others call for mashed potatoes and gravy.  I think chicken wings might be one of the new comfort foods.  Oh and pizza. Don’t forget pizza.”

Does it matter where you are from.

“Absolutely.  If you grew up in New Orleans you comfort food is gong to be way different than someone who grew up in San Francisco.  I’ve seen research that there is even a difference between men and women when it comes to comfort food, Men prefer high carb foods, you know, meat and potatoes.  Women are more likely to go for sweets or even more healthful foods.  In the end, comfort food is whatever makes you happy,” The Chef said.

What are some of the strangest requests you’ve had for comfort foods?

“We once catered a party for some Australians. They insisted on vegemite on toast.  Well, why not, I thought.  I have a Brit friend who insisted on Spotted Dick for her birthday dinner.  We did it.  The kitchen staff was amused.”

What is your comfort food?

The Chef didn’t hesitate a moment. “Paella. No, I did not grow up in Spain. Never got there until I was almost 30, but paella gets to me. I try to never let a birthday go by without paella.”

What is it about paella that makes it your go to comfort food?

“It makes me happy. Makes me feel like smiling. Makes me in love with the world.”

Ann Walker’s Paella Recipe

(It will make you smile.)

The Chef has even developed a recipe to bring paella into the comfort zone of California’s back yard cooks—Paella cooked on the Weber.  Don’t let the length of this recipe intimidate you. It goes quite fast and once you have it down, making a paella is ridiculously  simple.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 pound tomatoes, chopped

1/2 pound cleaned squid, tubes sliced into rings

1 1/2 pounds meaty chicken pieces, cut into chunks. Use all dark meat for more flavor.

1 pound thinly sliced Spanish chorizo

2 teaspoons salt, or more, to taste

6 cups chicken stock, fish stock or water

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

3 cups short-grain rice, preferably Valencian or Italian

1 pound cleaned mussels, in shells.

1 pound prawns, in sells

1 cup fresh peas or 1 pound asparagus tips (optional)

2 lemons cut into wedges

Light the coals in a covered Weber-type barbecue. When coals are white hot, heap them in center. Place paella pan on grill above hot coals and pour in the oil. When the oil is hot, add onion, garlic and cook until limp. Stir in tomatoes and cool until dry. Push the vegetables to the side, add squid, chicken and chorizo. Sprinkle with salt. Grind the saffron threads to a powder in a mortar and add or simply rub the threads between your palms and sprinkle over the chicken.

Continue coking, turning the chicken pieces over until it begins to brown, about five minutes. Add the stock or water. At this point you may want to add a few sticks of kindling to the fire to bring the stock to a boil.

Taste for salt. The broth should be slightly salty. Continue to cook with broth at a rapid boil for about five minutes.  Stir in the rice, turning the chicken over so all the rice is submerged in broth and cook for about ten minutes.  Arrange prawns over the top of the paella. Arrange the mussels hinge side down around the edge of the paella. If you are adding peas or asparagus tips, do it now. Cook another five minutes, then close the cover of the cooker and cook another five minutes.

Remove the paella to the table and cover with a cloth, letting it rest for about five minute. Decorate with lemon wedges, garnish each dish with a lemon wedge and squeeze over each dish.

Smile.

 

 

 

Anytime Is Rosé Time

rose for blog

The Chef and I (aka The Wine Chap) would like to ask our faithful wine and food followers to quit thinking of rosé as a ‘summer’ wine.

Listen, people, I am not even sure what a ‘summer’ wine might be but rosé is a year around wine.  Case in point: The Chef and I just had a picnic in our living room, as you can see in the photo.  It was a coolish day for San Francisco, temperature in the mid-50s and our favorite picnic spot (a table in the Presidio overlooking the Golden Gate) would be in the shade soon.  So we packed our picnic into the living room where the sun shone warm and cuddly through the western facing windows, popped open a bottle of Marqués de Cåceres rosé from Rioja, ($6.99 at Trader Joe’s, yes, really) matched it with some good charcrut from The Spanish Table and Falletti Foods deli (handy in the ‘fridge) and enjoyed a splendid picnic.

Point is, rosé is a wine for all seasons.  Sure, it is a great hot weather wine—something we rarely experience in San Francisco—but  on a cool January afternoon it brings the warmth of summer into your glass.

Rosé is also a wine for all foods.  The Chef loves just about any dish from the Mediterraneé, and we have yet to have one that wasn’t a good fit with rosé.  Rosé is a must-match with paella, for example.  Vegetables  with rosé.  Try it with Thai food, too. Snapper Veracruzano or Fish Tacos.  Let rosé, an affordable wine, be your go to wine anytime.

Some recent favorites, besides the Cåceres, include Muga, another Rioja rosé, another Spanish entry welcome on our table anytime is Chivite Gran Feudo Navarra Rosado. From California, try a glass of Uvaggio rosé, or if you want to go slightly upscale, Bonny Doon Vin Gris Cigare is marvelous  For bubbly, go to the  Antech “Emotion” Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé from France, Roderer Estate Brut Rosé from California or Segura Viudas Brut Rosé from Catalonia.   Most of these are under $15.

So, please, no more nonsense about rosé being a summer wine.  Think  pink year round.

 The Chef (Ann Walker) and The Wine Chap (Larry Walker)

 

 

“If You Want Me I’ll Be in the Bar”

I have always loved that line from Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’ but The Chef and I have given it a revised meaning. Whenever we get a chance, we like to eat at the bar. Of course, the obvious reason is there is often a couple of stools open at the bar when all the tables are full. That gives us a chance to go out for lunch or dinner at the last minute without reservations.

Perhaps because my mother was a bartender I have always like to hangout and talk to the person who has the keys to the liquor cabinet. If they are good, they will know the menu and be able to give you the inside scoop on the food while shaking up your cocktail or pouring your glass of wine. This often leads to conversations and exchange of information with other patrons at the bar. If, on the other hand, you don’t feel like indulging in bartalk, you don’t have to but you are still right there at stage center—-a good restaurant after all is good theater.

A case in point was lunch recently at Mateo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg. The Chef and I were returning to San Francisco after visiting friends in Mendocino. As we neared the Central Healdsburg Exit The Chef declared a great hunger and thirst. She knew we were only five minutes from Mateo’s, so expectations were high. And were fulfilled, I might add.

At any rate, we were on the early side for lunch with plenty of empty tables but we opted for the bar, where The Chef ordered a bartender’s special, a margarita made with mezcal and a mixture of spicy bits including diced radish! Yes, really, and it was delicious. I opted for a trad margarita made with mezcal blanco.

We consulted the bartender on lunch choices. He knew the source of most of the food and the names of the producers and suggested some personal favorites and offered good tips on lunch choice. You can’t find that information on Yelp or even at a table for two.

—The Chef (Ann Walker) and (The Wine Chap) Larry Walker

Three Choice Chardonnays

pruned_chardAccording to Wine Institute, California’s wine trade organization, Chardonnay is easily the most popular wine variety in the U.S. with national sales approaching 25 per cent of all wines sold in grocery stores.

One reason for its popularity is most Chardonnay is fruity enough to make a refreshing aperitif yet has the depth and flavor range to go with a wide variety of foods. Chardonnay is also very responsive to where it is grown and how it is treated in the winery. Descriptions of Chardonnay range from green apple to citrus but with oak treatment is can turn toasty with vanilla and buttery overtones.

Let’s have a taste of three California Chardonnays, all from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, prime Chardonnay territory.

The 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Estate Block Chardonnay ($30) is, the first time the winery has produced this particular bottling. The vineyard is in the eastern reaches of Russian River Valley. Dry Creek has been upgrading the quality of the wine for several years—and it was damn good to begin with. The wine was barrel fermented in French oak, which gives it a warm, buttery base overlaid with pear and apple tones. The wine would go well with salmon, a Mediterranean style fish stew, grilled chicken, among other dishes. And be sure to save a glass for the English Cheddar cheese after dinner.

Kosta Browne 2011 Russian River Valley One Sixteen Chardonnay ($58) is from the cool Green Valley, a sub-appellation in the Russian River Valley appellation. The name, by the way, comes from state highway 116. If you follow 116 you will find some damn fine wine along the way. This wine has good acidity, bright uplifted flavors grounded in ripe citrus leading to a lush wraparound finish. The wine could work as an aperitif but try it also with milder Asian or Latin American dishes as it has the balance and acidity to deal with a few chilies.

Marimar Estate 2011 Acero Chardonnay, Don Miguel Vineyard Green Valley, Russian River Valley> ($29) Here is that rare Chardonnay that has never been introduced to oak. Acero is the Spanish word for steel and this wine was fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel tanks, which means you are getting the pure—and in this case lovely— Chardonnay fruit. The vineyard is only ten miles from the Pacific Ocean and planted with a high density of 2000 vines per acre. This style of planting lowers the yield but creates more intense fruit in the wine. In the glass, this wine is elegant with bright lively lemon and white peach tones with a pinch of ginger. The finish is long and dry. Owner Marimar Torres recommends serving it with light tapas. I would be happy to have a glass with a root veg soup—-parsnip, anyone?—or a creamy goat cheese.

—Larry Walker, the Wine Chap, with an assist from The Chef, Ann Walker.

Jewish News Honors Ann Walker Catering

HEIRLOOM TOMATOESHeirloom tomato salad, one of our seasonal dishes

 

Ann Walker Catering is  greatly honored to be named the best nonkosher caterer in the North Bay and one of the top nonkosher caterers in the Bay Area by Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, based on voting by readers.  The award was announced in the August 15 issue of J-News.

J-News noted that Ann Walker Catering is a family operated full-service, one-stop catering company, established in 1976. (My how time flies!)

Executive Chef Ann Walker and her son and business partner Morgan Walker said they will continue work hard  to live up to the honor and they want to thank all their friends and clients in the community who voted for them.

Thank you to the staff  and readers of the Jewish News Weekly!

 

Oh Where Shall We Get Married?

 

Two very important decisions about your wedding day are where you will get married and who will cater the wedding?

Both decisions depend on what you really want from the wedding? What is most important?  One thing to keep in mind is that a wedding is a party, a special kind of party but, bottom line, a party. You want to have fun and you want your guests to have fun. When choosing a location, think about what you would like to do at this very special party.  Is it dancing?  Is it the food?  Do you like edgy, creative parties or a relaxed, kick back party?

When looking at potential wedding sites start with the basics.  Is there parking?  If food is important to you, is there adequate kitchen space?  Is there good access for catering staff?  Are there restrictions on music or the length of the party? Look for hidden costs.  One example: does the wedding site have tables and chairs or will you have to rent them?  Rentals can add considerably to the cost. The future bride and groom should discuss all these things well before choosing a site.

Finally, don’t forget that it’s about having fun. Sure, there will be things that go wrong. There is rarely any sort of party that comes across exactly as planned. Don’t let those mistakes spoil the day for you.

©2012 Ron Scherl

©2012 Ron Scherl

Salud!

 

 

 

The Pleasures of Petite Sirah

2009Lot 96 bottle shotFor a change of wine pace at your next party, put aside the usual suspects—Cabernet Sauvignon,  Merlot,  Syrah and the rest of the common cru—and uncork a bottle of California Petite Sirah or petty sir as the old timers called it.

The back story on Petite Sirah is a little complicated.  It was developed in the 19th century in southern France by Dr. Francois Durif after he found it growing unannounced in his vineyard. Turns out the grapes is a naturally-occurring hybrid of an old French variety, Peloursin and Syrah.

 When the grape was introduced into California in the 1880s, it changed its name, not unusual for an immigrant in those days, and became Petite Sirah. The new name was based on the mistaken belief that the grape was a clone of Syrah, rather than a hybrid.  (The real puzzle is why didn’t they just call it Petite Syrah?)

 Petite Sirah was often planted as a field blend with Zinfandel, among other varieties, and was widely regarded as a blending grape, not a grape to stand alone.  However, a few wineries have always taking it seriously, notably Concannon in Livermore and, more recently Stags’ Leap in Napa.

 In the right hands, it makes an excellent every day drinking wine, often selling for between $10 and $15 a bottle.  It has a rich, inky black color, black pepper tones and a full and lingering mouthfeel. True, Petite Sirah is not for the faint hearted. The flavors are robust and dense. Did someone say pizza?  And did someone else say tacos?  Right both times.  It would also be a great quaff for a casual wedding barbecue.

 

BoglePetite.NVHiRes

Some of my current favorites include Bogle,  Clayhouse, Concannon, Foppiano, Lava Cap, Parducci, Tres Sabores and Wilson Vineyards.

 If you want to know more about Petite Sirah and taste dozens of them, the Eighth Annual Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting (with food to match) will be held at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda February 21. For more information check out www.psiloveyou.org and for tickets go to darkdelicious.brownpapertickets.com.

Here’s a cool thing—there are discounts for designated drivers.

Check it out.

Winewalker.lar@gmail.com

 

J. Lohr Wines Better Than Ever

Riverstone Chardonnay VineyardJerry Lohr, a farm kid from South Dakota, planted his first wine grapes in the Arroyo Seco appellation of Monterey County just over 40 years ago. Lohr has been making good wines ever since, but recently they have reached a new level and deserve to be mentioned with the best of California wines. This is especially evident in the new J. Lohr Cuvée Series, a trio of wines that are in a sense an homage to the great wines of Bordeaux, but with a strong California accent.

The wines are made from grapes on Lohr estate vineyards in Paso Robles and are meant to represent three faces of the Bordeaux tradition. The Cuvée Pau is a blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, echoing the typical blend of the Pauillac region of Bordeaux. The Cuvée Pom is Merlot-based with a generous helping of Petit Verdot and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, a bow to the Pomerol region of Bordeaux. Cuvée St. E is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with a dash of Petit Verdot, similar to the Grand Cru wines of St. Emilion.

But you know what? Forget all that. That’s all wine geek stuff. What you want to do is get all three of the wines, a corkscrew, some wine glasses and call up a few of your favorite people and taste these magnificent wines.

Then go on to explore what Lohr calls his ‘family’ of wines—-Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and others—made from all estate vineyards in Paso Robles and Monterey. J. Lohr is one of the very few wineries in the world to maintain complete estate control over such a wide range of wines.

So keep a firm grip on that corkscrew and enjoy.

—Larry Walker
winewalker.lar@gmail.com

Old Crow, Still Winging It

oldcrowstoryAnn and I usually start thinking of Manhattan (the cocktail not the island) when the days grow short and there is a chill in the air, even here in coastal California. When it comes to Manhattan I’m a rye kind of guy. I think rye makes a more complex cocktail.
One recent foggy San Francisco night Ann slipped her favorite Rosemary Clooney disc into the stereo (‘Girl Singer’) and said, “I think it’s time we had a Manhattan.”
No argument there.
However, the only good liquor store nearby was already closed for the night, but there was a con store just around the corner. You know, the kind of store that sells a lot of cheap 12-packs of beer and pints of gin, along with an outstanding selection of chips and ice cream.
I popped around, had a look at the whiskey selection—there was no rye, of course—and noticed a bottle of Old Crow. I don’t think I had been near a bottle of Old Crow since my junior year in high school, but the price was right—$12 and change for a 750ml—so I decided to give it a try.
Let me tell you, it made a damn fine Manhattan, bold and assertive with just a touch of swagger. Even Ann agreed. Course, we made it with Antica vermouth so the vermouth was three times the price of the bourbon.

Ann’s Manhattan Recipe
1 part sweet vermouth
2 parts rye (in this case bourbon)
generous sprinkling of Regan’s Orange bitters. (Accept no substitutes.)
Shake well and serve up in a martini glass with your own DIY brandied cheery.
Cheers!

–Larry Walker
winewalker.lar@gmail.com