Monday, October 12, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Napa Valley

Last weekend Matt and I joined our good friends Jenn and Jay Crowell on a big adventure to Napa Valley, California for a four-day weekend of food and discovering the beauties of wine country. This was especially meaningful for Matt and I as we celebrated our 4th anniversary just the day before our departure, not to mention the fact that this is our last vacation together before our family of two becomes a family of three.

As a disclaimer, we planned this trip before we knew I was prego. So although I didn't get to enjoy any glasses of wine along the way, I did get to taste some of the wines that we sampled and have some input as to what we'd bring home to enjoy after baby Roddy arrives.

It would take up a lot of space if I were to share with you all of the details of our trip--we saw so many wonderful places and had so much great food--, so I thought an itinerary format would hit the highlights best. Enjoy!


Arrive in Napa

cocktails by the pool at the Westin Verasa, Napa

9:00 Dinner in Yountville at Bottega (Micheal Chiarello of the Food Network's restaurant)
-highlights: ratatouille rustic tart, housemade tagliatelle with bolognese, pesto and mozzarella risotto balls with pomodoro, eating on one of the oldest winery estates in Napa Valley

Breakfast at Bouchon Bakery (Thomas Keller of The French Laundry's bakery)
-highlights: perfectly made pastry and seeing the bakers at work through a viewing window.

Oakville Grocery for picnic lunch items

11:15 Pride Mountain Vineyards for tasting and tour
-highlights: fresh-pressed juice of unfermented viognier grapes, seeing the caves, tasting ripe grapes brought in for crushing off the vines, climbing switchback roads to the top of Spring Mountain.

1:00 Duckhorn Vineyard tasting

-highlights: sitting on the wide veranda enjoying flights of excellent wines as the heat of the day set in, picnicking in the gardens after our tasting appointment

4:00 Castello di Amorosa tour and tasting
-highlights: touring an authentically reproduced medeival castle complete with armory, great hall, and dungeons. Unfortunately, this place was more of a tourist attraction than a winery.

8:00 dinner at Angele back in Napa
-highlights: seared scallops over sweet corn and peas with bacon, chicken breast with housemade gnocchi and summer squash, eating outside on the wide patio with toasty heaters for the chill evening and candlelight.

Breakfast at Model Bakery in Napa's Oxbow Market

Morning by the pool at the Westin

Lunch at Taylor's at the Oxbow Market

-highlights: beer-battered onion rings, mahi-mahi tacos, and white pistachio shakes; a classic burger joint that's just so Napa with wine by the glass or microbrew beer to accompany your burger and fries

Afternoon nap and wandering Napa's Main Street

7:00 Dinner at Pizzeria Azzurro, Napa

highlights: Neapolitan style, wood-fired pizza. Almost as good as Via Tribuballi (we're all biased).

10:00 Olive mill tour and tasting at Round Pond
-highlights: seeing the entire process of cold-press extra virgin olive oil from tree to bottle, tasting meyer lemon and blood orange olive oils with fresh produce from the valley: heirloom tomatoes, greens, strawberries and cucumbers as well as fresh cheeses and breads.

Lunch at Ubuntu, Napa

-highlights: vegetarian and vegan fare that never leaves you wanting for meat, summer squash pizza, the best heirloom tomato salad we've ever tasted, lavender and chili flavored almonds, huevos rancheros in a savory bisque, mini carrot cupcakes

Wine tasting at the Vintner's Collective, downtown Napa
-highlights: tasting wines from boutique vineyards without their own tasting rooms, hanging out in one of the most historic buildings in downtown Napa.

Fly Home

3 squashes, 3 dishes

*My apologies... many of these foods were just too delicious to stay put for a picture. Hope you don't mind the substitutions I found on the internet for a few of these dishes.

So, over the course of three weeks, I received three different kinds of squash from my farm box--some that I had never even heard of before: 2 golden nugget squashes (also known as an oriental pumpkin, and, maybe it's also the same thing as a sugar pie pumpkin), 2 delicata squashes, and 2 acorn squashes.

Golden Nugget Squash/ Oriental Pumpkin

Acorn Squash

Delicata Squash
(picture borrowed from

I love squash, and I wanted to do something with them, but I had no idea where to begin and all my cookbooks seemed to ignore all other squash save the ubiquitous butternut. Exception, Jamie Oliver with his bizarre reference to cricket ball squash. Probably a British thing.

After a half hour on the internet, I found a host of recipes and learned that all squash are, more or less, interchangeable with a few adjustments for cooking time. I think everyone just chooses butternut because the skin is so thin and easy to peel and they have hardly any seeds. Even my pumpkin-like golden nuggets could be used for something worthwhile, despite the fact that I couldn't get my fancy chef's knife more than an inch into their thick hides.

I weighed out my squash on my digital scale and decided I had enough for three recipes (links to recipes by clicking on the name):
.:.The Splendid Table's recipe for Winter Squash Lasagne with sage, walnuts and kale;
.:.The Macrina Cafe Cookbook's recipe for Harvest Squash Loaf; and
.:.Jamie Oliver's recipe for Superb Squash Soup with the best Parmesan croutons.

The lasagne had to be made that very night (no matter it was already 6:00 and I still needed to go buy ingredients--we didn't eat until after 9:00) and I chose the delicata for this recipe, since it seemed tender enough to saute as the recipe called for.

Matt volunteered to make fresh sheets of pasta for the occasion (1 egg and 100 grams of flour per person, whiz in a food processor, bring together on the counter top and roll through the pasta-roller). I peeled, cored and diced the squashes and sauteed them with an onion, for about 20 minutes, adding garlic, parsley and sage for the last few minutes before taking them off the heat. By that time, the squash was soft, creamy, and charring in places.

While I sauteed the veg, I made a bechamel sauce with a basic roux/ white sauce recipe: 3 tbsp butter, melted in a pan, 3 tbsp flour, whisked into the butter for a minute or two, and 3 cups of whole milk, added little by little for a thick creamy white sauce. The Splendid Table recipe called for other kinds of spices, but I decided to keep it traditional and put nutmeg and a little salt in mine instead.

Once the squash, bechamel, and noodles were ready, we just layered them with generous amounts of permesan and gruyere cheese and baked them off for about 45 minutes. We also made kale simply sauteed in olive oil with garlic and salt to put the lasagne on top of once it was ready.

I have to say it, this recipe was incredible. Maybe my favorite of the three. Alas, we ate it with such focus that no photos were taken. Here's an idea of how it turned out from the internet.

The second and third recipes came into play when the Roddys came to town for the weekend and we hosted Sunday Supper at our house. We would have leftover lasagna, squash soup and salad for lunch and harvest bread with whipped cream for dessert.

Since the harvest bread called for a squash puree, I decided to use my golden nuggets for this task. I would have to bake them whole for 45 minutes before they would be tender enough to open, so then I could just scoop the flesh out of the shells and whiz it all up in the food processor for a creamy consistency. During this process, the thought occurred to me how easy (and cheap!) it's going to be to make baby food soon.

Following the Macrina recipe (except that I substituted sunflower seeds for the called-for pumpkin seeds, which I didn't find at Trader Joe's), the squash bread was out of the oven and filling the house with a promising aroma by the time everyone arrived.

Matt took the lead on the soup (anything Jamie), but I peeled and chunked the remaining two acorn squash for him--man those deep green grooves on an acorn squash make the process labor intensive. I did the whole thing with my chef's knife, wondering all the while if there isn't some easier way I don't know about (suggestions welcome). Everyone else drank beer and cider and ate great cheese (thanks Mama Roddy!) while we cooked.

Finally (finally!) we set the table and ate our efforts. The soup was creamy and savory with just an edge of spice from the thai chili Matt had put in it.

The entire meal was so satisfying that every one of us found a cozy spot to take a Sunday nap afterwards--only to awaken a couple hours later for harvest bread, coffee, and nutmeg scented whipped cream (photo courtesy La Tartine Gourmand).

Macrina's recipes usually make double batches, so I have another loaf of harvest bread in my freezer for the next foggy morning requiring a fall-ish indulgence.

I have to say, I think I can take on any gourd at this point. No more intimidation! And while, yes, Mr. Butternut, you are very nice in the kitchen, I can handle any of your friends in your stead. Hope you guys get a chance to try some of these recipes. I'll definitely be revisiting all three of them again.

Congratulations, Julie and Robert

We loved every aspect of your wedding. You are a beautiful couple and we have every reason to believe that the life ahead of you both will be filled with life and beauty. It's so good to see a well-suited pair these days. Here's to your new life together!

Matt's dinners

Matt's decided to take a more active role in the kitchen and cook one night a week on his own. We usually do a lot together, or I have dinner ready when he gets home from work at around 7:00.

The things he makes are usually photo-worthy, so I thought I'd share them from time to time.

Currently, he's working through two of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks. The following meal was Jamie's English Onion Soup with sage and cheddar. We had beets on-hand from our farm box, so those ended up in one of our favorite salads: beets, gorgonzola, toasted almonds, romaine, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Lack of internet...

...I suppose can lead to many things. For me, one of the results has been my absence here.

Which would explain the flurry of posts to ensue. Lots of pictures have been taken and events have transpired, but I just haven't had the opportunity to put them up. An afternoon at the library affords me some time to catch up.