Saturday, October 17, 2009

Wines Under $20

So, the economy being what it is, we have been enjoying some more affordable wines -- especially for those everyday dinners and patio chats.

After I wrote this up, I find that I am very partial to Oregon wines. I have been through Napa Valley more than the Willamette Valley certainly. Pinot Noir's are my favorite varietal, and since they are wonderfully produced in that region, I find that I go revert to them more than not. They are a great bang for your buck, in my opinion.

Henceforth are some of my favorite wines under $20. If you've had any of them, let me know what you think. If you haven't, do try some and report back. And feel free to make some suggestions as well!

Enjoy and Salut!

7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel
Approximately $14.00
Location: Lodi, CA

Produced from 7 "old" vines in California, it is a very earthy and fruit forward wine. Don't overlook the label on the back; it is great reading about "Seven Deadly Zins."

Acacia 2006 Pinot Noir
Approximately $20
Location: Carneros

I really like Oregon Pinot Noirs, but Acacia is producing a very nice Pinot Noir these days. And of course, Carneros is a terrific region for this varietal. A wonderful nose of plums and blueberry. You can also taste a bit of the oak from the barrel aging. Great with chicken, grilled salmon, wild mushrooms -- A very versatile wine.

Argyle Chardonnay Willamette Valley
Approximately $16.00
Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon

I have been to this winery, just outside Portland, and it's a delightful place -- lovely front porch, friendly pourers and great, highly-rated and inexpensive wine. You don't often think of Chardonnay's when you think of this wine region, but don't overlook it (along with the Pinot Gris' found in this region as well). This Chardonnay has overtones of walnuts and cashews and lemon -- just a gret refreshing wine. If you do look at the wines from Argyle, don't overlook their Pinot Noirs as well!

Jezebel Pinot Noir
Approximately $15.00
Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon

A great everyday wine from a small Oregon winery. Fruity and spicy, it's ready to drink and be enjoyed!

Martin Ray Merlot
Approximately $15.00
Location: Napa Valley

Your next beef or lamb roast with rosemary will pair excellently with this wine.

Raymond Reserve Merlot
Approximately $18.00
Great earthy flavors with a lot of fruit. A terrific all-around Merlot.

Rex Hill Pinot Noir
Approximately $20.00
Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon

This was the first Oregon Pinot Noir I was introduced to many years ago when my mother first to the region. Like most wines, some years are better than others. But this one is always a great "go to" when a Pinot Noir is needed to satisfy.

Sokol Blosser Evolution
Approximately $13.00
Location: Willamette Valley, Oregon

Sorry to be predjuced toward Oregon wines, but I know them well and couldn't resist adding another one to the list. Add this one to your next visit to the region -- sit down in their hilltop retreat and sip some wine and enjoy the view and you won't be disappointed.

Sterling Merlot
Approximately $19.00
Location: Napa Valley

Slightly tannic with a dry finish. A hearty wine for the fall season.

Trefethen Chardonnay
Approximately $14.00
Location: Napa Valley

A great Fall Chardonnay with its fruity flavors of apples, pears and lemons.

Twenty Bench Cabernet Sauvignon
Approximately $16.00
Location: Napa Valley

Bordeaux-like wine aged in American & French Oak. Cherry and chocolatey flavors and light tannins.

Willakenzie Pinot Gris
Approximately $10.00
Location: Willamette Valley

For me, Pinot Gris' taste better in the summer when I enjoy a lighter, colder and crisper white wine. And for once, I am recommending an Oregon white wine, though this vineyard also produces a terrific Pinot Noir under $20 as well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


OK, so you know you have a winning recipe when your 5-year old and 7-year old neighbors give it a thumbs up!

I had oral surgery a couple of days ago, so not much has been able to be eaten except for McDonald's flurries (Oreo, if you must know)! So, with my eating challenges combined with the fall air, I thought chicken noodle soup was a perfect thought.

I have made this recipe before and I come back to it again and again. It's very basic, has great flavor, is easy to make and even freezes well.

As you scan the ingredients, you'll probably see "mushrooms" and wonder why they are in chicken noodle soup. OK, I have some friends who don't like this vegetable, so you can either eliminate it or just skip this blog entry completely. However, for those that do dare to try it, I assure you it adds a depth of flavor that your normal chicken noodle soup would not have. You saute' the mushrooms in butter until browned, then add a splash of lemon and add to the soup just before adding the noodles for cooking. The browned butter flavor of the mushrooms is wonderful, in my opinion, and makes for an interesting and hearty soup.

And if Olivia and Estella, my young neighbors, enjoy this soup, I guarantee all of you will too! Slurp up and enjoy! It'll make you feel good -- inside and out!

Serves 12

16 cups low-salt chicken broth (or more if you like a lot of broth)
1 3-1/2 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, cliced
2T butter
1 c. sliced mushrooms
1T fresh lemon juice
8 oz. dried wide egg noodles
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

1. Combine chicken broth and chicken in heavy large pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover partially and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Using tongs, transfer chicken to large bowl. Cool chicken and broth slightly. Discard skin and bones from chicken. Cut chicken meat into bite-size pieces and reserve. Spoon fat off top of chicken broth.

2. Return broth to simmer. Add onion, carrots and celery. Simmer until vegetables soften, about 8 minutes. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover chicken meat and broth separately and refrigerate. Bring broth to boil before continuining.)

3. Melt 2T butter in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and saute' until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Add mushrooms to broth; stir in noodles, parsley and reserved chicken. Simmer until noodles are tender, about 5 minutes. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper.

Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1998

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Roast Chicken with Herbed Mushrooms

A long while back in my hotel career, we had a really attractive Chef. His nickname amongst us girls was "Chef Yum Yum." Nowadays, my "Chef Yum Yum" is Tyler Florence. His shows are easygoing, they produce easy and wonderful food and he's easy on the eyes. What more could you want?!

A couple of weeks ago, I cooked this Roast Chicken. It was extremely easy and made a very simple and elegant dinner. It is easy enough to be a weekday meal and fancy enough to serve to guests over the weekend. And the really wonderful thing is the aroma that the chicken gives to your home; your guests will think you cooked all day long for them.

Pair this with a lovely butter lettuce salad with a simple vinaigrette and something easy and chocolate for dessert. And voila!

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Serves 4-7 servings

1 (3 pound) organic free-range chicken

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 red onion, quartered
1/2 lemon, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 head garlic, about 6 cloves, smashed
1 bunch fresh thyme
1-1/2T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 pound sliced bacon, cut in 1/2
3 pounds whole cremini mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp towel

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Season the cavity with salt and pepper.

3. In a large bowl, combine the onion, lemon, garlic, half the thyme, and 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper and mix well. Stuff the bird with the mixture. Using 2 (3-foot) pieces of kitchen twine, tie up the chicken; tuck the wing tips between the wings and the body. Put the midpoint of the twine under the chicken, bring the ends up and around the wings and pull them tight against the body. Bring the ends of the twince up underneath the legs, wrap the sting around them, pull the legs together and tie them tightly. Place the chicken, breast side up in a roasting pan, and layer the strips of bacon on the breast until covered. Scatter over the remaining thyme, drizzle over some more olive oil and season everything with salt and pepper.

4. Roast the chicken for 1-1/2 hours; arrange the mushrooms around the chicken 45 minutes after roasting. Baste the chicken and mushrooms with the pan juices every 20 minutes. The chicken is done when an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (the legs should wiggle easily in their sockets).

5. Remove the chicken from the pan, cover with foil, and let stand for 10 minutes to rest. Serve the chicken with the roasted mushrooms and pan juices.

(Recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Vodka Raspberry Lemonade

It's officially Fall, but it's not yet feeling like it in Southern California. We're anxiously awaiting the cool weather and the time when we can make soup, pasta and hearty comfort food.

In the meantime, I do have to share my favorite summer cocktail. We served it quite a bit this past season -- it's refeshing, looks cool and tastes great!

At one time, I had an official recipe from some magazine, but after a few servings, like other things, the recipe becomes your own.

Ingredients include:

Raspberry Lemonade
Absolut Vodka (or the vodka of your choice)
Juice from 1/4 lemon or lime
Splash of Chambord

Shake in a martini shaker with ice. Pour into a glass of ice. Garnish with a wedge or lemon (or lime) and a couple of fresh raspberries.

Cheers to a fun Summer and a cool Fall 2009!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sushi Wasabi -- Tustin

I finally found nirvana in Tustin! Sushi Wasabi is undoubtedly the best sushi I have found in Orange County.

Based on a recommendation from a coworker, I tried Sushi Wasabi tonight. When I pulled up into this mini-mall in Tustin (Newport & Walnut), I wasn't sure I was going to go in. The restaurant is located next to an autoparts store and a donut shop and it doesn't have an attractive entrance. I ventured in and was sorry I had to leave.

Signs posted on the entrance door tell you that the restaurant only serves sushi. I asked to sit at the sushi bar and was immediately told that the service is "okamase" style, meaning that the Chef will prepare whatever is fresh that day; "trust him" the sign commands. This is the way I like to enjoy my sushi anyway as you get to try new things and experience new preparations. If you are into those funky cut and and hand-rolls, go to Wasa or somewhere else.

Tonight, I had oysters from Seattle, albacore from New Zealand, and other fish from around the world. The blue crab hand roll is a house favorite. Everything was extremely fresh and simply prepared. I had 12 courses and enjoyed every last bite. I wish I could have stayed there for the rest of the night.
Reservations are recommended, especially if you are a larger group. I dined early on a Friday evening, but as I was leaving at 7:30PM, the 40-seat restaurant was filling up fast. Prices are very reasonable considering the presentation, portions and quality.

Treat yourself to Sushi Wasabi the next time you're in the mood for sushi. You'll be happy you did and you won't go anywhere else!

Sushi Wasabi
14460 Newport Boulevard (at Walnut)
Tel: 714/505-3496

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ultimate Twice Baked Potatoes

Well, if you're going to go off your diet, you might as well make it count! Is there a more caloric way to do it than with Twice Baked Potatoes.

We had a large patio BBQ party the other night. I always struggle with making things that keep me out of the kitchen so that I can socialize with the guests. This is one of those perfect recipes. You can make it earlier in the day, then just pop them in the oven 15 minutes prior to serving.

This was a great accompaniment to our feast of: Filet Mignon with Parsley-Garlic Butter, Grilled Asparagus and Sauteed Mushrooms (and, of course, Raspberry Cheesecake).

Ultimate Twice Baked Potatoes
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Serves 12

6 large baking potatoes
12 slices thick bacon
1-1/2c. sour cream
3/4c. milk
1/4c. and 2T butter
3/4t. salt
3/4t. pepper
1-1/2c. shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
12 green onions, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bake potatoes in preheated oven for 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, place bacon in large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

4. When potatoes are done, allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a large bowl, save skins. To the potatoes, add sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper, 1/2 c. cheese and 1/2 green onions. Mix with hand mixer until well-blended and creamy. Spoon the mixture into the potato skins. Top each with remaining cheese, green ions, and bacon.

5. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Adapted from

Monday, September 21, 2009

Raspberry Cheesecake

Yes, it's been a long while since my last blog post. We started 2009 with a goal of losing weight, so that meant not doing as much adventuresome cooking as I would otherwise prefer. I am happy to now report that we have lost 50 pounds between us and I am back in the kitchen. My goal is still to lose a bit more weight and to keep it healthy, however, there are still the occasional deviations . . . which leads me to this post.

Of all the genres of cooking, baking is one of my favorite things. I find cheesecakes to be very easy to prepare and decadent to eat. And they are usually my most requested item.

This recipe is adapted from a Bon Appetit 1999 recipe which called for strawberries. I was in a more elegant mood for a recent patio party, so I choose raspberries instead. The glaze on top is a simply melted raspberry jelly, but I took it up a notch and added a splash of Chambord.

We all agreed the results were lovely and scrumptious. I hope you will try and enjoy just the same!

Begin preparing a day before serving
Serves 12

For crust:
20 whole graham crackers (10 oz. total), broken
3/4c. (1-1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
1/2c. packed golden brown sugar

For filling:
4 8-oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
1-3/4c. sugar
3T fresh lemon juice
2-1/2t. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3T all purpose flour
5 large eggs

For topping:
3 cartons of fresh raspberries
1 18oz. raspberry jelly
3T Chambord

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Wrap foil around outside of 10-inch diameter springform pan with 3-inch high sides. Combine graham crackers, butter and sugar in processor. Using on/off turns, blend until crumbs begin to stick together. Press crumbs onto bottom and 2-3/4 inches up sides of springform pan. Bake crust 10 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool while preparing filling.

2. Beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, salt in large bowl until very smooth. Beat in flour. Add eggs and beat until just blended, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Pour batter into crust.

3. Bake cheesecake until outer 2-inch edge of cake is puffed and slightly cracked, center is just set and top is brown in spots, about 55 minutes. Transfer cake to rack. Cool 10 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

4. Make topping: Whisk sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl to blend. Spoon topping over cake, spreading to edge of pan. Bake until topping is just set, about 5 minutes.

5. Cool hot cake in pan on rack. Chill overnight.

6. Release pan sides from cheesecake. Arrange whole raspberries, points facing up, atop cheesecke; cover completely. Stir jelly in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Add Chambord. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Brush enough jelly over berries to glaze generously, allowing some to drop between berries. Reserve remaining glaze in saucepan. (Cake and glaze can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover cake and refrigerate.)

7. Rewarm remaining glaze until pourable. Cut cake into wedges. Pass remaining glaze separately or drizzle on plate before serving.