Sunday, November 29, 2009

Our whirlwind day in Wine Country

Yesterday we decided to head up to Napa and St. Helena. Then just for fun Don decided we should trek over to Healdsburg too. Not exactly in the same area. But what the heck!

We started out at the store, Pollin's, to check on a few things. Elli went nuts when we pulled in the parking lot because there was the perfect pile of leaves right in front. She couldn't resist.

Then we headed to St. Helena to have lunch at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. I had the mushroom tamales filled with grits, almonds and chard with Yukatan salsa. The chard was a bit tough. Don had a salad - grilled rare ahi tuna, udon noodles, nori strips, sesame seeds and a miso glaze. Elli had chicken fingers that weren't very good - my little foodie said they were burned. And she was right they were a bit like chicken jerky. But her fries were awesome. So I was disappointed. The food was ok, but not great. And the service was ok. Bummer.

Next we stopped at Olivier in St. Helena to fill up our Olive oil bottle with yummy Manzanillo olive oil.

From there we headed to Healdsburg to find Michel Schlumberger Winery. I've read a lot about their wines and was looking forward to a taste. Lucky for us they let us in. It's by appointment only. Oops. The wine was great. The cabernet was definitely our favorite. The nice guys here recommended we head to downtown Healdsburg and check out Williamson Wines. That sounded good to us. The town is so cute. Plus, we could grab dinner.

We made a quick stop at Twomey so Don could taste the Merlot that I think is so good. It was quick. We got there at 4:55. They close at 5:00. Then we headed to town.

The Williamson wines were great! They pair each wine with food so you can really imagine what it would be like to drink the wine with a meal or appetizer, or dessert. It was an amazing tasting. One of my all time favorites. We liked it so much we joined their wine and cheese club. So now once a quarter we'll be heading to Healdsburg to pick up our wine and cheese. Fun!

We ended the evening at Manzanita 336 for pizza and salad. The pizza's totally hit the spot. Don had "The daily special" which was a mexican pizza with chicken and avocado and I ordered a chorizo and shrimp pizza. Of course Elli had pasta. We have lots of leftovers for lunch today.

The Napa Wine Train.

Tra Vigne and Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen.

Don looks like a secret service agent. He and his dog Sam were very serious.

Tasting wine at Michel Schlumberger in Healdsburg.

That's it. Have a great day!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Coconut Cream Pie - Heaven on earth

I tried Emeril Lagasse's Coconut Cream Pie for dessert tonight. There is only one word to describe it. Heavenly. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day. Of course we did do the meringue twice - because I forgot to add the sugar to the egg whites the first time. It came out perfect the second time - as you can plainly see.

There was only one other glitch. The rolls didn't really work out either. They never rose. They tasted like pretzels! But it didn't matter. It was still a great day. I hope yours was too.

I almost forgot, the wine for the evening changed slightly. Don pulled out a wine from the wine cellar for tonight. It was the 2000 Chimney Rock Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Oooooooh, was it good. And now it's all gone. Too bad.

Now it's time to settle down and watch a movie with the family.

See you tomorrow!

One hour to go!

Wow.  I don't know about you, but there has been a flurry of activity in my kitchen. Elli has been my sous chef all day. It's awesome. She's old enough that she can actually lend a hand. Like stirring the milk for the pie for 4-6 minutes so it doesn't burn. Love it. We've only had one disaster so far. We didn't hear the timer go off for the pie crust. So it's a good thing I bought frozen pie crusts and they come two per package.

The meringue is not quite right. It looks all wrinkly. So I just checked the recipe and realize I forgot to put the sugar in the egg whites. DOH! I'm going to scrape it off and do it again. Don's sleeping. He'll never know. Ever. He never reads this blog. So unless you tell him we're good.

Everything else is pretty much done. Just have to make the gravy.  I'm waiting for the turkey to finish to do that. Then I'll pop the dressing and potatoes in the oven too. Everything tastes sooooooo good. I don't know if you've ever had Ina's parmesan mashed potatoes. But they are divine. I've sprinkled some Parm on top so they will get a little cheesy top. Oh yeah. Hopefully the rolls will have risen so I can bake them. Fingers are crossed. If not, we'll have them for leftovers. No worries. It's just the three of us. And at the moment Don is sleeping on the couch watching the game. So actually, I can have dinner ready whenever I want. He'll never know the difference.

I definitely underestimated the amount of time they needed to rise. Probably should have made them this morning. Oh well. I've also decided to nix the green beans. I have a ton of food for three people.  We'll eat the beans when we make leftovers.

I'm sipping on my first glass of wine, BV Rutherford Cabernet. It tastes so good. Wilfred gave it 92 pts. He's right. It is good. It's twenty bucks at BevMo right now. (hint, hint)

It also feels GREAT to sit down for a minute.

I hope you are all having an awesome day!

Happy Thanksgiving!!! Blogging live today....yeah!

Good morning everyone! Or good afternoon to my east coast friends. I'm live blogging today. So if anyone is out there tell me what you're up to!!!

I'm out of my funk and totally enjoying my day so far.  We're watching the parade. I made a yummy breakfast of fried eggs, english muffins and chicken sausage which will hopefully tide us over until dinner at 3pm.

I ran into a friend yesterday (literally, I nearly bonked her with my cart in Safeway) it turns out she and her daughter don't have plans for today so hopefully they will be joining us for dinner this afternoon. I really hope they come. Thanksgiving should be spent with friends and family.

Menu for today is roast turkey breast, the Barefoot Contessa's fabulous Parmesan Mashed potatoes,  steamed green beens, cornbread dressing, home-made cranberry sauce, The Pioneer Woman's dinner rolls and Coconut Cream Pie for dessert. Phew.

I've got chicken broth simmering on the stove with carrots, celery, and herbs to use for gravy and the dressing. I made the corn muffins last night and chopped up the bread to let it dry out a bit.

I need to figure out the timing of everything.  So I gotta run.  I'll be back.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving - I'm not feelin' it this year.

I don't know what's wrong with me. But I'm just not into Thanksgiving this year. Actually, I do know what it is. We're not going anywhere and we're not having everyone over. I should be planning, shopping, cooking - and I'm not. Don doesn't want a big dinner, and I obviously don't want to cook a bunch of food for just three people. But we have to eat something. So what to do.

I made a boneless turkey breast one year. It was ok. Maybe I'll look for a new recipe and try that. I don't know. But I better figure it out. Thanksgiving is tomorrow. Zoiks.

I don't know about you, but my favorite things to eat on Thanksgiving are smoked turkey, parmesan mashed potatoes, home-made cranberry sauce, warm rolls and pecan pie with home-made whipped cream. Maybe I'll do just that. Keep it simple.

Elli will be really disappointed if we don't do something to celebrate. She's been learning all about the pilgrims and indians and what it means to give thanks. Check her out in her cute poncho. This was hand-made for her by a friend in Napa. We have so many people and so much to be thankful for.

Including my friend Rob Jensen at Testerossa. We'll be drinking his fantastic Pinot Noir wine on Thanksgiving. So what else will the mister and I be drinking? If my dad were here we'd start with bloody mary's or mimosa's. I've got some sparkling ready for that. mmmm. Then we'll move to wine in the afternoon.

Ok. I think I'm startin' to feel it. Better get shopping!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake

Yesterday was National Bundt Cake day. Who knew there was such a thing. I think I may petition for national Kris Mulkey day so I can be showered with gifts and money.  I don't want a stinkin' certificate or a key to the city. Give me the good stuff! But no one will probably nominate me with an attitude like that.

My sister Kathy has a really yummy bundt cake recipe that is so easy to make and so delish. There's no way to mess it up. Oh wait. I do recall the last time I made it I accidentally used brownie mix instead of chocolate cake mix. That is not a good substitute. Of course I didn't do it on purpose. The brownie mix was to make brownies. I just got the two boxes mixed up. So instead of a nice fluffy bundt cake, we got a nice, dense, two inch brownie/fudge like cake. It was tasty. But definitely not what I had planned.

But that was then, and this is now. Back to Bundt Cake Day. I learned about this kooky cake day from my friends at The Kitchn website. Check out these recipes. Brown Butter Pumpkin Bundt Cake? Oh yeah.  I think Don will like Eggnog Spice Bundt cake. Gonna have to check out that recipe for sure.

Ya know, the more that I think about it. How does something or someone get nominated to be "It" for a day? Anyone know?

Here's my sister Kathy's recipe.

Triple Chocolate Bundt Cake

1 box of dark chocolate cake mix
1 box of instant chocolate pudding mix
1 bag of chocolate chips (I like Ghirardelli )
1 3/4 cup water
2 large eggs beaten
1 t. vanilla (I use Penzey's double-strength vanilla)
2 T powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour bundt pan.
2. In a small bowl combine water, eggs and vanilla.  In a large bowl combine cake mix and pudding mix. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Don't over-mix.
3. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 50-55 minutes.
4. Let cook 15-20 minutes in pan.
5. Sprinkle/dust with powdered sugar when completely cool.

No cake is complete without a pretty cake plate. I like Italian pottery myself so if you don't have one, you better get shopping. Then get baking!

There you go. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My amazing modern dancer.

This is one happy, talented kid. Isn't she amazing? I just had to share.

Elli loves dancing and choreography more than just about anything. She'll dance anywhere, to any kind of music, any time. Commercials with good music are a favorite. She hears the new holiday tv ad for Gap and she springs into action in the living room. Then there's this song from the Black Eyed Peas I've Got A Feeling. I dare you to sit still listening to this song!!

Elli got these amazing photos for her birthday. Her good friend Lou Lou gave them to her framed. Her mom, Annie Parr, is the owner of Roco Dance and Fitness studio here in Mill Valley. What an awesome gift.

Thank you, Annie!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes - yum

I decided to do a little experiment with sweet potatoes and make twice baked sweet potatoes with a savory twist instead of a sweet flavor. I'm sure other people have done this, but I haven't.

I baked the potatoes, then scooped out the potato and mashed it up with a little butter, milk, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. I then popped them back in the oven until the tops got a little brown and crisp.

And guess what? They were delish. They were a really nice alternative to regular potatoes. And required very little milk and cheese. We'll definitely make these again. We served them up with some green beans sautéed with sun dried tomato and little steaks off the grill.

Another super easy, yet yummy dinner. I think I'm on a roll.

We drank a glass of Testerossa Syrah with dinner. So smooth and delish. The wine got a 90pt rating from Connoisseurs Guide. It runs about $16-$19 a bottle. And unfortunately, this bottle was gone before we knew it.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BBQ Pork Chops + Broccoli Slaw + Texas Toast + Wine = happy people

I decided to keep it simple last night. I've been killing myself making dinner lately. I race home, frantically make dinner, eat it in 2 secs, help my daughter with her homework, put her to bed then crash on the bed in an exhaustive heap. Finally I asked myself "Why are you doing this?" No one is asking me to do this. My husband is relaxing on the chair with a cocktail. And I'm running around like a crazy person.

I've decided to try and lighten up a little.

So last night we had BBQ pork chops which consists of slathering pork chops in BBQ sauce. I dug through the pantry and found Trader Joe's BBQ Sauce (Smokey Sweet with just the right amount of kick.) It doesn't get much easier than that. Then you grill them. I had some super thin chops so I grilled them 2 minutes on each side. That's it. Take 'em off the grill and let them rest wrapped in foil for a few minutes before you serve them.

For the slaw I tried Trader Joe's Broccoli Slaw. I followed the recipe on the back of the package. You add 1/4 cup dried cranberries, 1/4 cup walnuts chopped, 1 cup granny smith apple peeled and diced and 1 cup of slaw dressing. I use Marie's Coleslaw dressing. It is the best. I make the worst slaw dressing, so I stick with Marie's. Everyone loves it and they think I made it from scratch. Love that. (Hint: Make this first and let it sit in the fridge for a few minutes.)

The final part is some Texas Toast.  Which is basically thick sliced bread with some butter and garlic salt toasted. I added some Gruyere cheese. That's it. Dinner is served. Very little mess. I'm not stressed out. And it was quite delish.

The only eye roll I got from the mister was when I asked him to be careful not to scratch the new plate with the steak knife. The plate is new. He's a boy. He doesn't care about these things. Plus he just finished telling me a story about how his bookkeeper ran over the camera with her car - because he dropped it in the parking lot and didn't notice. Amazingly, it still works. But I'm sure he has his eye on a new gadget. Cuz that's the way he rolls.

Holy cow, I forgot about the wine. I had a glass of La Olma Old Vine Zinfandel. Ok, I had two. It was delish. And all gone now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Winter Squash Soup with Gruyere Croutons

I've been reading about all these fall recipes which call for Butternut Squash, so I decided to buy one. I then had to search for a recipe to make. I decided on a soup that was on the Smitten Kitchen blog called Winter Squash Soup with Gruyere Croutons.

I took her advice and roasted the butternut and acorn squash first then I made the rest of the recipe. It was very simple to make. But of course I still made a huge mess in the kitchen. I really amaze myself sometimes. Even when I had my super duper huge kitchen I made a huge mess. It doesn't really matter - but it can get annoying. Especially to me since I'm the one cleaning it all up.

After everything has simmered you are supposed to blend the soup in a blender to get it all pureed. We don't have a blender anymore so I used my little blender wand thingy. We got it as a wedding gift. It's practically an antique now, but still works like a charm. Then to get it even smoother I pushed the soup through a strainer before I served it so it was nice and smooth. Plus there were a lot of thyme bits I wanted to get rid of.  It took a lot of pushing and squishing. But I finally finished.

Then, just before you serve it, drizzle a little heavy cream on top. Oh yeah. Yumalish. As I was eating it I thought of how I could have whipped the cream and added a pretty dollop to each bowl which would then melt in.

The verdict? The soup tasted good. The gruyere cheese toasts were divine. I'm not sure I'll make the soup again, though. There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn't make me go crazy. Like say the chicken enchiladas did. purrrrrrrrrr

And I'm ok with that. Maybe I'll just whip some cream and skip the soup. But that's the kind of thing that makes a girl gain 5 pounds. So I better not.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chicken Enchiladas

This past Monday I was reading Ree Drummond's blog, The Pioneer Woman, she had posted a recipe for White Chicken Enchiladas that looked so good. I knew I had to make them that night. It didn't matter that my day was going to be nuts and that I probably wouldn't be home until 6ish. I was going to make these.

Amazingly, I had most of the ingredients on hand. I just had to pick up a few things - fresh cilantro, sour cream and peppers to roast.

So when I got home I kicked it into gear.  Peppers were immediately placed in the toaster oven to roast. I  cooked chicken breasts in a pan. Chopped onion and some carrots, grated cheese, softened tortillas, made the sauce -it was frickin chaos in my teeny tiny kitchen. It seriously looked like a taco truck had a run in with ....another taco truck.

Now I will admit, about halfway through I thought to myself "Why am I doing this?" But at that point it was too late to turn back.

Anyhow, I finally got it all put together and in the oven. But not before Elli and I gave everything a taste test. Ooooooh it all tasted so good. The white sauce with sour cream and cheese. Oh yeah.

I was so wiped out from the speed cooking I didn't even make anything to go with the enchiladas. No rice. No salad. No beans. Nothin'. And you know what? It was fine. The enchilada's were really good and filling. We really didn't need anything else.

So I highly recommend you skip on over to Ree's blog and print this recipe so you can make it immediately. Because even Mr. Mulkey was impressed. "Where did you get the recipe?" he asked. "Ree" I said. "Who is Ree" he said. "She's the Pioneer Woman! You know, the lady from Oklahoma that I saw at BlogHerFood......" he pretty much tuned me out here. Anyway, Ree has a new fan now. He won't read her blog. But he sure will enjoy the recipes.

White Chicken Enchiladas

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ear Piercing at Claire's

Elli has been begging us to let her get her ears pierced. I've been putting it off wondering if she was responsible enough. I told her she could get them pierced when she was 13. This did not sit well with her. Don and I finally decided it would be ok - cuz we're softies - she's 8. We didn't make it anywhere to close to 13.

You can imagine her surprise when we told her on her birthday that she could get her ears pierced. It was the best moment. There is nothing better than getting something that you really, really want. It is the most incredible feeling.

So on Saturday morning we went to Claire's and she got them pierced. She was a mish mash of emotions - super excited, scared, anxious, but mostly excited. She picked out her earrings and within a matter of minutes it was done, and pretty much pain free. She said she felt like a new person. She even acted more mature!

Sitting in the chair getting ready for the big moment. (Looking a little scared!)

Squeezing the bear that resides in the ear piercing chair.

Sitting very still while we mark her ears, and make sure the dots are even.
(Isn't she gorgeous?! I can say that, I'm her mom!!)

Checking it out for the first time.

My gorgeous little lady. Snaggletooth and all!

So now she says she is ready to drive. That's right. Drive a car. She said she feels like she's 19 and she should be able to drive. Ay yay yay. What have I done?

Oh, and there was no shortage of shmoozing after she got her ears pierced. "Mom? How did you learn to be such a great mom? Was there a book?" she asks. "Well, I say. There isn't a book. You just figure it out. I think about what my mom did." I say. "Oh, cuz I  want to be just like you. So when my little girl asks for something she really, really wants....." And then she basically proceeded to tell me I'm a sucker and a softie. Oh well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I love fall and Pumpkin Bread

For me, nothing tastes more like fall than pumpkin bread. Or pumpkin bagels and cream cheese from Einstein Bros. Bagels or Noah's Bagels here in California. Their pumpkin cream cheese tastes just like pumpkin pie. I can taste it now.

So I made my first batch of pumpkin bread on Sunday. I always make a double batch so I can use the entire can of pumpkin. This time I bought the pumpkin puree from Trader Joe's and for some bizarre reason decided to bake it in a 9 x 12 pan. I don't know if it's the pan or the pumpkin. But it doesn't taste quite right. It's good. But I've had better.

Don't get me wrong, we're all eating it. And no one is complaining. Maybe it's just psychological. It should be a bread slice and it's not. It's square and looks like cake. But it's not cake. It's bread. Sort of.

Now I think it's just me going crazy. That is a very strong possibility. Maybe it's just time for a new recipe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fatboy in the Playroom

So last week Don decided he wanted to get rid of the couch in Elli's playroom. It was taking up too much space and the style of the fabric was all wrong for the playroom. Ok. "But, that's the only place to sit in there." I say. He then proceeds to tell me he's going to get big bean bags chairs called FatBoys for the playroom. Hmmmm.

Here's the thing. We live in a small townhouse, and I would really like to put a bed in the playroom (which is actually the 3rd bedroom) so we could actually have overnight guests. Nope. Not gonna happen. Don doesn't want a bed in there - he wants these big jumbo bean bag chairs. They are very cool. And it will look awesome in there with Elli's lime green chair and the white shelving.  They come in solid colors and in Marimekko prints - which I LOVE. But will not match the giraffe print lime green chair.

I'm not sure how they'll look with the antique secretary and antique dry sink that also reside in there. I have a feeling we'll be taking a drive to our storage unit pretty soon. Did I mention we have a 48' storage unit which is the size of a large moving van - and it's filled to the rim? It's horrible. Anyone need any garage tools? A King Bed? Kitchen stuff? Linens? China? We've got it. I'll give you the number of our unit and you can help yourself. And I'm not kidding.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Kongsgaard Chardonnay

One of the perks of having a business up in Napa is that you get meet fabulous wine makers like John and Maggy Kongsgaard.

After a cool tour of their wine cave they gave Don a bottle of their Kongsgaard 2006 Chardonnay - which he brought home and we thoroughly enjoyed. The wine was fantastic. It was light, crisp and fruity, not oakey or buttery - which are my least favorite characteristics of Chardonnay.

They produce a limited number of bottles. So the only way to purchase the wine is through their wine club or in a restaurant. You can find a list of restaurants on their website.

There are websites that will help you locate hard to find wines. One is a website called Snooth. I found this description of the Chardonnay on their website. Stephen Tanzer gave it a 95 rating. Wow. It's definitely a special occasion wine in my world. Too bad we drank it on an ordinary Tuesday. Oh well. It was still delish, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Strawberry Napolean

Really. What's not to love in this picture? Crisp puff pastry, strawberries, vanilla pudding with fresh whipped cream and chocolate drizzled on top. That's pretty much what Strawberry Napolean is in a nutshell. Which is what Elli requested for her birthday dessert. And let me tell you. It was delish. I'm still a little stuffed from the big piece I ate - pictured here.

We have a lot of traditions in my family which I love. For your birthday your day starts off with a birthday parade. Doesn't matter your age. Everyone gets a parade. If you're a guest in my house on your birthday you get a parade too. It's a great way to start your day. Everyone brings you gifts and cards and treats you like royalty. Who wouldn't like that?

You also get to pick your favorite thing to have for dinner and dessert.  Elli picked pasta for dinner and Strawberry Napolean (as pictured on the Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry package) for dessert. For the pasta we made my friend Rawan's special sauce and fettucini pasta. We also had super yummy, buttery garlic bread made with sourdough bread and a Caesar salad which Elli helped me make.

Now to the best part, dessert. Usually the birthday person doesn't have to do any work on their birthday but Elli wanted to help. So she was right by my side making dessert. It was really fun and tasted really great.

Elli cutting the puff pastry dough into three strips.

The baked puff pastry.

Adding the pudding and whipped cream, and strawberries....

and finally the chocolate drizzle.

Ta da!

Happy Birthday Elli!

The dessert was delicious. It didn't look perfect, it was a tad messy, but it tasted fantastic and was made with lots of laughs and love and that's all that matters.

Strawberry Napoleon

1/2 package Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
1 package vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
1 cup milk

    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
    • 2 teaspoon milk
    • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
    • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips melted

Heat the oven to 400°F.

1. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface.  Cut the pastry sheet into 3 strips along the fold marks.  Place the pastry strips onto baking sheets.
2. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.  Remove the pastries from the baking sheets and let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes.  Split the pastries into 2 layers, making 6 in all.
3. Prepare the pudding mix according to the package directions with 1 cup milk in a large bowl. Fold in the whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Stir the confectioners’ sugar and 2 teaspoons milk in a small bowl.
4. Spread the confectioners' sugar mixture on 2 top pastry layers.  Spread 3/4 cup pudding mixture on 1 pastry layer. Top with about 1/3 cup strawberries. Repeat the layers. Top with an iced pastry layer.  Repeat to make a second dessert. 
5. Melt some chocolate and drizzle over the top.
Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.