Monday, July 7, 2014

Travels and Tastes of Oregon Wine country – Willamette Valley


I arrived in Portland to a cold, wet and dreary day, not the best start to wine filled weekend designed to admire Oregon’s beauty.  A clerk at the rental car company awarded us with a bright yellow car perhaps to distract us from the pouring rain.  As you might imagine the car was immediately christened “Sunshine” and in the hopes of such off we went south to the Willamette Valley. 


There was nothing else to do but find the most scenic route to the hotel, docking into one winery after another to avoid the rain.  But even the bad weather could not hide the sheer beauty of the farm country.  As far as eye can see there is a fertile farm land with sea of berry and hazelnut orchards.  Cattle and horse ranches all framed by the hedges of blue solder pines on the horizon.  The ornate rain clouds melting into their tops creating an austere landscape of grace and intimidation.

In all the travels through various wine countries I have never seen a more beautiful one, with each winery perched up on the vast hills offering views of their vineyards rolling down, melting into gardens and orchards.  There were wineries drowning in picturesque gardens and ones providing a bird’s eye view of the entire valley.  Every time we walked into a tasting room, we surely thought that the view cannot be topped only to be toppled at the next.

For the most part Oregon’s wineries are small in comparison to their neighbors to the south in California.  Most often these are family affairs, where it is not uncommon to meet the owner or the wine maker in the tasting room.  There are no busloads of Asian tourist and neon signs “Wine Here”, there are no conglomerate atmosphere. 

 Just an intimate feel of being a guest in someone else’s home, where the wines are names after the children in the family and the winery dog ( or cat) meets you in the parking lot and gives you a personal tour of the vines, then escorts you into the tasting room all for the price of a good belly rub.

When I die I hope I am re-incarnated as a winery dog anywhere in the world.  I couldn't imagine a happier existence than that. 
Of course you may choose to be reborn as a winery cat or a horse, I imagine their lives not too shabby either.  Roaming free, enjoying the guest’s company, lounging around on the sunny patio and chasing rabbits through the vineyards.


It were a pair of such happy Australian Shepherds that met us in the parking lot of the Wine Country Farm Bed and Breakfast and nosed us into the most magnificent view of all, the desk on top of a hill home to 10 wineries, which we would be calling home for the next few days.  

The landscape along made us sit outside in the chilly weather every night, warming up with local port, just so that we wouldn't waste a second of the fascinating and hypnotizing landscape. 

I came to call the hill on which we lived an enchanted one, as one day we never even made it down from it.  We just circled around on it, going from one winery to the next, with our legs getting more wobbly and minds losing their sharpness fueled by the exquisite Oregon Pinots.  You have to admire the Oregonian’s for sticking to the wine that works in their region.  All over the country, folks are trying to grow wines that just cannot be successfully produced in their climates. 

 Upstate New York tries desperately to grow big reds, instead of sticking with Rieslings and Cab Franks.  California wine growers try their hand in Rieslings which is a waste of time.  Not in Oregon, they know what works and stick with it and if you are hunting for a perfect Pinot Noir (whatever perfect means to you - wink to “Sideways”), you will find it here.
But you can only drink so much, at one point you need to find a healthier activity so we ventured out to the coast, driving through gigantic pine forests that reminded me of German fairy tales from my childhood.  Driving for hours I realized that the state drink of Oregon is not wine, it is espresso.  No, not coffee, but espresso, pure and simple.  If you do not live in Manhattan, it is fairly difficult for you to get a decent shot outside of Starbucks anywhere else in the country.  Apparently not in Oregon, as even the tiniest of roads are littered with shacks selling Espresso.  If you have a cardboard box, a cardboard sign and a good espresso machine, I suggest you move to Oregon, you will be in business immediately.

Oregon coast is considered one of the most beautiful places to visit in the U.S.  It is not a happy, warm cost smelling of suntan lotion and little kids playing in the warm serf.  
This coast is serious at making you feel like the tiny human spec that you are on this planet.  Gray cold waters of the Pacific slamming into majestic rock formations, harsh winds blowing conforming pine trees to their direction, only seals and seagulls are comfortable in the icy waters. 
Thick forests leading up to the cliffs, the hiker’s paths lined with wild raspberries and blueberries, the magnificent display of nature at the seal’s beach, are all truly worth seeing. 
And for a little break from the nature’s intimidating display a nice beach side kite festival.  Although I wouldn't call those kites gentle, some of them were bigger them my house.
And of course no trip down the coast is complete without the stop at a local fish shack.  With fresh sea food delivered straight from the boats this is a must eat.  
A clam chowder with fresh dungeons crab meat or just caught Pacific Salmon thrown on the grill minutes after it’s caught, are more than delightful. 

Which brings me to my favorite part, the food.  If wine is not your thing, or should I say, not your only thing, Oregon’s food is worth making the trip for.  With everything growing there, it is inherently fresh, seasonal and local… and absolutely delicious.   
My little walk along the winery road early in the morning, yielded a perfect little breakfast of hazelnuts and cherries from a tree which must be every kid’s dream, huge, climbable, wild and full of sweet cherries.
With just tiny, one hoarse, towns along a few major roads in the valley there are a surprising number of decadent restaurants from simple bistros offering local charcuterie and cheese for your wine exhausted palate to stared fine dining establishments where talented chefs are experimenting with Pacific North West cuisine at its best. 
One such restaurant is Joe Palmer’s house where a chef is featuring an all mushroom tasting menu, another was the Painted Lady where a 6 course tasting menu shocked me to the core and gave me cooking inspiration for months to come.

And of course an honorable mention has to go out to Portland’s food truck scene and fresh farmer’s markets.  
The food trucks are not mobile, but line the perimeters of squares and provide an array of innovative world cuisines from grilled cheese to Georgian specialties. 
And once you are tired of eating in Portland you can always get lost in the Powell’s book store or take a Zen break in the Japanese gardens.

If you ever dreamed of owning a winery and imagined waking on a farm where you are one with the vines, the sky and the trees, or if you simply enjoy bobbling from one winery to the next,
Oregon is the place for you.  Marvelous people, who insist that the weather is never bad, beautiful landscapes that you can stare at for hours and delicious wine capturing the harshness of the coast in its acid, warmth of the sunshine in its fruitiness and luscious comfort of being from this beautiful corner of the world.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cedar Grilled Salmon





Grilled salmon is one of those dishes that can and should be spectacular but most often mediocre at best.  I don’t even order it in restaurants anymore for the fear of being presented with a dried our slab often covered in some kind of sticky sweet substance they call glaze.  It is one of those dishes on the menu that you would get if nothing else is making you salivate or if you overate the night before.  And why do they always put a piece of wilted steamed broccoli next to it and mark it as “smart choice”, do you have to be on Weight watchers to genuinely enjoy it?  

I have had it done great of course, but actually never at a restaurant it always started with a great fresh fish, preferably wild caught and sushi grade.  Served almost rare, with just a touch of char on the outside, raw pink and moist on the inside.  Seasoned just enough to make the fish dance on your taste buds, flaky and beautiful.   I am very much looking forward to trying it in Oregon next week, Pacific North wild salmon is a beautiful fish, and I hear they know how to cook it over there.

I made my own version last weekend and had grand reviews.  I was also antsy to try out Date syrup, which was brought to me by a friend on her recent Israel trip.  Date syrup is sometimes called Date Honey is a popular sweetener in the Middle East.  It is not honey, but rather a form of molasses left over from cooking dates.  It has a wonderful floral note and tastes mildly of dates and although very sweet, has a bit of pleasant bitterness to it.

During the last grand clean out of my pantry I found some long unused cedar grilling planks, which I totally forgot I had.  It seemed like a good idea to break them out and make the only thing I ever used them for, grilled salmon.

Next time you want to make a grand dinner in 10 minutes, try this….you will not be disappointed.

Cedar grilled Salmon
2 cedar grilling planks
2 large Salmon filets, skin on.  Preferably wild caught but most importantly sushi graded and super fresh.
2 tsp of sea salt
2 tsp of date syrup or mild honey
1 lemon sliced
A few springs of dill

Soak the cedar planks in warm water for a 3-4 hours or overnight.  Make sure they are fully submerged, you may need to weight them down with something heavy like a can or a brick.
Preheat your grill to a medium.  Lay salmon skin side down on each of the cedar planks.  Season with salt and drizzle the date syrup or honey on top.  Lay lemon slices and dill (do not chop it, it will burn and you will need to remove it before serving) on top.  Grilled for 7-10 minutes at a medium heat, so that the cedar planks have a chance to smoke and the fish is still medium rare in the center.
Remove the dill springs and serve immediately right on the grilling wood planks.


Devour and enjoy!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Chili spiced Chocolate Ice Cream



Long awaited summer time and I finally broke out the ice cream machine and have been making ice cream pretty much non-stop for 3 weeks.  My freezer gets full of these pints and they despair within days even though our family is not that big on ice cream.  I personally like making it much better than eating it.

What makes a great ice cream?  First of all, if you are an adult, it should transport you back to childhood and if you are a kid, it should make you feel giddy with joy.  Ice cream should be fun, there should be all kinds of things in it to make it interesting…fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, candy…something to break up the creaminess… and it should be luscious, silky and it should look and feel like the guiltiest pleasure…

Get all of the above right and you can write your own ticket to being the favorite host or mother. 
I made a slew of successful ice creams lately but I was very apprehensive about trying a chocolate one.  Chocolate ice cream is very tricky, cocoa texture and chemical composition screws up the creaminess and can taste chalky or gritty.  If you stand in front of your grocer’s freezer there is only one or two brands that get it right, the rest taste either artificial, or too chocolaty or not chocolaty enough or too “something is not quite right” kind of way.  I wanted to make an intensely chocolate ice cream and after scouring my ice cream making bible ( David Lebovitz’s The perfect Scoop) and going through a few failed attempts I think I got it just right.  I also wanted to bring something different to the party, my favorite way to eat chocolate is with either chili or sea salt, so I knew either of those things had to be incorporated.  I could not find a way to incorporate salt crystals without having them dissolve so that idea was quickly abandoned and I turned to my hoarded collection of various chilies.  I used ancho chili powder for its smokiness and mild heat, but I also think toasted Amarillo chili would work well if you like a bit more heat. 

Chili spiced Chocolate Ice Cream

Based on David Lebovitz’s Aztec “Hot” Chocolate Ice Cream recipe
This is a non-custard style ice cream without the eggs, but you would never know it as it comes out silky and creamy.

2 ½ cups of heavy cream
7 tbs of unsweetened cocoa powder ( Dutch processed)
½ cup of sugar
2 oz of bitter sweet chocolate chopped
2 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chopped
1 cup of whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbs of brandy -  optional
3 tsps of chili powder ( I used ancho but you can play with different ones to get the heat and the spice just right)

Whisk together the cocoa powder, cream and sugar and bring to a boil.  As soon as it foams up, turn off the heat and add the chopped chocolate.  Whisk to get the chocolate fully melted.   

  Stir in all the other ingredients and don’t forget the brandy ( I know it is optional but booze and chocolate go too well together to be ignored) and whisk until the mixture is silky smooth.  


You may even want to give it a whirl in the blender.  Store in a tight container to chill fully, than freeze according to your ice cream machine’s instructions.

Serve with something crunchy like toasted almonds or a bit of crunchy granola for extra texture.



Stay tuned for a new Travels and Tastes blog coming in a few weeks… I will be eating and drinking my way through Oregon’s Willamette valley, Portland and Oregon’s coast.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Crab Cakes with Chipotle Mayo sauce


Happy Mother’s day to me and to all the awesome mothers out there!

My blog has been long overdue, but I am back with fresh cooking ideas and lots of new thoughts… so here we go, spring in the air and a perfect Mother’s day weather to kick off the season.
There are few food indulgences that I cannot quite partake in… lobster, crab, oysters… luxury and delicious but I choose to forgo.  Not that I have a full blown sea food allergy, but I am uncomfortable enough to just say ‘no’.  And believe me, I miss it… the fresh taste of giant oysters at the London market, the gorgeous mounds of oysters and craw fish in New Orleans, the succulent lobster rolls at shacks along the Jersey shore… I love them all.  I just have to limit myself to one of each a year.  One perfect Lobster roll during my kid’s annual regatta is worth the few hours of misery afterwards.   Same goes for the perfect crab cake.  If done right, they are the most delicious thing on earth, but most of the time, they are the mediocre over-fried lumps that are not worth blowing a once a year allowance on. 
I have been craving crab cakes and since it Mother’s day and I am allowed some small indulgences today, I am going to make some for myself.  The idea is that you should be pampered to hell on Mother’s day doesn’t sit well with me.  As long as I am doing what I want, I don’t really care if I am the one cooking dinner, besides the annual “bacon and eggs in bed cooked by kids thing “is not good for my tush anyway.  So after a perfect hike in the park, I am off to fry up some crab cakes and enjoy my Mother’s day….

Crab Cakes with Chipotle Mayo sauce

For the crab cakes

1 lb of picked lump crab meat
1 ear of corn charred on the grill -  kernels cut off
½  hot pepper diced finely
2 tbs of sweet red or orange peppers diced finely
2 tbs of parsley chopped
1 scallion diced finely
1 tbs lemon juice
3 tbs of mayo
2  egg
¾ cup of panko bread crumbs
1 cup of plain bread crumbs
2 tsp of Louisiana spicy sea food seasoning ( any sea food seasoning mix heavy on cayenne will do)
½ tsp dried ginger
Salt and Pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying

Chipotle mayo sauce

1 cup mayo
1 tbs capers
1 tbs lemon juice
1 chipotle in adobo
1/2 tsp of dijon mustard
1 tsp horseradish or wasabi


Make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in the food processor, pulse until smooth.  Set aside.

To make the crab cakes, toss crab meat (pick though it to make sure there are no shells) with the panko bread crumbs and all the dried seasoning including salt and pepper. 

Add the corn, peppers and parsley.  Whisk may, one egg and lemon juice together and combine with crab and vegetable mixture. 

  Do not overwork.  The key to a perfect crab cake, it should not be dense, the batter should be on the dry side very flaky.  Refrigerate the mixture for 1 hour.

Heat vegetable oil in the skillet.  Beat one egg with a teaspoon of water and spread the plain bread crumbs in a plate.  Form the crab cakes by hand, briefly dip them in the egg wash and breadcrumbs.  Fry until just golden and heated through, about a minute on each side.  You can keep the warm in a 250F oven. Serve with the chipotle may sauce and warm corn salad.



Enjoy, and don’t forget or remember your mother today!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Virtues of French Mustard and a new twist on Beef bourguignon



I am mourning my not-to-be-this-year trip to Provence France.  I had this grand dream that I will be eating and drinking my way through a French farm country on my big birthday this year… I could almost taste it, a nursing a whisper of rosé wine in a sunlit glass as I linger at my four hour French lunch in a main square of some medieval village…  Not this year, perhaps never, perhaps someday in a distant future… I am sad, it was a lovely dream.

And while I wait for the lovely dream in years to come, my annual trip to Quebec will just have to do.  Once a year trip to French Canada supermarkets will just have to do to stock up on French culinary inspiration and mustard.  If I could buy this stuff by the gallon, I would, there is probably not a better condiment in the world than the real French Mustard.  It goes far beyond your deli meat or hot dog chaser; it is the ultimate flavor enhancer to just about everything.


If you don’t live anywhere near where it sold ( and I have not the real deal anywhere but in Canada and France), you can certainly order this mustard on-line.


Lovely, pungent and salty, I find a hundred and one way to use it… from making a lovely mustard tart ( which is essentially a quiche flavored with lots and lots of French Mustard, to using it in vinaigrette, pork belly braises and as a flavoring for homemade sausage.

Here are a few examples, but feel free to  experiment… any savory dish that you would add salt to could possibly benefit from a little mustard twist… Just a word of caution, French mustard is extremely salty, so use salt very sparingly or better season after you taste. 

When cooking pork chops add French Mustard to the marinade, than sauté apples and onions dressed with mustard in a little butter and use as chutney for the chops.

Make endless variety of vinaigrette by combining equal amounts of French Mustard, fruit preserves ( raspberry and orange are my favorites) with red wine vinegar and olive oil, whisk well and dress any salad.

Crust the duck breasts in honey and mustard before searing them.

When making egg or chicken salad, mix in some French Mustard with the mayo.

Next time you make a frittata add just a bit to the eggs before baking them

And my personal favorite… a twist on Beef bourguignon.  Stir 2 or 3 or 4 heaping spoonful’s in to the brazing liquid and watch an old classic become just a bit tastier…..

I am not going to give a full recipe for Beef bourguignon here, if you want a good one just stick to good old Julia Child recipe, its perfect, there is nothing to change except stir a few tablespoons of French Mustard into the mix… here is the link to the classic… and here are fun how to pictures….

Sear some bacon or panchetta 

  dry the meat with paper towels, and don't overcrowd the pan otherwise you will not get a nice sear color


Peel some pearl onions ( I swear, when I go to hell, this is exactly what I will be doing for eternity) 

Just like every Jewish recipe begins with 100 walnuts, every French recipe begins with Meripox



Blister the mushrooms


Make a bouquet garni with parsley,thyme and rosemary


Take in the aroma


if I close my eyes and sip rose wine I can be fooled, New Jersey de Provence.... is a new place to be....