Monday, January 25, 2010

Little Ole Wine Drinking Me

I don't cook every day, or close to it. But rather than let the blog languish under the weight of my odd travel schedule and penchant for eating cereal some evenings, I figure I can also post about peripherally related things, such as wine.

The other day on Chowhound, I saw a short article about Mexican wine from the Valle de Guadalupe, and a commenter praised the writer for being "ahead of the curve" when it came to discussing the region. Well, that commenter should be even more impressed that I actually went there more than a year ago. So there!

For anyone in Southern California, the Valle de Guadalupe is the PERFECT romatic weekend getaway. It's about 20 minutes east of Rosarito, meaning you can have lunch in San Clemente and be tasting wine by 4. I was there for a company retreat, but I could definitely see the potential for some lurve-filled days and nights in this gorgeous valley.

There are about a couple dozen wineries in the area, and two great hotels (Adobe Guadalupe, which incidentally makes what I consider the region's best wines, and La Villa del Valle, where we stayed). I believe both hotels will take care of your meals, but dinner at Laja is pretty much mandatory as well. (And yes, Laja's Web site is in Spanish.)

When my co-workers and I first arrived in the Valley, we stopped at Tres Mujeres (specialize in Tempranillo and Grenache). Three women run the winery, and one happened to be there to conduct a tasting with us in the adorable wine cave.

(Information: Kilometer 87, Hwy. 3; 011-521-646-171-5674)


I bought a bottle of Grenache (I'm holding it in the first picture of this post) and still haven't opened it... I'm waiting for a special occasion!

As mentioned, we stayed at La Villa del Valle, which at the time was almost brand new. So much great hospitality, including access to one of the best sparkling wines I've had in a long time. We loved it so much we drank all five bottles they had in the two days we were there. :)

The hotel itself is gorgeous, all Spanish tile and arched doorways.

Every day there was a perfect, glorious sunset just like this.
And lots of wine to be shared outdoors!

Here's a very partial list of some wineries in the Valley, courtesy of Food & Wine magazine.
Tasting-room hours in the Valle de Guadalupe are generally 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, but it's best to call ahead and make an appointment.

Casa de Piedra Winemaker Hugo D'Acosta produces an intense Tempranillo-Cabernet blend. Kilometer 93.5, Hwy. 3; 011-52- 646-156-5268.

Château Camou Known for wines like the Flor de Guadalupe Zinfandel and Blanc de Blancs (a blend of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay). Calle Principal, Francisco Zarco; 011-52-646-177-2221.

Mogor-Badan Winery A family-owned winery known for its crisp white Chasselas and its Wednesday farmers' market. Kilometer 86.5, Hwy. 3; 011-52-646-177-1484.

Paralelo Another Hugo D'Acosta–owned winery, distinguished by its ziggurat-style building. Kilometer 73, Hwy. 3; 011-52-646-156-5268.

Tres Mujeres Baja's only all-female team of winemakers—Eva Cotero, Ivette Vaillard and Laura MacGregor—Tempranillo and Grenache. Kilometer 87, Hwy. 3; 011-521-646-171-5674.
Viña de Liceaga Produces Chenin Blanc, as well as a Merlot and Grenache blend; also known for its Viña de Liceaga Gran Reserva wine, a blend made with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Kilometer 93, Hwy. 3; 011-52- 646-155-3091.

Viñas Pijoan Cult winery with a coveted Cabernet Sauvignon–Merlot blend. Rancho San Marcos, Hwy. 3 at "El Tigre"; 011-52-646- 178-3482; open weekends only.
Let me know if you go! I hope you love it as much as I did!
* FYI, the post title is a Dean Martin song

Curses, foiled again!

I love my kitchen so much -- black granite countertops, black French door fridge, cherry cabinetry -- and cooking in it is such a joy. The only thing to make that better is cooking for friends. Last week, Jessica's husband was out of town so it was a good time for her to come over and sample some Claire wares.

Many moons ago, my friend Kimi had passed on a recipe for a "super simple" dinner involving scallops and foil packets. I finally got the ingredients together (following trips to three different grocery stories before I found orzo at a Santa Ana Ralph's) and Jess and I chowed down while plowing through three bottles of white wine (Beringer Pinot Gris, Novella Synergy Blanc, and Naia Verdejo)...and watching the season finale of the Jersey Shore. Because we're klassy like that.

Scallops with Orzo in Foil

Makes 4 servings.
Time: 25 minutes, 40-ish if you need to cook the orzo

1 pound raw Alaskan scallops (I used frozen scallops, probably smaller than Alaskan, but they worked fine)
3 cups cooked orzo pasta
1 (13.75-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
2 cups cherry tomato halves (I used baby heirloom tomatoes from TJ's -- they were so cute!)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 lemon, juiced (this is SO important. The combo of fresh lemon and fresh dill will be heaven in your mouth)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, or 1 tablespoon dried dill weed (I HIGHLY recommend fresh)
1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese (I used the lemon-herb flavor)

PREHEAT oven to 450°F or grill medium-high.
COMBINE scallops, orzo, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and dill.
CENTER one-fourth of mixture on each sheet of foil.
BRING up foil sides. Double fold top and ends to seal packet, leaving room for heat circulation inside. Repeat to make four packets.
BAKE 14 to 18 minutes on a cookie sheet in oven OR
GRILL 9 to 11 minutes in covered grill.
Sprinkle with feta cheese before serving.

I only baked two of the packets, then took the others to work the following day to bake in the toaster oven for lunch. My co-workers were so jealous of the great smells coming from the kitchen!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Use Your Loaf

Like most people, I love lasagna. Layers of cheese and pasta and more cheesey goodness, with meat or veggies or whatever your heart desires as well. I have always been a bit initimidated by making it myself, but I saw a recipe for making it in loaf pans and was intrigued.

To me, the best thing about dinners that involve baking is that while the dish is in the oven, I can indulge my OCD tendencies and wash all the prep dishes. I abhor going to bed with any dirty dishes in the sink, and doing them while dinner is cooking means I can eat then watch The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love guilt-free. Or at least without dish guilt.

Loaf Pan Lasagna

This super-simple lasagna is made with no-bake noodles, lean ground beef and lowfat cottage cheese. It fits perfectly into two loaf pans, which means it cooks more quickly, too. Serves 5 hungry people or 8 toddlers.

Time: 30 minutes prep, 90 minutes total

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 pound lean ground beef (I used super lean ground sirloin)
2 large eggs
2 cups (16 ounces) lowfat cottage cheese (I used nonfat)
3 cups marinara sauce (or one 24-ounce jar)
12 no-bake lasagna noodles (Trader Joe's makes good ones)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the oil, then the onion, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until onion begins to soften. Add garlic, thyme, and oregano, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the beef, breaking it up as you drop it into the pan, and season with 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook the beef for about 10 minutes, breaking it up as it cooks, until no pink remains. Remove from heat.

3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs to blend in a mixing bowl, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in cottage cheese, and set aside.

4. Spread 1/4 cup of the marinara sauce on the bottom of each of two loaf pans. Add a sheet of pasta to each, followed by another 1/4 cup sauce, 2/3 cup of the meat mixture, and 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella. Next, add another sheet of pasta, followed by 1/2 cup of the cottage cheese mixture. (It will be slightly runny, that’s okay.) Top each with another noodle, then 1/4 cup sauce, and divide the remaining meat between the two pans. Top each meat layer with another 1/4 cup mozzarella, then a sheet of pasta, and divide the remaining cottage cheese mixture between the two pans. Finally, top the cottage cheese with the last of the pasta. Divide the remaining sauce over the noodles, spreading it to cover them all the way to the edges. Sprinkle each with about 1/2 cup mozzarella.

5. Cover each pan tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake another 15 minutes uncovered, until cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

6. To freeze cooked lasagna, let cool to room temperature, then cover the top with foil, wrap in plastic, and freeze up to 2 months. Transfer to refrigerator 24 hours before baking, with foil on top, for 20 to 30 minutes at 350F, or until hot all the way through.

* Post title taken from "I Keep Mine Hidden" by The Smiths

Monday, January 18, 2010


I hate mushrooms. Or at least I thought I did before I tried this recipe. I still don't really enjoy the texture of them in naked form on pizzas or salad, but blended with cream and beef stock, they're fantastic.

This recipe takes very little time, especially if you use pre-chopped mushrooms and onions like my lazy self. It's perfect for a chilly, rainy day like today, when you don't want to think about anything besides what will happen during hours three and four of 24.

Mushroom Bisque
Source: my former mother-in-law
Serves: 6
Estimated time: 15 minutes


6 TB butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms (the amount that comes in the plastic-wrapped blue container at the grocery store is perfect)
3 TB flour
3 cups beef stock
1 bay leaf
salt and ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup half and half
1/4 cup sherry


1. Melt butter.

2. Add onions, oregano, garlic and stir over moderate heat until onions are transparent.

3. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, about four minutes.

4. Remove the mixture from heat and blend in the flour.

5. Add stock, slowly, stirring constantly. Add the bay leaf.

6. Bring mixture to boil, reduce heat, simmer. Remove the bay leaf.

7. Puree in blender.

8. Add half and half, sherry, salt and pepper. Heat just to a boil. Enjoy!

Greetings from the Cook-ing Monster

On a slow week, I work 45 to 50 hours. On busy weeks, I'm home only two or three nights. The rest of the time, I'm traveling to farflung and exotic locales such as Idaho Falls and Winston-Salem.

As much as I love traveling (and the miles, hotel points, and client-funded dinners that are my just reward for living like Alex, the woman in Up in the Air), I also love cooking. That said, my time for cooking is as slim as my patience for complex, time-consuming recipes.

The things I cook during the week all take less than an hour -- most of the time, much, much less. If I can open my garage at 6:30 and have dinner on the table by 7, I'm a happy girl. This blog will be dedicated most of the time to those weeknight kind of recipes. I'll also include some of my more involved recipes (but only if they're worth it) and tidbits from my trips and the restaurants and hotels I enjoy along the way.

For those of you who were privy to my other blog, this won't be as personal. But hopefully, in its own way, it will be just as rewarding! Thanks for reading, and I promise I'll be much better about reading your blogs in the new year.