Sunday, March 9, 2014

"You Never Know, You Might Have to Cook for Twenty Guys Someday"

You’re familiar with Francis Ford Coppola, whether you realize it or not.  He, the orchestrator of so many iconic moments in film, has penetrated the vernacular of popular culture to the extent that those who are unacquainted with his movies find themselves quoting lines without realizing that they’re doing so.  In a similar fashion to which a classic such as Casablanca is filled with quotable lines (“We’ll always have Paris,” “Here’s looking at you, kid,” and “Round up the usual suspects,” among others), Coppola has delivered comparable sayings.  Never saw The Godfather?  How has that rock that you call home been treating you?  Good?  Funny, you still know “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”  Too freaked-out to see Apocalypse:  Now?  Chances are, you still have a mental image of Marlon Brando gasping out his last “The horror” (come to think of it, those are both Brando lines).

Now, are you aware that he also owns two wineries--one in Napa and one in Sonoma?  His facility in Rutherford dates back to 1879 as the old Inglenook Winery.  Closed during Prohibition, it was re-opened in the 1930s and was purchased by Coppola in 1975.  After undergoing a series of name-changes (Rubicon, Niebaum-Coppola, The Winery Formerly Known as Rubicon, some kind of symbol), it has now settled on Inglenook (again, at least for the time being).  The Coppola Winery in Geyserville, CA is on the old Chateau Souverain location, which is the epicenter of the Coppola Diamond Collection, Director’s Cut, and Sofia, among other labels--we’re talking huge supermarket brands.  Coppola doesn’t see his wine business as a side-venture.  In 2013, Francis Ford Coppola Winery produced 1.25 million cases of wine--17th largest in America, in terms of volume.  

At one point in my career, I made wine for a very large and very corporate outfit. While I value my experience, one of my main, let’s call them disappointments, of large-scale winemaking is the dilution of personality.  There is definite skill in producing wines on the large scale that are consistent in the marketplace year after year; however, if wine that makes you think is what you seek, then chances are mass-produced wine won’t deliver on that level.  And you know what?  Sometimes that’s fine.  Have you ever had a really dynamite wine at a wedding?  Neither has anyone else.  But you enjoyed it, at your steak (or fish, sometimes I like to mix it up, too), danced to “Shout” and had a good time.  That’s exactly what Coppola Winery is--a good time.  The grounds are beautiful--just watch the video!  Granted, it’s March (which is rainy time in Northern California), so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that it looks a lot better in the sun.  There’s a nice pool-area where you and your friends can spend the day, and the restaurant serves the classic Italian standbys--assortment of pizzas, a few different cuts of macaroni, veal, and Coppola’s idiosyncratic Sunday-only bracciole.  We’ve been a few times, and the first time we went I got the salt-baked branzino (a very cool, very ancient way to cook fish).  Seek that out--it really is delicious!  

Coppola offers opportunities to rip on him at just about every turn.  Whether it be his display of Oscars or movie costumes or his pool cabines (for those interested, a cabine is $135 a day, while general pool access is $35--lounge chair not included), it’s easy to think ‘Here’s another rich guy trying to flaunt his money.’  But the truth is, he’s sharing it all.  Try as I might, I’m never going to win an Academy Award, so it’s fun to see one (or five).  All the menu items tie back to his mother and grandmother, and as someone of similar culinary background, I appreciate that.  If it’s truly him coming through in all facets, then I celebrate it.  The wine is definitely secondary at this establishment (much like Napa’s Castello di Amorosa), but a good, competitively-priced meal with stuff to do in the summer is enough to keep us coming back.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannolis

It's a rainy morning (finally!) in Sonoma County and I, Mr. Winemaker himself, have a chance to discuss recent exploits from our little condo kitchen.  

After heading back to Jersey for Christmas to see my family (Exit 10E, for those interested) and enjoying all the flakey, ansiette-laiden, ricotta-and-cream-filled bounty that true bakeries have to offer, it occurred to me that it had been a while since I'd knocked out a round of cannoli.  "Little tubes" were once exclusively for festival-season, but have since found their way into year-round enjoyment, and one needs not to be u Sicilianu to master the art (with some practice, this Calabrese does quite well).  Always a staple at Sunday dinner, though rarely homemade because of the foresight and time involved, my hand had to be one of the first in the pastry box in order to stake my claim on my favorite dessert.  As a kid, "favorite dessert" is best articulated by tangible attributes (crunchiest, creamiest, flakiest, creamiest, etc) and one's preference for one item over another is based purely on satisfaction alone.  However, as one gains a sense of real taste and an appreciation for the process, satisfaction takes on a new definition.  I have over-thought a dessert?  Perhaps.  But it's so damn good.  And what I love the most about these little fried tubes filled with awesome is their capability for achieving perfection for only a brief moment in time--like fireworks.  They're at their best for only a few hours, before they lose their crunch and get just a tad soggy and wilt a little.  So that being said, cannoli are best experienced early in their lives while around a table with a dozen or so family that has just finished a meal fit for, oh, maybe three dozen.  If your last name ends in a vowel, then that last line wasn't a joke to you.  

In my childhood, I'd only seen my cannoli made maybe twice.  Not like I have a whole lot of family history to go on in terms of experience, but they were always there on the table.  Now what made them extra-special was that my aunt would get the variety box (some Napoleons, sfogliatelle…and there were some others in there, you know, a few of each) and getting to that cannoli was a race--a RACE, I tell you.  Victory was, well, insert your pun here.  When I decided attempt them myself for the first time, I had to source a recipe.  Of there however-many I found, understand that there are two elements: shell and cheese.  Feel free to play around with elements and techniques to find a combination that you like--that's what I did.  I will, however, offer some tips:  drain you ricotta well and refrigerate your dough.  I go 48 hours on both for proper texture (firm, but with an element of lightness).  Also, use a fry oil with a relatively high smoke point and monitor your temperature (a candy thermometer is ideal).  The first time I fried cannoli shells I ended up smoking out the entire floor of my apartment on the 4th of July.  I was rather unpopular.  Anyway, over the years I've settled on a recipe by Lidia Bastianich, which I've listed below.  The flavors are spot-on, but she prefers the Napolitano preparation instead of the Sicilian (frying flat sheets of cut pastry and assembling the dessert lasagna-style)--no matter.  If your wanter her recipe and methodology, it's here.  I've modified it to fit the traditional form.

For the dough:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, with more for dusting and rolling
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1/2 cup dry red wine (I go for Nerello Mascalese, but I'm Mr. Winemaker--use whatever)

A food processor works best for mixing, but if you have a Kitchen Aid, that's OK too.  Add the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl and process just to mix.  Mix the olive oil, vinegar and the wine together and, with the machine running, pour all but 1 tablespoon in and process for 20 seconds or so until a dough gathers on the blade.  If it feels hard and dry, sprinkle in the remaining liquid and process briefly.  It should be moist and malleable—incorporate more wine if needed.  Turn the dough out of the bowl, scraping any bits from the sides and blade, and knead by hand into a soft, smooth ball.  Flatten to a disk, wrap very tightly in plastic, and refrigerate for up to 2 days (but at least 4 hours).

For the cream:

1 pound (2 cups) fresh ricotta 
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for decoration 
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier  
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate (or 3 tablespoons bittersweet chips--go for the tiny ones) 
2 tablespoons candied orange rind 
2 tablespoons toasted almonds 

Put the fresh ricotta in a fine-meshed sieve or cheesecloth and set inside a bowl to drain for at least 12 hours or a 2 days in advance.  Cover the ricotta tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. 

To make the cannoli cream, whip the ricotta with the whisk attachment of an electric mixer until smooth.  Whip in the 2/3 cup powdered sugar and the Grand Marnier.  Chop the chocolate (or chips) into coarse bits—big enough to bite into and to be visible.  Coarsely chop the candied peel and almonds to the same size.  Fold the chopped pieces into the cream; refrigerate until you assemble the cannoli. 

Put it all together:

Cut the pastry dough in half.   On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough into a thin rectangle.  Using a cookie cutter or your own wherewithal, cut discs from the dough about 4 inches in diameter and stretch to make an oval.  Set the cuts aside on a lightly floured tray to rest for 15 minutes before frying.  Meanwhile, roll out and divide the remaining half of dough the same way. To fry the pastry, pour about a quart of vegetable oil into a pot and set over medium heat--get it to about 350F. Wrap the stretched discs around metal cannoli forms (which can be obtained cheaply anywhere--or, if you're a purist, use a wooden broom handle) with enough overlap to hold the pastry together but not too much.  With the point of a small sharp knife, pierce each pastry about 10 times all over its surface, as though you were making pin pricks through the dough--these tiny holes will prevent the pastry from ballooning when fried.   Raise the heat to keep the oil temperature up but lower it as soon as the sizzling gets too fast.  Fry the cannoli for about 3 minutes, pushing them under the oil occasionally to heat the top surface.  As the tops begin to bubble, press with tongs to prevent big bubbles from ballooning—small bubbles are OK. When they're golden brown, remove and allow to drain and cool completely!

Assembling these little guys is pretty self-expalintory, and using a piping bag with a really wide tip (remember, you've got chocolate chips and nuts in there) really eases clean-up.  Just fill all the shells from both ends and dust with confectioners' sugar.

It requires a few days and some labor, but these cannoli are definitely worth it.  If I've moved you to try it yourself, have at it and let me know!  And if you like insights on wine and culinary stuff with the occasional pizza-related rant, I'm on the Twitter and Instagram-machines at @enolo_G .

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wine Release Party

Lancaster Estate's release of their 2010 Nichole's Proprietary Red Blend.  Softer on the the palette and more approachable upon release than the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the Nichole's is comprised of a small barrel-selection of lots from the winery's fifty-three acres planted to vines.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bath & Body Works Holiday Haul

There was no going out for me this Black Friday.  A nasty cold had me stuck in bed with chicken noodle soup, Christmas movies, kitties, my computer, and loads of Kleenex.  

I am a very timid online shopper.  Am I getting the best deal?  Why would I want to pay for shipping?  What if I need to return something?  Before I even begin, I have talked myself out of it.  This year was different.  I perused to my heart's content.  No frenzy, pressure, bright lights, horrible traffic, or parking.  How pleasant to shop in the comforts of my own bed.  Teachers, you feel me on this.  We are beyond busy this time of year!  Any chance to save some precicous time and we are there!  

Here is my Bath & Body works haul!  I picked up Christmas goodies for friends, family, coworkers, and maybe a few things for myself (you know, taking the pressure off Santa and all wink wink).

Last night, I placed the candles in every room of our house.  After Mr. Winemaker cleaned the bathroom, (thank you!) he lit the Twisted Peppermint candle.  Our bathroom turned into an instant holiday spa retreat.

I can't wait to try the sugar body scrubs.  Every weekend I like to treat myself to a long hot shower and choose from my growing collection of body scrubs.  This pampering is necessary!

Do you have any tips on coupon codes?  When I was finished filling my online shopping cart, I brought up a new window on my computer.  I typed in 'coupon code Bath & Body Works.'  I was able to find disounts that included free shipping!  I am horrible about keeping, cutting, and managing a coupon system.  Online coupon hunting was relatively instant and painless!

My package of goodies arrived promptly and every candle remained intact and un-shattered!  Bath & Body Works' packaging was quite careful.

I am beyond pleased with my experience and will certainly take the cheater's shopping route again!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Farm Fresh Winter Minestrone Soup

Months ago, my mom started talking about a farm she frequents with her best friend in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  One weekend when I was home, she drove me up the windy roads to show me her treasured farm.  Open to the public and based on the honor system, customers can pick the freshest vegetables and fruits to take home and devour--I was hooked.  The salad my mom prepared from the fresh produce tasted delicious.  With every bite I felt like I was getting the freshest and most powerful nutrients infiltrating my tired and worn-down teacher body.  This taste explosion made me suddenly more aware of the produce I buy from the grocery store on a weekly basis.  With more discerning eyes the next time I headed to Safeway I inspected my salad-makings and noticed that nothing was local.  This bothers me.  Why?  I live in farm-fresh produce heartland.  I would love to visit the local Farmer's Market every Saturday, but come winter our town market is finished.  I went on an internet hunt and found one local farm getting rave reviews.  Green String Farm, in Petaluma, is a sustainable year-round farm.  Off Mr. Winemaker and I went.  Within two minutes of stepping foot inside the farm's adorable produce stand, a farmer was slicing persimmons for us to try and used a hose to power-wash a carrot just for my tasting pleasure.  Mr. Winemaker and I knew we wanted to make Giada's Winter Minestrone soup.  This farm had everything we needed and more! 

Bowling-ball heads of cabbage.

 Crazy for kale!

$2 per simmon?  No no, persimmons.

Some of the most well-balanced Swiss chard you've (n)ever head

Leaving town with the haul!  Off to make our soup!  Watch out, sniffles and first cold of the season.

What are your favorite winter soups?  Do you have any farms you frequent? Leave a comment below.  I love new ideas!  

Want to see how we made our soup?  Check out Shesparkletv