a toast to ridge

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Friends at Ridge Vineyards are celebrating their fourth blogiversary. 4488: A Ridge Blog is hosted by the amiable Christopher Watkins, a bard of sorts, who is one cool cat. Savvy and passionate about wine, words, and jazz he brought several of us kindred spirits together one afternoon to revel in the Gospels of Pauls. The sermon delivered that day had one message – to experience fine, classic wine paired with the smooth sounds of jazz.

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Though we were initially focused on a wine tasting in the comforts of Monte Bello, cradling a glass in hand, the music whisked us off to another place. Whether it was to a ragged old club with weathered chairs, “smoke-filled jazz grottos in Paris” or a posh apartment overlooking Central Park, for a few moments the sounds carried us far. The banter in the room was filled with vibrant subjects. We warmed our palates and minds with Paul Draper’s wine philosophy (shared by our host). We pondered and deliberated over subtleties and nuances in each wine. From there topics took off that spanned art and the painter Jackson Pollock, prose and the writer Jack Kerouac, and in the background Miles Davis, Theolonius Monk, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane were strumming and swinging along as though to the tune of our conversation.

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That afternoon took place a year ago, on Ridge’s third blogiversary. Though a full year has passed, and perhaps the details may not be as crisp, ultimately it’s the experience that lingers. Thank you Christopher and Ridge for hosting such an enriching experience. Pairing wine and music was an exercise that compelled us to creatively think about marrying two elements or passions together in harmony. For those nostalgic, and for those curious and wish a taste of what we tasted that day, sit back with these wine aficionados and enjoy:
On Wine, Jazz and Inkblots
Ridge Wine Blog Anniversary Tasting
Drink That Tune: A blogger tasting at Ridge Vineyards
Ramblings: Wine Descriptors and Ridge Vineyards Wines

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Wishing you a very happy fourth blogging birthday, and many many more.

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A toast, to Ridge!

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spring pea and ricotta crostini

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With spring bursting across the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s hard to not be inspired in the kitchen by the bright green grass and early buds suddenly covering the landscape outside. This open-faced sandwich can easily be prepared year-round, though the combination of flavors seems to suggest spring. No matter where you’re located, the ingredients are relatively easy to find, and as with any dish, using the finest will add zing to the plate and your palate. This creamy ricotta and garden pea combination works wonders with pasta, or is perfect spread across crostini. Bright, fresh it’s like biting into the season.

Spring Pea and Ricotta Crostini
Adapted from Sonali, the Foodie Physician | Food52

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 cups fresh or frozen spring peas
1/2 cup low sodium vegetable stock
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 1/4 cups fresh ricotta cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf of rustic bread or baguette
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shavings for garnish*

In a saucepan on the stovetop, sauté the shallots and garlic in two tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Cook until translucent, then add the peas and broth. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover the pan; cook until the peas are tender. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and add the lemon zest, tarragon and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The original recipe* calls for 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese added to the mix; I omitted this and changed the quantity on the ricotta to accommodate. Either way, it’s a matter of preference. Purée until smooth. Add the ricotta and pulse until combined. Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste.

On the ricotta, I recommend Grande Ricotta Sopraffina if you’re able to locate it at your market. It’s beyond delicious and worthy of being eaten just with a spoon. A friend suggests Bellwether Farms ricotta (I trust their opinion, though I haven’t had this yet myself). In Israel, Romania, Bulgaria and other parts Urdă is almost identical to ricotta and can be found at many markets.

For serving, select a rustic hearty bread. I choose to use a loaf I picked up from the Manresa Bread Project available at a local farmers’ market. Slice your bread or baguette, place on a baking sheet and brush both sides with the remaining olive oil. Place the sheet in a hot oven and bake until lightly toasted on both sides. Spread some of the pea and ricotta mixture across each slice. Top each with a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings and tarragon, along with crushed pepper. A simple, creamy and delightful way to enjoy the season. Bon appétit!

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the french laundry garden

photos du jour |
Early spring, a mildly hazy but wonderfully warm day. Following an impromptu visit to the renowned French Laundry for lunch, a romp through the restaurant’s edible garden. Sit back and savor the moment.

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For more pictures from that exquisite visit, enjoy photos and a taste: Lunch at The French Laundry.

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a mad men cocktail party

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Grab a glass and a plate, the menu for this cocktail party is inspired by the many seasons and episodes of Mad Men. Mushroom Canapés are the quintessential cocktail party appetizer of the 1960s. Savory bites on Melba toasts are a perfect and easy hors d’oeuvre. Blinis topped with caviar or smoked salmon adds a little elegance to the party. A plate of crudité is perfect for dipping in and enjoying Bagna Càuda. Devoured out of the oven, Gambas au Beurre d’Escargot adds a little intrigue to the evening. The recipes are below; go ahead and have a taste.

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For the Vodka Gimlet, mix vodka with simple syrup and a squeeze of lime. Be sure your glass and the vodka is ice cold. For more cocktail party inspiration and recipes along with tales from Mad Men peruse through The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin. Cheers to a new season of Mad Men, more cocktails and happy eating!

recipes on yumivore
Mushroom Canapés
Buckwheat Blini
Bagna Càuda
Gambas au Beurre d’Escargot

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mushroom canapés

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Canapés are the quintessential cocktail party appetizer of the 1960s. Recipes abound for these little treats. Melba toasts smothered with anything from decadent caviar to seasoned cream cheese can be found in most cookbooks from that era. Sure enough The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook highlights these hors d’oeuvres with several recipes. Savory or sweet, canapés make a tasty addition to any cocktail party menu. Whether you make the Melba toast on your own, or go for a good-quality store-bought option (which saves a bit of time) there’s an endless amount of creative toppings to try on these toasts. It’s fun to serve more than one variety, certainly your taste buds and guests will agree.

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The recipe below for mushroom canapés comes out of the pages of Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin’s cookbook. The Worcestershire sauce wooed me from the beginning. It makes the dish taste retro right from the start. I modified the preparation by slicing the mushrooms instead of finely chopping them (the finely chopped version wasn’t cooperating with the camera). I also omitted the Parmesan cheese for the pictures, but grated cheese can be added to the mix then heated under the broiler until bubbling.

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Mushroom Canapés
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
kosher salt to taste
ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
20 Melba toast rounds
chopped parsley for garnish

Sauté the mushrooms until browned. Add the sauce and seasonings, taste and adjust. Spoon a bit of the mixture on each Melba toast and sprinkle with parsley before serving. Voila!

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Whether you’re planning a Mad Men cocktail party or any celebration, canapés are easy to prepare and are an hors d’oeuvre that can impress a crowd. Melba toasts accommodate a wide range of flavors so consider whipping up more than one recipe. For more appetizer ideas for your menu try Bagna Càuda, a quick garlic and anchovies recipe, freshwater prawns prepared as Gambas au Beurre d’Escargot and Buckwheat Blini topped with caviar.

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buckwheat blini

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Blinis, Russian in origin, are small pancakes that are traditionally made with buckwheat flour. It’s served with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche on top, along with either caviar or smoked salmon. Other smoked, pickled or salted fish can be substituted; the slightly sweet almost nutty-flavored pancakes are incredible with the contrasting salty fish and creamy crème fraîche. Paired with Champagne, it’s a classic appetizer to serve during the winter holidays, and is popular for Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, but there’s no reason not to prepare blinis year-round. It’s wonderful not just with a flute filled with something bubbly, vodka is the drink of choice in Russia and makes a crowd-pleasing drink with this pancake.

Blini and caviar is a dish that’s on the Mad Men menu for those who are fans of the hit television show. Season one, episode six, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism finds itself shopping for an advertising agency and delegates pay a visit to Sterling Cooper. Early 1960s, Roger Sterling proposes positioning the young Jewish state as a land of “exotic luxury”. There’s a lot of thought behind serving the blini which speaks to the roots of many early pioneers of Israel of whom hail from Eastern Europe and Russia. More details can be found in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men. Regardless if you’re preparing a Mad Men cocktail party, buckwheat blini is a hint sweet and savory hors d’oeuvre to add to your menu any time of year. As I often say, it’s a party for your taste buds.

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Buckwheat Blini
recipe adapted from Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous
My Search for Jewish Cooking in France by Joan Nathan

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
3 teaspoons honey
2 1/2 cups warm whole milk
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs, separated
butter, canola oil or cooking spray for frying
makes approximately 24 blinis

In a bowl dissolve the yeast in the milk and add the honey (or substitute with sugar) and set aside until bubbly for about 7-8 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the first three dry ingredients together. Pour the dry ingredients into the yeast mixture, add the egg yolks along with the melted butter and blend well. Cover with a dish towel and set aside in a warm area for an hour.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then slowly fold into the batter just before it’s ready to prepare on the stove. The secret to relatively round blinis is a squeeze bottle usually used to serve condiments. Pour the batter into the bottle. Heat a skillet or griddle to medium heat and coat lightly with butter. Squeeze a small amount of the batter in a circular motion onto the pan. When the batter starts to bubble on the surface, flip the blini over with a spatula and cook for roughly an additional minute. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche topped with caviar or smoked fish such as salmon or lox, whitefish or trout. Garnish with dill or chopped chives.

The caviar captured here is called Tobiko, Flying Fish roe or Tobiuo in Japanese. Tobiko is referred to as the “poor man’s caviar“. Sustainable seafood is the preferred choice for any recipe; a few tips on selecting sustainable caviar on a budget. For more appetizer ideas to nibble on, try Bagna Càuda, a scrumptious and easy garlic and anchovies recipe, and try delicious freshwater prawns prepared as Gambas au Beurre d’Escargot. Cheers to happy eating!

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gambas au beurre d’escargot

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With appetizers on my mind and a new season of the hit television show Mad Men to look forward to, I’ve been flipping through the pages of The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin for cocktail party inspiration. The recipe for Lutèce Gambas au Beurre d’Escargot (prawns with snail butter) is one that caught my attention. The original recipe hails from The Lutèce Cookbook by Andre Soltner with Seymour Britchey. Lutèce was a famous and highly praised restaurant in New York back in its day. It opened in the early 1960s and closed after forty-three years of service in 2004.

Oddly, despite it noting ‘beurre d’escargot’, there are no actual snails in the snail butter. To bring the recipe up to date (slightly) I replaced the butter with a mild olive oil. I was also heavy-handed with the Pernod and all too happy to chop shallots and garlic to add to the mix. The prawns are more drenched than coated in this version; either way makes a nibble worthy hors d’oeuvre.

Gambas au Beurre d’Escargot

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature / or 3/4 cup olive oil
1 generous tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/2 tablespoon anise-flavored liqueur such as Pernod
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
24 freshwater large or jumbo prawns, rinsed in cold water, split and deviened but left in shell
Makes 6 servings

In a bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the beurre d’escargot until thoroughly blended. Place the cleaned and prepped prawns, shell down, in a gratin dish and cover with the butter (or olive oil) mixture. Place the dish in a pre-heated 450 degree oven for 8 minutes. Serve hot.

The dish is easy to whip up and takes very little time to prepare. It makes a wonderful addition to a cocktail menu, and served either with your favorite cocktail or wine, is satisfying enough for a simple but flavorful dinner. For more appetizer ideas to nibble on try Bagna Càuda, a garlic and anchovies recipe. Cheers to happy eating!

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bagna càuda

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Bagna Càuda is an incredibly appetizing dish that originated in Italy’s Piedmont region. It literally translates to “hot bath” and cloves of garlic and anchovies are drenched in a hot or rather warm bath of olive oil. It makes a great appetizer and is a wonderful accompaniment for spring vegetables. The original Piedmontese recipe may call for the garlic to be finely chopped or minced to blend with the anchovies to create more of a dip-like consistency. I enjoy the garlic whole, but either preparation will appeal to garlic lovers. The recipe is incredibly simple and forgiving; add more garlic or anchovies as desired. And be sure to start with fine ingredients for a truly tasty dish.

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Bagna Càuda
2 heads of peeled garlic cloves
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped

In a heavy deep pan, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat on the stovetop. Add the anchovies and the garlic and stir occasionally. Simmer until the garlic turns lightly brown, roughly 12-15 minutes. Serve warm with a platter of crudités or blanched vegetables, fresh baguette or a good loaf of hearty bread. For a bit of heat, add a dash of red chili flakes while cooking, and chopped parsley sprinkled on top before serving adds color to the dish.

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I can’t resist dipping my fork in to savor the soft garlic, and it’s delectable when spread across hearty bread. Neither the anchovies nor the garlic will overpower your palate. The sweetness that’s brought out in the garlic from simmering in the oil blends beautifully with a welcome bite of saltiness from the anchovies. Easy to prepare, your taste buds will appreciate it.

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