Sunday, June 29, 2008

Arizona Wine Country

Arizona Wine Country? Yes, it does sound like an oxymoron. I mean really, in this arid land where today it is hovering around 112 degrees, can anything really grow?

Welcome to Sonoita Arizona. This wine country is about 55 miles outside of Tucson, with beautiful rolling countryside in between. And at nearly 5000' elevation, Sonoita is 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Tucson.

The first vineyard in Sonoita started in 1973. There are now 14 vineyards and wineries. According to the Arizona Wine Grower's Association, climate and soil studies show that this region is similar to Ribera Del Duero, Spain; Southeastern Australia, Southern France and is almost identical to that of Paso Robles California. But, as you can see from this picture looking out from the tasting room, it does not have the crowds, commercialism and tourist overload of most wine countries, like Paso Robles or Napa.

A few weeks ago we had an open Sunday with no obligations, a full tank of gas, and an appetite for a little wine adventure. We set off for the 2 1/2 hour drive out of Phoenix to scout out this little Arizona treasure. Our first stop was Dos Cabezas. Wine maker Todd Bostock bids that this is a family owned and operated vineyard. We had enjoyed a Dos Cabezas wine last fall at the famous Pizzeria Bianco, and couldn't wait to get our hands on more. Once inside we did a little tasting...

I forgot to keep track of all the wines we tasted. The owner was pouring, and even served up several vintages of the same varietal. This Toscano pictured, is one of 5 different vintages we tasted. I believe we had the '03, '04', '05, '06 and a tiny sip of a very precious '99 that was opened because of few of his friends from Tucson had stopped in to visit. We also had several of the other varietals that day, but the Toscano was my favorite. We took home a bottle of the '05. It is a blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm looking forward to having it with our next 'Pizza Night.'

We headed to another vineyard after that called Kief-Joshua. The tasting room is in the owner's home, and once again, the owner himself poured our tastings. A budding new kid on the block, this one has great potential. The wines he poured are currently from outsourced grapes, but his should be ready in the next couple years, and bottling to follow. If the wines we tasted that day are any indication of the wine makers skill, they will certainly be fabulous.

We were hoping to catch Callaghan, but it had closed early this particular Sunday. Instead, we headed back to Phoenix, with bellies full of wine, and relaxed attitudes - ready to begin another busy week. Our lesson for next time was to head down earlier in the day...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Crab Cake Night!

For months, my friend, and fellow foodie, Renee, and I have been talking about getting together to cook crab cakes. It seems that with our busy schedules, and me being out of town work training, it just kept getting put off. Well, by the time we got a date to do it, we had another couple interested in joining the feast. Awesome, the more, the merrier. So, the only thing left was determining the recipe.

I had made them once before using this recipe. Renee saw a recipe in Cooking Light recently, that looked good. We couldn't decide. We also knew that the other couple joining us can whip up some fantastic creations as well. Decisions, decisions... so... we decided to do a little crab cake cook-off! Each couple was to choose a recipe and make enough crab cakes for each of us to try.

This past Saturday night, while it was 115 degrees outside, we had our crab feast inside. We started with this salad of Grilled Peaches over Arugula with Goat Cheese and Prosciutto. Simple, sweet, peppery goodness that was light enough to save our appetites for all the crab that was about to be consumed.

Since Chardonnay was listed as a great pairing with crab, we started with the Alpha Omega 2005 Chardonnay from Napa Valley. This was a gift from a friend who was recently in Napa. I'm not the biggest fan of chardonnay, and this one was a little too toasty and oaky for me.

Now, on to the "cakes":

First up on the "fishy plate" are Renee's. She went with the recipe that was in Cooking Light. Look at the nice big clumps of crab just oozing together on the plate. This was a really good recipe to showcase the crab. They were not overly breaded or mayonnaised as some crab cakes can be. Seasonings were spot on - enough that it enhanced the crab, but not overpowering. Awesome execution by the chef!
Next up, are the ones that I made, following the recipe I posted here. We also made the fennel slaw again, using red cabbage in place of green, for a little color. When comparing, my recipe was quite similar to the Cooking Light one, save for a few ingredients. We all liked the addition of the fennel slaw, but I think Renee's crab cakes were a little better. Next time, I would use that recipe with the fennel slaw.
We were now onto the second (or was it third?) bottle of wine. This time it was the 2006 Calera Central Coast Chardonnay. This was bright and crisp, with a little pear and apple. I got hints of oak, but not overly so. This one really hit the spot. I would definately get this one again as it will be a great picnic or BBQ wine.
Last, but certainly not least, is the rendition by Dana and Dana. Yes, we actually have friends that are dating each other that both have the first name Dana (or as we call them, "She Dana" and "He Dana"). Cool huh? They did an Emeril - version. A little spicy and a lot tasty! Mmmm...very different than the first two, and a welcome change of taste. The spicy roumalade sauce on top really made the difference.
After we had stuffed ourselves with crab you think we'd be done right? Well, no. actually. Luckily, I found friends that enjoy dessert as much as I do. Renee and John brought us these fantastic little glasses of love. Fresh raspberry trifles. Look how smashing they look in their own individual trifle glasses.

Since it was a special night, with special friends, we pulled out the bottle of dessert wine we had received as a wedding gift. The 2005 Raymond Eloquence is a late harvest chardonnay. It was sweet and deliciously flavored of peach and apricot. A few sips was all that was needed to enjoy this luscious ending of our great night.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Prisoner

No, I don't mean Scott. haha

You could hold me prisoner any day with a bottle of this tasty little blend. The other night we opened this bottle of the 2003 Prisoner Zinfandel blend and found a new favorite. This gem from Orin Swift Cellars is a unique red blend that is made of 40% Zinfandel, 24% Syrah, 20% Cab, 10% Charbono, and finally, 6% Petite Syrah. I thought with this big red it would take awhile to open up, but was pretty tasty at first swirl and sip. As usual with a zin, it had the typical lush blackberries and cherries, but it also had just the right amount of vanilla and chocolate as well. And, did I taste a little coffee bean? Maybe it was more mocha. Just a hint of tannins kept it from being to "in your face" fruit forward, as did the speckles of spice at the end. This one was a smooth operator, as it's velvety mouthfeel kept me going back for more.

It would be great with a nice steak or pork tenderloin, but we had it with cheese and crackers and it was still lovely.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pizza Anyone?

Another week, another pizza night. Mmmm...I heart pizza night! Doughy, carby, goodness, and the toppings, well, let your imagination go wild.

I used to be a traditional tomato sauce, mozzarella, and mushroom - girl only. While I still love a great traditional-style pizza, I like trying new combinations. With the help of some of the comments you all made here the last time we made pizza, as well as lurking around some of your lovely blogs,we had several ideas this week. I couldn't narrow down the choices to just one. So, what did we do? We made three!

The first one was my attempt at cleaning out the refrigerator. As it turned out, it is one of new favorites.
Here is what it had; cilantro pesto (replace cilantro for basil in your favorite pesto recipe)
roasted corn
a handful of grape tomatoes, halved
thinly sliced zucchini
thinly sliced Granny Smith apple
a bit of carmelized onion
I didn't put any cheese on this one, but a cojita or other Mexican white cheese would be great, as would a pepperjack.

The second one we made was a Mediterranean pizza that I got out of Vegetarian Times. We loosely followed the recipe because the picture in the magazine looked quite tempting. While it was good, I would have probably added some kalamata olives or artichokes to give it a bit more flavor. Nice cheesy mounds of feta and ricotta gave it just the right amount of richness. You get a healthy dose of antioxidants by the addition of fresh spinach, and lots of tomatoes.

Finally, the third is one that I've done countless variations on the same basic theme - figs. Dried figs, rehydrated in port, with carmelized onion, shittake mushrooms, a drizzle of balsamic syrup. All topped with goat cheese, although I prefer gorgonzola when I have it. (Oh dear, my piece here in the picture has been invaded by the cilantro pizza and seems to have gotten some tomatoes spilled on it. Talk about cross contamination...)

Here is a picture of my plate with a taste of all three.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Man's Edition

Note: Today's guest post is by Scott aka "the prep bitch"
While my bride was out for a business dinner, I decided to forgo wine for the night (and believe me, that is a sacrifice) and to do some beer tasting instead. Luckily, the Total Wine store has a great selection of beers by the bottle. The downside? Walking through a store that literally has thousands of bottles of very tempting vino. Ok, stick to the plan. Tonight is beer night.

Much like with wine, the trick is to find those good "undiscovered" vintages. Lacking any more direction than the "paws" of Paws and Pours for inspiration, I decided to pick beers with dogs on the label. I'm sure it sounds lame, but it seemed reasonable at the time. And I was really thirsty and wanted to get those beers in the fridge.

First up: Spanish Peaks Brewing Company's American Pale Ale. A medium-bodied amber pale ale, this one had a bit too much hops for my taste.

Next up: Sun Dog Amber Wheat. Since I usually like wheat beers, especially in the warmer months, I thought this would be good. Turns out it was good, but not great. Sun Dog Amber is a a light to medium amber, with a hint of citrus. A nice warm weather brew to cool off after being in the sun.

Nothing too outstanding for the night....I think I'll stick to wine next time....

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sunday Dinner on the Patio


After spending the afternoon seeing Sex and the City with some girlfriends, I was in the mood to sit on the patio and relax over a mojito and a magazine. Of course, with the 103 degree temperatures outside, I had to do the magazine and mojito inside and wait until after 7 for it to be a bit cooler outside. Alas, as the sun started to set, the temperature cooled down enough that we could finish the evening on the patio.

Since I was so exhausted from all the movie watching fun, not to mention the muddling of the lime and and mint for the mojito, dinner had to be something easy. I had some fresh orange roughy and asparagus in the refrigerator, but not much else. Trader Joe's to the rescue. I had a bag of TJ's frozen roasted corn, a bag of frozen edamame to throw together this "relish." This dish came together in literally 5 minutes. (Clean asparagus, toss with olive oil and Kosher salt and put that on the grill first, so that it gets a head start.) This made it very easy to enjoy the rest of this beautiful evening.
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1 lb orange roughy (or other white fish ie. Tilapia, cod, or Red Snapper)
1 ½ Tbsp Greek yogurt
Kosher salt (to taste)
1/8 tsp lemon pepper
¼ tsp Seafood Grill seasoning
½ tsp. fresh chives, finely chopped

Spread yogurt over fish and top with seasonings. Spray fish and place on grill rack. Grill 7-8 minutes until done.
(OK, as you can tell by the picture, I (gasp)used canned mushrooms! Usually, I would NEVER use them, because they in no way compare to fresh, but as I said, the refrigerator was a bit bare.)

For Relish:

½ cup roasted sweet corn
½ cup shelled edamame
2 Tbsp. orange or red bell pepper, finely chopped
½ cup grape tomatoes, halved
¼ avocado, diced
1-2 tsp. seasoned rice vinegar
Kosher salt – to taste

Mix all ingredients together and let sit 30 minutes for flavors to meld. Serve at room temperature.