Apr 1, 2007

April 2007

Hello Luna/tics:
April Adventures In The Kitchen and the Wine Shelves

Long days, warmer nights.

I have this tendency to wish my barbecue grill was all cleaned up and ready to go so that I could light it up, and then the smoke and smells from the beef/chicken/fish or veggies we cook would start permeating into the neighbors yards and make them wish they were invited over for that fabulous smelling meal! Have you ever noticed that when you smell someone else's barbecue going that it just makes you hungry? Ahhh, the wonders of a man and his grill.....

This year, I am most sad because at this writing, I do not have a yard yet. But we did keep about 200 potted plants that most I could not have replaced. And we have until November to complete it or they take away the dog, or fine us or something like that.

The new house is great, the moving in has been fun, but we keep unpacking box after box of things. I had no idea how much junk Gary has accumulated after 356 years (of course all my stuff is all important and needed..everyone needs to have 24 white rubber spatulas in their kitchen).

It is almost when we hope summer isn't totally here because we have had enough of the warmer days to make us long for some of the cooler nights winter gave us. What I do notice the most - food wise that is, is how we start to re-think what we will be cooking: more grilled items with lighter salsas or puree's to top them off. More exotic varieties of sea foods and shellfish ready to hit us between the eyes so that we hardly have a chance to sample them all. And most of all::::our wineries have started introducing so many of their new vintages. (This may make me most happy....wine slut that I am...).

Let me tell you how hard it is to sample new wines all the time....


7:30 AM - I get up, have my coffee, take the dog for his mile walk, take my nap.
10 AM - Read e-mails, reply to the crazies that keep sending me messages about that poor prince in Africa who needs to use my money to get at his so that his entire family will be freed (thanks to me!), then I look at my bank account. Need another nap.

12 PM - Shower, have my 1/2 glass of wine (never before noon AA says), and get ready to go to work. Drive the 19 minutes to Cafe Luna and say hi to all, then get out the famous blue book:"My Book Of Tastings" - this is the book where I write down all of the wines we taste: the sales representative, the vintage, the blend, the bottle and case costs, and the highs and lows of the particular wine I get to try. My purveyors usually bring about 5-8 bottles for me to taste. And then we start. (NOTE: I am a copious note taker when tasting any wines. My penmanship is perfect for first several wines we taste. Then, when re-reading my notes, I notice that the more wines I taste, my penmanship starts to slack off the lines and to the sides or get larger and larger and finally looks like abstract art....I just know I must be allergic to certain wines!)

SIDE NOTE:::I know you all think this must be rough; but as they say, somebody has to do it. But there is a lot of difficulty in tasting so many wines on a regular basis (poor me...). It is very hard to find good adjectives for a "so-so" wine. It is even harder to find something good in some rot-gut swill that my sales people spend more time extolling the wonders of, it's allure and use adjectives that I don't understand or even slightly taste (sorry....sometimes a sows ear only makes a sows ear).

I have gotten to the point in my old life (55 last month), that I have to be honest about the wines we taste. Lucky for me, I can use my customer base as an excuse when needed. "Gosh, I wish I could carry your wine, but I don't think MY CUSTOMERS would like it". Ha! I probably hated it, but there is something about a man or woman pouring you wine that has a tendency to make you look for a reason to ease the blow on unacceptable wines. You have to understand people, there is a lot of bad and mediocre wines out there that start out a very unreasonable price and only go higher. I don't get this. But I digress....

I taste the wines, I make my notes and we talk about a schedule when we can possibly add it to the wine list. This is great.
They leave, then the next sales person comes in and we start all over.

Thursday: I cannot seem to wake up early. The dog is mad at me because I won't take him for a walk, my coffee is poured but I forget to drink it because I have such a head-ache. I don't understand.....So I stay home in bed all day to make sure I am okay for Friday.

Fridays: I wake up from my good rest from the day prior, do the same as Wednesday, and start out again with usually 2-4 appointments for sales people and wines. The best part of all of these tastings are that some of these wines are so incredible, so luscious and fruity and so outstanding that I can't wait! And then the staffers try them (if there is any left) and we agree or not. But what an adventure. And what a great place to live in this wine world. (Most of the time, the sales reps leave several of the bottles tasted to let staff and customers drink later that night.....good marketing idea!..)
Then I have to try to function the rest of the day....

So all of this is leading up to me telling you that I am having a 40% wine sale on about 22 wines off the list. Getting ready for new ones coming in (remember how excited I was after tasting them???). This is a great combination of varietals and wineries, and it breaks my heart to lose some, but can't wait to replace them with the aforementioned newbies. (Again, refer to the "Wine Slut" name above...)

Right now, we have about 155+- on our list. And if you have been here before, you know how tight my wine storage is. So I don't have room for adding wines without removing some first (damn that landlord for renting me such a small space!....wait - that's Gary and I!).

Soooo you wonder.....what are some of these new incredible wines?

Read my lips when I tell you that this winery is a huge addition to the county of El Dorado's wine making. Mike and "D" have been around for several years waiting for just the right time to introduce their winery to the world. They unofficially opened the winery up for tasting a couple of weeks ago, and plan on a full-blow out later this summer. (Will keep you posted on that...) We are carrying their Barbara, their Cabernet and their Merlot. They are making currently about nine different varietals. I only had room for the three. I wish I had more room. The Barbara is outstanding! Outstanding!
I am not a Merlot lover per-se, but I love this one. The Cabernet is full of big berry fruit, good tannin levels and all around a wonderful addition to our local Cabs. And the pricing is so reasonable. We are carrying each of these by the bottle or the glass for you to experiment with. You will not be disappointed.

#2 - Noceto "Frivolo" - a white, very fruity summer wine from one of our favorite Sangiovese makers from Amador County. A wine we have joyfully carried for about nine years now. This white is somewhat sparkling tasting, but it is not. It just has a lightness and fruit to it that makes it a great sipping wine. Try it with one of Ginger Cream Brulee's. Or just to sample with some bread.

#3 - Schramsbergs "Mirabelle" Brut - our friend and ex-co worker Sara (come back!) and I have agreed on Sparkling Wines as our drink of choice for along time now. We both know when you don't know what to order, we would order a good sparkling wine. Why? Because it can keep your mouth so happy! Schramsberg happens to be one of our favorite makers of sparkling wines. So we are carrying this one. Gorgeous and it gets everyone in a good mood - well almost everyone. (Have you ever known people or friends - that no matter what you can do or show them, they just don't or won't get out of "that MOOD"? If a good bottle or champagne or sparkling wine can't get them out, well nothing is ever going to work so give up and suggest counseling that they have to pay money for. And you just enjoy it with someone who shares your good taste.)

We have several more new wines, so look on the list and notice anything with a red * next to it.

The New Menu: What fun! Josh and I had a great conversation about food and what I like to eat, like to cook and want us to serve here. We have a good collaboration on this menu, reflecting some of his new-found knowledge based on things we crave, and what we can get for this time of year to play with.

A new appetizer for us: Fromage Fort. This is a great recipe. Simply great. We mix some of our favorite cheeses with white wine or port wine. We blend it and serve it with toasts for spreading. Now the secret is in the selection of the different cheeses. And the wine. Ha! What artists we can be. (This is a great recipe that we will be including in next months e-mailing to you.)


Torta Rustica: I have made this recipe many times when we were open for lunches. It was undoubtedly one of our most popular hot dish lunches. It's a puff pasty filled vegetarian dish that we fill with layers of sauteed vegetables such as eggplant, roasted potatoes, roasted red bells, artichoke hearts, herbs, etc. We add a bit of jack cheese, enclose it and bake it until it is puffed and golden. We are serving this as a vegetarian special, but everyone enjoys it.

This months recipes are one of the most requested I have ever had over the years. It is the Chutney Chicken Salad. We have used this as a sandwich filling, as a Salad-Salad, and as an appetizer served on small toasts or crackers. It is amazingly simple, yet one of those recipes that people just love but cannot seem to figure out. Over the past decade, I bet we have made no less than 500 pounds of this if all were calculated correctly.

But!!! Here is another part of this recipe that will leave you hanging with your mouth open: the best way I know of to perfectly poach chicken. Poached chicken sometimes is this terrible chewy, overcooked mess (admit it - we have all done it!) that is flavorless, hard to chew or cut, and is devoid of any of the tender, silky meat that we love. This recipe is a variation from a woman I met several times in my Bay Area adventures....her name is Barbara Tropp.

She was this wonderful woman who wrote two cookbooks that I believe are essential to the well-stocked cook-book collection: "The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking" and "China Moon Cookbook". The latter from her incredible restaurant on Post Street in San Francisco, a place that I got to go to many times during my post hippy-dippy days. She was this very vibrant woman who loved to talk "shop" and had an incredible "light" about her: she could discuss the right way to slice fresh ginger and make it an earth moving experience with her descriptions of fragrance, freshness and touch. She died way to young in 2001, but believe me, reading her two books will be something you will LEARN and gain incredible cooking knowledge from. "China Moon Cookbook" to me is as essential as "The New Basics Cookbook" or the "Silver Palette" line of cookbooks.

Have fun with these recipes, they make great lunch items.

Take Care.

David at Cafe Luna

No-Poach Chicken

Café Luna Recipe:

3" nub of fresh Ginger, sliced about 1/4" thick (you can leave skin on)
3 cloves of fresh garlic, bruised or chopped in half
2-3 green scallions
6 whole peppercorns
1 gallon cold water (I use this amount of water for about 8 breasts. The idea is the chicken should have about 3" of water above it and the meat not crowded to poach evenly.)
(NOTE: An exceptional flavor option: long zest strips of lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange or Tangerine zest -no white pith [bitter!] - depending on your finished recipe- this really adds wonderful, haunting, elegant flavor)
Heavy bottomed pot with tight fitting lid
Chicken Breasts - skin on or off, bone in or not - must be un-frozen and at room temperature.

1. Fill pot with cold water. Add all the ingredients, except the chicken!

2. Cover with lid, bring to a rolling boil, and let boil about 5 minutes (to infuse the water with the aromatics). Lift the lid and smell your liquid: you want to be able to lightly smell the ginger, the garlic and the citrus (if using). If you don’t, add more of what you don’t lightly smell.

3. Lift the lid, turn off the heat, and gently slide the raw chicken into the pot. Cover.

4. Let chicken "poach" for exactly 2 hours without lifting the lid.

5. After two hours (don’t peek or lift lid!), remove the chicken, shred with fingers or cut into desired size for your finished recipe.*

That’s it. You will love this. Amaze your friends with this.

* The remaining poaching liquid can be used for stock. I would reduce it down about 50%, strain it, cool it, and freeze or refrigerate for later use in soups, sauces or ??? making.

Barbara Tropp (reprinted from "China Moon Cookbook"
"I know of no better way to cook a chicken breast for salads than ‘no-poaching.’ A modification of a classic Chinese technique, it involves nothing more than submerging a whole chicken breast with its skin and bone intact in lightly seasoned water that has been brought to a boil. The heat is then turned off, a lid clamped on the pot, and the meat left to cook through passively for 2 hours. It’s a no-brainer in the words of my husband, and a technique that amazes every cook in our kitchen. The result is a chicken breast that is tender, perfectly cooked, and unsurpassed for moistness.
Three things are important to the success of no-poach chicken:
First, the chicken must be impeccably fresh. That is, it should have no smell, leach no blood, and the raw meat should cling tenaciously to the skin and bone.
Second, the breast must be at room temperature when it is submerged in the boiling water.
Third, the pot should be a heavy one with a close-fitting lid to hold in the heat.
With all three in line, no-poaching is flawless."

Chutney Chicken Salad

Cafe Luna
for Sandwiches or Green Salad Entree

2-1/2# Just poached chicken meat, hand-shredded or cut into ½" cubes * (Use the "No- Poach Method" - recipe provided)
1/4 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley
1-1/2 cups minced fresh celery
1 ½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 tsp Toasted curry powder (see below note #1)
1 cup house-made chutney, chopped up into 1/4" dice ** (or purchase from grocery. Not a hot one, but a mild variety. I make a Ginger/Mango/Apple chutney for the restaurant)
1/2 cup minced fresh onion
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 cup + - mayonnaise
salt to taste

1. Blend all ingredients except mayonnaise and salt in a large bowl.

2. Add 1/2 cup mayonnaise, stir and add enough mayonnaise to bind the mixture together. You a looking for a creamy, yet firm mixture.

3. Taste before adding salt, and add just a pinch at a time

4. Let rest for about an hour to fully develope flavors.

5. Use right away, or refrigerate for later. I find that this tastes best just slightly chilled/almost room temperature, rather than cold. The chutney and spices really pop this way.

*Note #1: This chicken salad will greatly benefit from having the poached chicken still warm when mixing together. It will also help to keep the chicken moist. The chicken will absorb much more flavor if it is warm rather than cold.

**Note #2: To toast curry powder: place curry powder in a 8"(small) non-stick pan, place on very low heat; stir with wooden spoon and "toast" the spice until you just begin to smell it. Don’t let it burn! Take pan off heat and let cool before using.)