Recipe: Up-tini

Cheers and Happy New Year’s Eve! 2009 was a wonderful year full of excitement, opportunity and lessons. Looking back, I realized how fortunate I was to have been able to travel extensively this past year: Peru (Machu Picchu), Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Costa Rica, Napa Valley, New Orleans, Montauk and more. It was truly amazing!

This year I am looking to toast more than a glass of Champagne, I am looking to keep the energy flowing in 2010, so I created a fun Espresso based cocktail that will be sure to help you sustain the party long after the clock strikes midnight!

2010 Up-Tini

1.5 oz. Vodka (I like to use Tito’s)
1 shot (or 1 oz.) of freshly brewed espresso (chilled)
½ oz. Bailey’s Irish Cream
½ TBS. Vanilla Infused Simple Syrup
Espresso Beans for garnish

To make simple syrup, combine ½ cup water to ½ cup sugar in a small sauce pan and heat on low until sugar is melted; make sure not to boil the liquid. Remove from heat and add ½ of a vanilla bean sliced open, or you can use ½ tsp. of vanilla extract. Let the mixture cool and steep.

In a cocktail shaker, add ice and pour in the vodka, espresso, Bailey’s and vanilla simple syrup. Shake for a minute until chilled. Strain and pour into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a few espresso beans.

Then enjoy!


Cooking with Wine: Cabernet Braised Beef Short Ribs

This is a wonderful and hearty slow-cooked recipe that I created for a holiday dinner as an alternative to turkey. The Cabernet gives the ribs a nice rustic and earthy flavor that can bring warmth and comfort to any table! The meat is so tender it falls right off the bone and the sauce (braising liquid) is packed with rich flavors from the mushrooms, herbs and tomatoes that makes it bread-dipping worthy. This dish goes great with creamy polenta or garlic smashed potatoes. Serve with a nice bottle of Cabernet to enhance the flavors of the dish!

6 (6-ounce) pieces bone-in beef short ribs
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 medium carrots, finely chopped
10 button mushrooms coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or crushed)
1 (14-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, puréed in a blender with juice
2 cups Cabernet Sauvignon
3 cups beef stock
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Cooking Utensils:
3- to 5-quart heavy stock pot with a lid
Food processor or blender

Pat beef dry, mix flour, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper in a bowl, then dust beef with the flour mixture. Heat oil in the stock pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add beef to the oil, and brown beef on all sides, turning with tongs, about 8 minutes total. Remove beef from pot and transfer to a plate, sprinkle each rib with salt and pepper.

Add chopped carrots, mushrooms and garlic to the oil in pot and cook over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup puréed tomatoes (reserve remainder for another use) and bring to a boil over moderately high heat.

Add Cabernet and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 8 minutes.
Next add beef stock, thyme, bay leaf, vinegars, and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper to sauce, bring to a simmer about 10 minutes.

Add beef along with any juices accumulated on plate and cover pot with a tight-fitting lid. Turn stove burner to low and slow cook for 5-6 hours, stirring twice throughout the cooking process, until meat is tender and falls off the bone.

Let stand without heat for 15 minutes to let flavors further develop before serving.


Em a la Mode


To Decant or Not to Decant, That is the Question?

The other night while making dinner for a friend, I decided to serve a bottle of 1995 Il Palazzone Riserva Brunello di Montalcino, a coveted Five Star Vintage that I have been eyeing in my collection for quite some time. Since I was busy cooking I gave my friend the task of pouring the wine. Just as I was taking the rack of lamb out of the oven, I looked over and saw my friend about to pour the wine straight from the bottle to our glasses. I quickly interjected and suggested we decant it. With a puzzled look on my friends face, he asked why? I responded (with a slightly unsure answer), letting him know that I typically decant older vintage wines as it helps to remove any sediment and to coax in the development of the flavor profile.

Brunello di Montalcino is one of the most famous and prized red wines produced anywhere in the world. It is made entirely from the Sangiovese grape and it is one of the longest-lived red wines of Italy, with most bottlings drinking well for 12-30 years. According to Alder Yarrow, of the blog Vinography, he suggests to decant Sangiovese as far in advance as possible. As Sangiovese, more so than any other grape, seems to require a lot of oxygen contact to open up. The younger the wine, the more he says to decant it, but even when serving a 20 year old Sangiovese, he suggests should remain in the decanter for at least an hour prior to drinking.

Since it seems there is some controversy about the notion of to decant or not to decant a wine, I decided to do a bit of research and get down to the bottom of it! Many experts say yes to decanting as it helps to soften the wines tannins, where others say it may ruin a wine by overexposing it to oxygen.

Decanting can be defined as pouring a liquid from one vessel to another to separate it from its sediments and to allow it to breathe, to improve its taste. In my research I found that many wines on the shelves today have no real need for decanting. The modern winemaking process ensures the wine is thoroughly clarified before it is bottled, by a process of fining (passing egg whites or bentonite clay through to collect solid matter) and mechanical filtration.

But wines which have aged in bottle (10 years of more), typically red wines rather than white, may acquire sediment. This sediment can be displeasing to the eye, and can also be unpleasant in the mouth, which is why they would deserve decanting.

Some young wines such as bold reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Bordeaux) and even some whites (Mersault , Chardonnay) can also benefit from decanting, although not for the removal of sediment (as there is rarely any such sediment in young wines), but rather to aerate the wine. The action of decanting softens the youthful bite and encourages the development of the more complex aromas that would normally develop when aged in bottle. But, be careful what you choose to decant, author Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible, notes that it could be harmful for more delicate wines like Chianti and Pinot Noir.

The effectiveness of decanting is still a hot topic with some wine experts like Emile Peynaud claiming that the prolonged exposure to oxygen when decanting actually diffuses and dissipates more aroma compounds than it stimulates. And that the process of decanting over a period of a few hours does not have an effect of softening tannins. The softening of tannins occur during the winemaking process and oak aging when tannins go through a process of polymerization- decanting merely alters the perception of sulfites and other chemical compounds in the wine through oxidation, which can give some drinkers the sense of softer tannins in the wine.

So how do you know if a wine should be decanted? When in doubt, it is always good to verify if a wine needs to be decanted before unloading an entire bottle into a vessel. I suggest, start by pouring a small sip from the bottle to taste, then swirl it around in the glass to incorporate air and let it breathe for a minute or so, next take another sip, if the wine seemed to benefit and opened up after the second sip, then you may want to decant it. This can be slightly different for an older wine, I typically take a candle or flashlight up to the bottle to gage the amount of sediment before choosing to decant, but also tasting the wine works here too.

The How-To of Decanting:

Older Wines:
Since the decanting process in older wines is mainly for removing the sediment, it is best to stand the bottle in which you will decant upright the day before (or at least for several hours) to allow the sediment to settle. When opening, take the cork out and slowly pour the wine at a 60 degree angle into the decanter. Stop pouring when you see sediment start to pour with the wine. Set the wine down and repeat again after 5 minutes. You may have to do this a few times to get all the wine out of the bottle. But since older wines are a bit more fragile, as it could possibly ruin a wine by overexposing it to oxygen, they should be decanted and served immediately.

Younger Wines:
Since the decanting process is to aerate younger wines, simply open the bottle and pour completely upside down into the decanter, this “beats up” the wine a little, giving it more air as you pour, which can speed the aerating process along. Once it is in the decanter, give it a few swirls and let it sit for a bit before serving. Another way to “decant” a younger wine is through an aerator pourer. In recent years several companies have designed these portable pourers, which attach to the opening of the bottle, allows the proper amount of air to be drawn into the wine, letting it breathe instantly. This is a great tool, if you only want a glass or two, as it allows you to pour as much as you want rather than decant an entire bottle.

Cleaning a Decanter:
Some decanters (such as the Eve by Ridel) may be a bit tricky to clean in a standard kitchen sink, so Maximillan Ridel suggest utilizing your bathtub or shower when rinsing one out. It is best to rinse it with mineral water to remove any residual chlorine odor. Never clean your decanter with detergent, because the shape of a decanter makes it very difficult to get the soapy residue out. When storing a cleaned decanter, same as nice stemware, be sure that it is spotless and free from any musty cupboard aromas.

Types of Glass Decanters:
Decanters come in all shapes and sizes, as well as price points. One is not particularly better than the other, but rather a personal preference. Some people like having a simple, clean designed decanter where others, like having a “show-piece” at their dinner table.

Riedel Decanter (from Williams-Sonoma $49) Riedel Amadeo Lyra Decanter ($395)
Decanter Helpers:

Cascadia Aerating Wine Funnel with Stand ($18.99)- Directs wine towards sides of decanter or glass while you pour enhances the bouquet & softens young wine, bringing out flavors that would take hours by simply decanting.

Types of Aerator Pourers:
Much like a decanter, these aerators come in different shapes and sizes, as well as price points. I have the Wine Soiree pourer, and like it, but have also had wine poured from the different aerators, which I think work nice as well. So again, it is up to personal preference!

Wine Soiree Decanter Aerator Pourer ($19.99)
Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator ($39.99)
Versovino Wine Decanting System ($40)


Recipe: Harvest Soup

This soup just screams Fall, it is hearty, satisfying, super easy to make and is surprisingly vegan! It has a richness from the sweet potatoes and squash, a nice spice from the ginger and a holiday essence from the nutmeg. I developed this recipe after trying a similar soup at a little café in my neighborhood. If you like Butternut Squash soup…you will love this!

1 Butternut Squash (cut into 2 inch pieces)
2 Sweet potatoes or Yams (peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces)
6 Carrots, about 1 Cup (peeled and sliced into ½ inch thick rounds)
¼ Cup Yellow Onion (finely chopped)
¾ Cup Celery (cut into pieces)
1 TBS Fresh Ginger (finely chopped)
3 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
1 ½ tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1 TBS. Salt (I prefer Sea Salt)
1 tsp. Ground Black Pepper
2 TBS. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 Cups Water
(Optional) ½ Cup Ground Parmesan Cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees

In a large stockpot (with a lid) heat 1 TBS. Extra Virgin Olive Oil on medium heat, add Onion and cook for 1-2 min until softened. Next add the Carrot, Sweet Potato, and Celery, let the vegetables sweat for 5 minutes on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Add the Ginger, cook for 1 minute. Then add 1 tsp. Nutmeg, salt, pepper, give it a stir, before adding the Water and Thyme. Let mixture come to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 1 hour, until all vegetables are soft.

Place chopped Butternut Squash on a baking sheet and toss with 1 TBS. of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, ½ tsp. Nutmeg, and a dash of salt and pepper to evenly coat each piece. Place in oven and roast for 35 minutes (then remove and let cool).

Turn off heat on the stockpot and let the vegetables cool down for about 20 minutes on the stove. *Optional, add grated Parmesan Cheese to the pot at this time.

Add the roasted Butternut Squash to the cooled vegetables in the stock pot, then with either an immersion blender or a regular blender, blend the soup to a puree. If doing it in a regular blender, do it in batches. Then serve!

Optional garnishes include:

Cilantro leaves or Sprig of Thyme, with dash of truffle oil
crème fraîhe with a few toasted pumpkin seeds
crème fraîhe and cinnamon

Yield: 10-12, 1 Cup Servings


Pizza Party

If someone were to ask me what my favorite food is, I would hands down say PIZZA! There is just something about the combination of the melted gooey cheese, tangy tomato sauce and toasted crust, that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I have been and will always be a pizza fanatic! My love affair with pizza dates back to my early childhood where pizza was considered a celebration food at birthdays, slumber parties, holiday affairs and school events. It was also used as a form of reward, i.e. after a game, having to stay in with a babysitter, or getting a good grade on a test. In college pizza was a staple in my diet, it was inexpensive and was always a crowd pleaser, and was the food of choice when pulling an all nighter studying for that bio-chem midterm or to fulfill my drunken spirits after a night on the town. But it wasn’t until recent years that I began to look at pizza as a gourmet food, and when I officially started my mission to find the perfect pie. Having the luxury of living in NYC gives me the perfect platform to explore, as you will most likely encounter a pizza shop on almost every corner you turn, but as I have learned throughout my years of research, you have to dig a bit deeper to find that memorable or orgasmic slice.
I have an on-going list of favorites that I have discovered here in NYC and beyond, but one that I am particularly fond of these days is a little place called Keste (meaning: this is it, in Italian) in the West Village. Their pizza is unlike any other that I have tasted, the dough is pillowey and light and slightly charred from the wood-fired oven, the simplicity of the sauce with the tart/sweet flavor of the tomatoes is cravable, and the cheese is beyond fresh! They have definitely made some noise in the media and have been praised for the handcrafted Napoli pies they are turning out.

So when my friend Roberto Caporuscio , owner and chef at Keste, offered to give me a hands on pizza making class, I gladly accepted and opted to invite a few friends! Roberto is the the American-chapter President of Associazone Pizzaiouli Napoletana , so I was honored that I was learning from the best in the biz!
The lesson began with some interesting historical facts about pizza:

-The first documentation of pizza was in the 16th century, in Naples, where they made a dish with flour, olive oil, lard, cheese, and herbs, like a white pizza.

-In 1522 Tomatoes were brought back to Europe from the New World (Peru). Originally they were thought to be poisonous, but later the poorer people of Naples added the new tomatoes to their yeast dough and created the first simple pizza.

-In 1889, A baker named Raffaele Esposito created the "Pizza Margherita", a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil representing the colors of the Italian flag, to welcome the Queen of Italy, Queen Margherita, to Naples. She loved it and the name stuck to what we know it as today!

-In the late 19th century, pizza was sold in the streets in Naples at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, most people in Naples eat pizza 7x a week….this is my kinda town!

- In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi claims to have opened the first United States Pizzeria in New York City.

Once we began to talk about techniques he explained that the flour is a key if not the most important ingredient in the production of pizza. Roberto uses Antimo Caputo, “double zero” flour at Keste. It is made especially for pizza from seven different kinds of wheat. The wheat is ground very slowly so as not to damage the flour and the nutrients. This flour creates a dough that is easier to stretch and the slow rise gives more flavor. Roberto, hand mixes the dough with water, yeast, and salt, then lets the dough rest/rise at room temperature for at least 8 hours before using it. This gives the dough lightness and creates a better crust all around. When handling the dough he explained that you need to be gentle and not to over stretch it, because if you over-work the dough you will wind up with a chewy/tough crust.

After the overview, we were ready to roll, I started patting my dough ball into a flattened round shape, slightly pulling it out each time I flipped it between my hands.

Once it was about 12 inches around I dressed it with the sauce and other accoutrements, before putting it into the 900 degree wood-fired oven (all imported from Naples). The toppings Roberto uses are the finest and fresh ingredients from sources such as Di Paolo. His pizza is almost an art form in the way he treats each pie.

Moments later, I was surprised to see that the pizzas were only in the oven for just about 1 minute before being removed and served. They had a perfectly puffy and charred crust, the cheese was melted and the smell was divine…I couldn’t wait to dig in!

Our class moved over to a table where we were served a Grangnano wine, Penisola Sorrentina “Lettere”, think Lambrusco style, to go with our custom pies. As each of us enjoyed the first slice of our own creation, we then switched plates to try each others for the second slice. It was interesting to see the difference in the taste/structure of the pizza; they were all a bit different even though the ingredients were the same. I think I got a little over-zealous with my dough, it was slightly chewier then a few of my classmates…I guess I have some practice to do! Roberto also brought out several signature pies for us to sample as well, one of my favorites included a butternut squash (for the base), chestnut cheese, mozzarella and basil- yum! He also introduced us to a dessert pizza with nutella, it was delicious.

To make the “Keste” style pizza at home, Roberto advises to use this recipe.

3.75 pounds Tipo "00" flour
1 liter warm water
0.1 ounce fresh (or dry) yeast
2.1 ounces salt
0.7 ounce sugar (optional)

1. Split the liter of water, using half to dissolve the salt, and the other half to dissolve the yeast.

2. Combine the flour and sugar. Then add the wet ingredients, and start working the dough.
3. Roberto learned how to mix by hand, but realizes that machines are helpful. If you have a KitchenAid, put it on the lowest speed possible. However you decide to mix the dough, stop after ten minutes, or when it isn't sticky anymore.

4. Let dough sit for an hour, covered under plastic.

5. Form into balls, about 20 ounces each. Store balls in a cool spot, either the fridge or counter-space, for at least 8 hours to let the dough rise.

6. Preheat oven to 500°F, or the highest setting possible. Spread dough on a baking pan or stone, gently stretching the edges.

7. Bake the dough for ten minutes before adding toppings. Then add the tomato sauce and cheese, etc. and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes until cheese is melted.
I can't wait to try this at could be very dangerous (or slightly addictive)!

In addition to Keste, here are some of my other favorite pizza places....the list is always growing, so if you have a suggestion please let me know:

Numero 28: Family run, rustic pizzas set in a quaint exposed brick space. Located in Greenwich Village on Carmine near Bleeker.

Vezzo: Ultra-thin crust pizza, for days when you are craving pizza but want to keep the calories low. Located in Murray Hill at 31st and Lexington.

Motorino: Similar to Keste’s style, offers some unique pizza combos like the Roasted Brussels Sprouts and smoked pancetta. Located in East Village and Brooklyn
Peasant: An Italian restaurant that makes a fabulous pizza! Located in Nolita on Elizabeth near Spring

La Villa: A neighborhood joint in Park Slope Brooklyn, the Focaccia di Nonna is a must!

Pizzeria Bianco: This place is incredible and in an unexpected location: Phoenix, AZ. Chris Bianco is the man behind the pie, and he definitely knows what he is doing… worth checking out if you are in the area, I’m still dreaming about the time I went!
Lombardi’s: The original pizza joint…first in the US, and still turning out amazing pies! Located near Little Italy on Spring and Mott.

Keste Pizza & Vino on Urbanspoon


Wine Wonderland

France and Napa and Italy- oh my! All the big guns were out at the 2009 New York Wine Experience event hosted by the Wine Spectator last weekend. It is an affair I look forward to every year and was thrilled I was able to attend again! On Friday night, I made my way over to the Times Square giant--Marriott Marquis, to peruse around the “Critics’ Choice” Grand Tasting session. I was met at the top of the escalator by my drinking buddy for the evening, Ira Norof, the Wine Educator for Southern Wine & Spirits as well as the new president of the Society of Wine Educators. I met Ira several years ago during my time with Southern Wines & Spirits, he was a great mentor of wine to me, and continues to be to this day! So with glass in hand we sought out to taste some of the great wines of the night—some in which I have only heard mythical stories about and didn’t know actually existed i.e. cult wines. The event spanned over 2 floors and took up 2 large ballrooms in the hotel---it was virtually an oenophiles wet dream! Every wine featured was a top-scoring wine (90 points or above), and personally being poured by the best winemakers, vintners and wine personalities from around the world.

We opted to start on far left of the 5th floor with a bit of bubbly, before diving into the coveted reds. Our first stop was Pol Roger, where we tried the Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Extra Cuvée de Reserve 1999. It was a nice palate teaser, but not my favorite sparkler of the night. Next we moved onto the Louis Roederer Brut Cristal 2002, although this is a fabulous wine, a small part of me wanted to bust into a Notorious B.I.G. song---but I refrained! We then tried the Krug Brut Grande Cuvée, a well crafted wine made from a blend of several vintages. Having to get my California fix early on, I moved over to the Schramsberg table for a glass of the J. Schram North Coast 2001, a rich and dry sparkling wine. Saving the best for last, we tried the Brut Dom Pérignon 2000, my favorite of the bunch. It showed beautifully and resembled all the details of what a fine Champagne should be.

After the Champagne we cruised around the event to try a few of the standout whites before turning our palates over to the reds, these were my favorites:

· 2007 Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne: Elegant, crisp and delicious! I even got to meet Louis Latour Jr., very nice guy.

· 2005 Robert Talbott Estate Cuvée Audrey Chardonnay: Clean wine with mineral notes from the Central Coast of CA. The owner Robert told us some pretty crazy stories about Cyotees in the vineyard.

· 2007 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Chateau du Nozay: a true showing of a Sancerre- yum!

· 2004 Hugel Riesling Alsace Jubilée: A refreshing wine without the “syrupy” sweetness that most Rieslings tend to have.

With 2 hours left of the Grand Tasting, we were ready to let loose on the reds. The only problem was, that there were so many amazing wines to choose from we had no idea where to begin---but somehow we managed to navigate and find our way through to purple teeth heaven! Here’s the golden list of what we tasted in alpha order (and just to give you a scope of the size of the event, we only tasted about a ¼ of the wines that were there). Each wine we tasted was fabulous--I’m a very lucky girl indeed:

· 2006 Alta Vista Alto, Mendoza
· 2004 Bergstrom Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills Oregon
· 2005 BOND Vecina, Napa Valley
· 2003 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection, Napa Valley
· 2005 Chimney Rock Cabernet, Stags Leap District
· 2006 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve, Willamette Valley Oregon
· 2006 Dominus Napa Valley
· 2007 DuMOL Pinot Noir Finn, Russian River Valley
· 2006 Castello di Fonterutoli Toscana Siepi, Italy
· 2006 O. Fournier Malbec Alfa Crux, Uco Valley
· 2004 Gaja Langhe Sperss, Italy
· 2006 Gemstone Cabernet Sauvignon Ten, Yountville
· 1999 Chateau Gruaud-Larose St.-Julien
· 2006 HALL Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
· 2005 Harlan Estate Napa Valley
· 2007 Kistler “Cuvee Natalie” Pinot Noir , Sonoma Coast
· 2006 Chateau Léoville Las Cases St.-Julien
· 2001 Chateau Margaux Premier Grand Cru
· 2004 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Toscana Masseto, Italy
· 2005 Chateau Mouton Rothschild Pauillac
· 2005 Bodegas Muga Rioja Torre Muga
· 2006 Numanthia Termes Toro Termanthia
· 2006 Opus One Napa Valley
· 2006 Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore
· 2007 Alvaro Palacios Priorate L’Ermita
· 2005 Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
· 2006 Quintessa Rutherford
· 1989 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains
· 2004 Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia, Sassicaia
· 2005 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select, Stags Leap District
· 2006 Two Hand Ares, Barossa Valley Australia
· 1999 Vega Sicilia Gran Reserva Unico, Ribera del Duero

In addition to the Grand Tasting I also attended a few seminars on Saturday, for my recap of the Four Chefs Food & Wine Paring seminar (with Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Emeril and Charlie Trotter) visit the


Creative Southeast-Asian Bites in Brooklyn

Last week, a friend took me to Umi Nom for dinner- Chef King Phojanakong’s, of the popular Kuma Inn on the Lower East Side, new Southeast-Asian joint that dishes out a variety of interesting and flavorful small plates. The 50-seat restaurant in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, is a narrow, brick and dark wood lined space that was once a former Laundromat.

Phojanakong’s, Filipino and Thai background influence the menu with dishes such as salt and pepper lollipop chicken wings with anaheim peppers, wok roasted manila clams with a spicy black bean sauce, fried spring rolls of shrimp, pork & glass noodles, and griddled beef patties in a pork bun with house pickles.

Along with a rice and noodle selections, Umi Nom also offers up a variety of vegetarian friendly dishes like; the crimini mushroom tofu skewers, panko crusted vegetables with a soy vinegar dipping sauce, and Asian market greens: sautéed with garlic. The name, Umi Nom means “to drink” so it is only natural that they will specialize in sakes by the glass and the bottle, including aged sakes, as well as nice wine and beer list, but unfortunately for us, the liquor license is still pending approval, so we were sent down the street to the local wine store to pick up a bottle where they then served our wine sans corkage fee. After dinner we managed to save a little room for dessert, we tried the warm Thai chili chocolate cake-which had the perfect amount of spice to rich chocolate flavor, making a great conclusion to the meal. Overall, I thought the restaurant was great and am excited that I had the chance to venture outside of Manhattan to explore one of Brooklyn’s hip new dining spots!

Good Food+Good Company=Good Times at Umi Nom!
433 Dekalb Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11205 (nr. Classon Ave.)

Note: This restaurant is cash only

Umi Nom on Urbanspoon


What to Drink with Dinner: Eclectic Wines for fall

Over the past few months I have had the pleasure to attend various wine events, visit different wine regions and sample some truly amazing bottles! Since I tasted so many great wines, I thought I would share my notes and let you in on my favorites. These wines offer up the perfect pairing for the cool nights and hearty foods of the fall season.

Typically like to start all events with a glass of bubbly, so I thought the Lanson Black Label Champagne would be fitting to begin with! This non-vintage wine was balanced with notes of floral, honey, citrus and plum. The light effervescence resembled tiny ballet dancers tip-toeing on my tongue in an orchestrated manner. It is a blend of 35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier. It would pair great with a delicate quiche or a buttery Halibut. I was introduced to this Champagne at the 2009 New York Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting, where it stood out amongst the sea of beverages and definitely sparked (or should I say sparkled) my interest! And with renowned French chef Alain Ducasse backing them as their global ambassador, I think they are worth checking out!

If you haven’t tried Grüner Veltliner, I urge you to try this crisp white wine from Austria. It is a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc, very food friendly and frankly is pretty fun to say! I recently tried the 2007 Loimer Grüner Veltliner Langelois Terrassen and was pleasantly surprised! It was a refreshing wine layered with notes of apricot, grass, vanilla, lemon, honey and damp stone with balanced acids. Since this wine has nice minerality and high acids, it works really well with green vegetables which are often hard to pair with. Try it with roasted Brussels Sprouts or Artichoke Gratin!

Pinot Noir has come a long way since the “Sideways” movement, but I often have a hard time finding a really great bottle. So when I stumbled upon the 2007 Antica Terra Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, I made a note to remember this delicious wine! It has aromas of cherry, chocolate, espresso, lavender, mint and leather. It is elegant and velvety with smooth tannins and great acidity! Winemaker Maggie Harrison has her work cut out for her as the vineyard is planted on a rugged parcel of land that is almost solid rock on a sloping hillside, a very unique property! But as they say in the movie Sideways, “Pinot Noir is a hard grape to grow; it’s thin-skinned, temperamental and ripens early. It needs constant care and attention, only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression,” so Maggie must know what she is doing, because this wine is at the top of my list! This wine would be great for a Thanksgiving turkey and all the accoutrements.

A few months ago I was lucky enough to spend some time in South America, from the mountains of Peru to the beaches of Uruguay to the wonderful wine country in Argentina. I absolutely fell in love with Mendoza and the beautiful wines they are producing down there. The indigenous grapes in Argentina are; Torrentes (White wine) and Malbec (Red wine) which are both interesting wines. After a week of touring around and trying several different Malbec’s, I was feeling pretty good about this wine. I had a hard time choosing my favorite, but I think it the 2006 Bodegas Renacer Punto Final Reserva was quite exquisite. It had a deep red color with shades of violet, and aromas of cherry, cinnamon, chocolate and anise with toasty notes from the French oak barrel. A perfect pair with a Grilled Ribeye Steak or Herb Roasted Rack of Lamb.

While I was strolling around at a wine event in NYC a few weeks ago, I came across an interesting wine that I have never heard of: Charbono. I was curious so I went in for a taste of the 2007 Summers Estate Napa Valley Charbono. It was great! It was a medium bodied wine that had earthy aromas with hints of blueberry and dried fruit. Owner Jim Summers explained that it is a rare varietal thought to have originated between the borders of Southeastern France and Northwestern Italy, brought over by Italian immigrants in the late 1800s. It was mistaken for Barbera (even bottled by Inglenook Winery and labeled Barbera) but after DNA testing by UC Davis, they proved it was the Charbono varietal. Today it’s only found growing in about 80 acres of California, half of that in Calistoga (North Napa County), where the grape thrives best. This wine would be great with Mushroom Ravioli or Duck confit!

During a visit with my friends from Wines from Spain, I was introduced to an interesting and special grape called Vidadillo do Almonacid, also known as Crepiello, from the Cariñena region of Spain. Bodegas y Viñedos Pablo winery took a chance on this nearly extinct grape and started producing a truly lovely unfiltered wine called Pulchrum, which ages for 16 months in French and American oak before bottling. This medium body wine has notes of red fruit, balsamic, violet, licorice, vanilla and mocha. The tannins are fine grained, yet persistent through the finish. A great pair for an aged Manchego cheese or a Pork Tenderloin.

The last wine I am going to share with you is from Paso Robles, close to where I went to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Russell From, also a Cal Poly Alum, started Herman Story Wines a few years ago and is making some kick-ass juice! The 2007 “Nuts & Bolts” Syrah is a full-bodied, deep, chewy wine with aromas of chocolate, blackberry, tobacco and floral notes. Would go great with a Juicy Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger or a messy Tri-Tip Sandwich.

I hope this comes in handy when pairing dishes this holiday season! Also, I just got word that I will be the new Manhattan Wine & Food Pairing Expert on, so please check me out when you get a chance:

From Grape to Glass, Happy Drinking!


"Shaking" it up at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic

I can officially say that I’ve finally been to the New York Public Library…my mom would be so proud (as she is a Librarian)! Unfortunately it wasn’t for studious reasons, but rather to imbibe in some amazing cocktails at the premiere preview gala of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic! New York City’s first ever multi-day event celebrating the history, contemporary culture, and artful craft of the cocktail from event visionary Lesley Townsend.

As I walked up the candle lit stone steps in my new little cocktail frock, I was in awe….it was such a beautiful setting! At the door, I was greeted by the fabulous Hanna Lee (of Hanna Lee Communications), where she handed me the “roadmap” of the evening’s festivities and set me loose in the cocktail kingdom. I glanced around the marble floored room and noticed there were twelve individual bars serving up different iconic “New York” cocktails made by some of the great mixologists of our time: Dale DeGroff, Steve Olsen, Dave Wondrich, Charlotte Voisey and many more…hum, where to start, they all looked so good!

On my way to the first bar of the night, I swayed to the engaging music that was playing compliments of big jazz band, Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks; they were great and provided a lovely backdrop, I actually felt like I was in another era!

The first drink I tried actually turned out to be one of my favorites from the evening—the Morehouse Mollifier, which was made with Ketel One Vodka, Grand Marnier, Lime Juice, and Orange Flower Water—shook with ice and strained into a martini glass. It was delicious, with the right amount of tart to sweetness! I later learned that the cocktail recipe was from Ward Morehouse, a columnist for New York World-Telegram and Sun, which he adapted from the cocktail book "Bottoms Up" by Ted Saucier (1951, New York). Just thought I would throw some “book” knowledge in since it was at the Library!!!

On my way to the next stop of the night, I passed by the over-the-top buffet of food…it was actually incredible! The long table was set with bites from Top NYC chefs that featured foods such as the giant Turkey Drumstick, Suckling Pig, Deviled Eggs, Marinated Squash Salad, Boudin Blanc, artisanal cheeses, as well as a separate oyster bar to boot! I took a few nibbles and then proceeded to the closest bar. Over the night I worked my way around the space (upstairs and downstairs) sampling several different cocktails while making some new friends.

Beside the Morehouse Mollifier, a found a few more favorites in the bunch, like the Floradora made with Hendrick’s Gin, Raspberry Syrup, Lime Juice, and Ginger Beer- it was amazing, refreshing with a bit of spice from the ginger beer! And the Liberty Cocktail made with Zacapa Rum, Applejack Bonde, and Demerara sugar syrup, garnished with an Orange twist, was a nice nightcap!

After a few hours of sipping, chatting, and nibbling everyone seemed to migrate to the dance floor, where we boogied the night away until the event concluded. All and all it was a fantastic night, and I actually “learned” a lot about the cocktail culture from the past few centuries and even felt a bit smarter…maybe in part by osmosis from being in the New York Public Library!!! Either way I am looking forward to the next installment of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic this spring!

For more information on the event, and for details about future events, please visit:

Moules a la Mode

This may be the easiest meal you will ever make…I promise! It cooks up nice and quick and makes any dinner table look like a cute little French Bistro. I created this recipe after tasting a bland batch of mussels at a NYC restaurant (which will remain un-named) and thought that I could make the dish with a bit more spunk! So while strolling through the Green Market one afternoon, I picked up some fresh ingredients that would make for a scrumptious mussel dinner. I chose to serve them alongside a crusty baguette, a light salad of mixed greens with goat cheese in a lemon vinaigrette and a bottle of chilled 2008 HALL Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

It was a perfectly light meal that reminded me of being in the South of France on a crisp Fall night!

4 pounds of fresh Mussels (rinsed and de-bearded)
4 TBS. of unsalted butter
1 cup of dry white wine (I like to use Sauvignon Blanc)
5 Garlic cloves (crush 2 cloves through garlic press, and leave the 3 remaining cloves whole)
6 Sprigs of fresh Thyme
½ of a Serrano pepper (thinly slice)
2 Roma Tomatoes (diced)
1 TBS dried Oregano
Salt/Pepper to taste

Heat a large sauce pan (or large skillet with lid) over low heat. Add butter to the pan to melt, then the crushed garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Next add the diced tomatoes, sliced Serrano pepper, oregano, thyme and wine to the butter garlic mixture, turn heat to medium. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until you have a slight boil.

Then add a dash of salt and pepper as well as the mussels. Cover the pan, give it a good shake to make sure the broth and mussels are fully incorporated, and let steam for about 2-3 minutes (or until most mussels have opened), if not, let steam for another minute.

If some mussels have not opened, discard them. Don't cook any longer than 4 minutes because mussels can be rubbery if overcooked.

Remove from heat and serve immediately with a crusty loaf of bread or French fries!

Bon Appétit

Yield: 4-6 servings


In Vino Veritas, Napa Style!

For all of you wine lovers out there, you are going to want to read this one! (Part 1)

After spending a wonderful, action packed week in Southern California visiting with friends and family up and down the coast, I was happy to pack my bags and head north to the Napa Valley for some relaxation and great wine! I typically try to make a point to get to wine country at least 4 times a year (once per season) for research/business purposes, so I was happy that I was able to extend my Southern California trip to include some time Summer-time fun in Napa.

My liquid journey begins at 4:45am on Friday: the alarm goes off, ugh- way too early, but then I remember I am going to several fantastic wineries later that day so I leap out of bed with a smile on my face and hop in the shower. Around 5:30am, I convince my younger brother to give me a lift to the airport…he is not thrilled but managed to get out of his cushy bed to drop me off. I arrive at John Wayne Airport in Orange County by 6:00am and head to the gate. (Side Note: If you ever find yourself flying to San Francisco to visit the wine country, I highly recommend Virgin America…not only is it a cool airline, but the prices are hard to beat!) Just as I woke up from a very short nap, my flight (only 56 minutes later) arrived at SFO. I gather my bags and head to the rental car location. The morning was off to a great and smooth start--or so I thought! Unfortunately, I took forever to get my rental car, so much so that I missed my first appointment at Etude winery scheduled for 10am. Thankfully, they were able to accommodate me on Monday morning instead, nice people!

My first (new) stop was Staglin Winery at 11:30am in Rutherford (a sub appellation (AVA) of Napa). I was greeted by Collin Casper, the Director of Hospitality with a glass of the 2007 Salus Estate Chardonnay. A nice clean wine with balanced acids and hints of citrus, pear and honey. Salus is the Roman goddess of health and well-being-and the term Salud or Cheers derives from it. So, it was only fitting that this was the first wine I tried on my 4 day Napa adventure. Collin then walked our group out to the vineyard where we admired the fruitful vines, the olive trees and the construction of their new visitor’s center.

Back inside we were handed a second Chardonnay, 2006 Staglin Estate, before we started our walk through the chilled wine caves. This wine was quite different then the first wine, much more complex with vanilla and buttery notes with floral hints. After we took a tour of the cave system, which is home to their annual Music Festival for Mental Health, we were seated at a large table to continue our tasting.

As Collin poured 2 different Cabernet Sauvignons, he mentioned that Michel Rolland is their acting wine consultant--that guy is everywhere! Stay tuned for more on Mr. Rolland, as I am planning to do a larger piece on him soon, he seems to pop up all over the place- like a “Where’s Waldo” of the wine world! The first Cab we tried was the 2006 Salus Estate- 100% Cabernet--with a nose of plum, chocolate, and cassis. Nice, but still a bit closed, perhaps another year or so in the bottle and it will round out great! Cab #2 was the 2005 Staglin Estate- I got a bit of the Rutherford dust on the nose with tobacco, black tea, spice and rich berry. This one was more my style- yum! Rutherford is known for its well drained soil with a composition of gravel, loam and sand with volcanic deposits marine sediments, making it a great location to grow Cabernet!

As the tasting came to an end I noticed it was lunch time, and I had just enough time to hit Bouchon in Yountville before I went to my next winery! I opted to sit at the bar since I was alone and didn’t really feel like doing the “table of one” thing. The scene was bustling with a mix of locals and visitors alike, I pulled up a chair next to two Frenchmen enjoying conversation and Rosé. I immediately ordered a glass as well since it was turning out to be a very hot day in the valley (temps reached 105 degrees) and what better way to enjoy a casual lunch then with a chilled glass of pink wine! After reviewing the menu for a minute, I decided on the Quiche Florentine. It looked lovely and included a side mixed green salad-a perfect lunch! The quiche was delicious, it was like little pillows of fluffy eggs, cream and cheese melting in my mouth, almost like a savory crème brule. The crust was flaky, yet dense--so good! Mr. Thomas Keller is a genius!

When I was finishing up my lunch, the gentleman next to me received his lunch- the Moules au Pistou. The smell was intoxicating, rich with garlic, basil and white wine- I almost regretted that I didn’t order it. Luckily the man saw me eyeing his dish, and graciously offered to share. I gladly accepted, as I just had to try one mussel to see if the smell was as good as the taste--it was! That is one thing I love about dining alone at a bar, you definitely meet some friendly people.

At 2pm I met with Stéphane Vivier, Winemaker for HdV Wines in Napa. He is an interesting, profound and extremely passionate fellow with many stories to tell for someone being relatively young in the wine world. But from what I saw, he loves his job and said that he is humbled by making wine.

HdV-a family venture between Hyde Vineyards of Napa Valley and Aubert & Pamela de Villaine of Burgundy, France. They have a very rich wine history, over 200 years in the new and old world, so I was excited to try their juice! They utilize “Green Viticulture” a term they coined, which references sustainability, as they are not organically certified.
Stéphane, explained the characteristics of the vineyard as he took us through an intricate wine tasting. The first wine we tried was the2007 De La Guerra Chardonnay, which was a Chablis style of wine—refreshing, balanced, crisp with melon and honey notes-- it was fabulous! Hyde Vineyard is in a perfect location to grow Chardonnay, as it has cooler temperatures with marine influences. The second wine we tasted was the 2006 HdV Chardonnay, which comes from 30 year old vineyards. Nice wine with clean notes and great mouth-feel. This wine was not fined, racked or stirred during the fermentation process. Our 3rd wine was the 2006 Syrah (100%)-- it was an elegant, soft wine with a bit of earthiness and nice fruit. The last wine we tasted was the 2005 Belle Cousine (Larry Hyde and Pamela de Villanie are cousins) – a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet- with note of chocolate, tobacco and cherry with a round finish. These guys are making some great wines-- I encourage you to check them out!

My last stop of the day was Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga. All I have to say is, wow! This place was unreal-- literally a 121,000-square-foot-castle in the middle of the Napa Valley, equipped with a drawbridge, hand-painted frescoes and torture chamber--taking 15 years to build.

I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the place, as well as meeting with Dario Sattui (owner, also owns V. Sattui winery in St. Helena), Brooks Painter (Winemaker) and Jim Sullivan (Communications Director) over a few glasses of wine.

My first thought was that the wine was probably subpar as this place was too much of a fantasy land to make serious wine-- but I was wrong, they had some very nice wines coming from their Diamond Mountain property! They only make about 15,000 cases of the 16 varietals they produce and all of the wine is sold directly through the winery (no distribution). We tasted a number of wines but the few that stood out included the 2002 Il Brigante, which is an approachable Cab and Merlot blend- with refined notes of cherry, currant and chocolate; and the 2005 Reserve Cabernet, which had the typical Diamond Mountain characteristics of herbal notes (eucalyptus, sage), and ripe berry fruit making it a very balanced wine. These two wines and the experience of the castle made it a perfect ending to my first day in the Napa Valley!

Just as I left the castle I got a phone call from my friend Mia, she made dinner plans for us at the Martini House in St. Helena, yum! Maybe this would be the perfect ending to my first day in the valley!
Please Note: This is going to be a 2-3 part series--way too much great info to include in one piece! Stay tuned for day 2-4 in the coming days!