Is It Fall Yet?

Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Although the temperatures outside don’t agree, I know that sweater weather is just around the corner.

Tomorrow is a big day for me – stay tuned for that – and next week I will be sharing a post about why wine vintage matters even to those who don’t cellar their wine.

But today, I’d like to share some random things that have caught my eye.

The Art of Liz Lyons Friedman

I first discovered Liz Lyon Friedman’s beautiful work at the Sausalito Art Festival several years ago. Held every year over Labor Day weekend, this beautiful art festival in Sausalito, California, is one of my favorites.

As I walked past her booth, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Liz’s colorful and intriguing pieces.

Liz creates “linocuts” or linoleum block prints. (See details on her process here.)

Their beauty with a touch of whimsy, speaks to my soul. And, the themes Liz focuses on – wine, friends, life, and love – are the very things I celebrate every day.

We have these fabulous pieces in our house along with her award-winning poster from the 2012 Sausalito Art Festival.

Kitchen Crowd by Liz Lyons Friedman

Kitchen Crowd by Liz Lyons Friedman (used with permission by the artist)

Cooking With WIne by Liz Lyons Friedman

Cooking With Wine by Liz Lyons Friedman (used with permission by the artist)

You can visit Liz Lyon Friedman’s site or find her on Facebook to see more of her talent.

College Football Tailgating

In a couple of weeks, we will be heading to Notre Dame for a home football game.

My mouth is watering thinking of the delicious meatball subs, chili and scrumptious baked goods on hand at the tailgate party our friends so generously invite us to.

This post, It’s Tailgate Season, by my blog friend Vicki at Life in My Empty Nest, is chock-a-block full of amazing recipes for tailgate parties. Vicki found all sorts of great recipes on Pinterest (like this yummy looking bacon cheeseburger meatball recipe from An Affair from the Heart) collected just for us!

I have pinned every one of the recipes shown in Vicki’s post. Now I just have to talk someone into making them for me!

The West Wing Podcast

I’m a nerd. My favorite television show of all time (please don’t tell the housewives) is The West Wing.

I loved that show from the first minutes of the pilot all the way through two terms of Jed Bartlett’s presidency.

Imagine my delight in discovering that there is a podcast, The West Wing Weekly, which is an episode by episode analysis of my favorite show.

Be still, my nerdy little heart.

Hosted by Joshua Malina (who played the role of Will Bailey starting in season 4) and Hrishikesh Hirway (musician, composer, podcaster and political news junkie), the podcasts feature analysis of each episode, behind the scenes stories and visits from many of the West Wing actors.

Netflix is offering every season of West Wing. I have been watching each episode, then listening to the podcast.

The only teensy tiny problem is that Netflix encourages binge watching by starting the next episode as soon as the last is done. I have stayed up waaaaaay too late too many nights hanging out with Toby, Josh, CJ and Donna.

And loving it.

Bounty Hunter Wine Catalog

I’ve shared this gem with you before. I consider the Bounty Hunter catalog to be the best source for online wine purchasing. They also carry spirits.

Bounty Hunter Wine Catalog

The fine folks at Bounty Hunter scour the world, curating a collection of wine based on quality and price. There is something for everyone and you can be guaranteed the wine will be good.

Just this weekend, Peter and I pulled a bottle of wine which we had never had before out of the cellar, a 2007 Pedestal Merlot.

2007 Pedestal Merlot

As soon as I saw the Bounty Hunter sticker on the back of the wine, confirming where we had purchased this bottle, I knew it would be a gem and it was!

When you visit Napa, be sure to visit Bounty Hunter’s Smokin’ BBQ Restaurant and Wine Bar for delicious food and a wide selection of wines. It is right in the heart of downtown Napa at 975 First Street.

That’s my roundup for now. By the way, all of these opinions and endorsements are my own. Other than permission to use images of Liz Lyons Friedman’s art, I have received no compensation from anyone included in this post.

Now, what about you? What’s on your radar? Are you ready for fall?

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Two Melon Soup – A High Impact, Low Effort Recipe

Hi, folks!

We had a busy weekend which started with the celebration of this gal’s birthday.

the birthday girl

You may know her as “Momma” from the comments section of this blog. I know her as the best mom a gal could ever have.

Our two-day celebration was capped off with a delicious dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s.  By the way, did you know that they will print a special occasion message to the guest of honor on the top of your menus? Nice touch, McCormick & Schmick’s.

On Saturday night we had a mini-reunion with part of our Camino de Santiago group at the home of fellow pilgrims, Nora and G.

Before dinner, we plugged our computers into G’s gigantic and gorgeous television to share pictures from the trip. We scrolled through 300+ photos bringing back great memories of a most amazing journey.

In honor of the evening’s theme, Nora prepared a lovely and delicious paella.

paella and two melon soup

Paella is something I enjoy eating but would never attempt to make myself. Nora is a gifted cook who whips up dishes like this with her eyes closed.

I’m delighted to be the frequent beneficiary of Nora’s culinary skills and have, in fact, “borrowed” her recipes for posts (Panzanella salad).

Today I’m going to share another of Nora’s recipes with you.

See that pretty bowl of soup served with the paella?

This Two Melon Soup, served chilled, is the perfect, refreshing start to a summertime meal.

Also, Nora assures me that the recipe fits my requirements of being High Impact, Low Effort. The hardest part, she says, is pouring the soup into the bowls.

two melon soup

Nora’s Two Melon Soup

  • 1 ripe cantaloupe, diced
  • 1 small honeydew melon, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoon minced fresh mint

Puree cantaloupe with lemon juice until smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Rinse blender then puree honeydew with lime juice and mint until smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

When ready to serve, either:

Transfer purees into two separate measuring cups. With one in each hand, pour simultaneously into the bowl, pouring equal amounts on each side.

or use Nora’s preferred method:

Tip bowl slightly to the side and pour in the desired amount of cantaloupe puree. Pour the honeydew puree into the other side of the bowl as you are lowering the bowl back to level.

Either way might take some practice but the result is beautiful.

Garnish with a mint sprig.

Easy, peasy. Or so I’m told.

Big surprise, Peter and I brought wine to enjoy with dinner.

First up, a bottle of Albariño.

Albariño is a white wine commonly grown in Galicia, the Northwest region of Spain. Galicia is the very same part of Spain we walked through on the Camino of St. James. Along the way, we enjoyed lots and lots of great Spanish Albariño. 

Peter and I brought a bottle from one of the few U.S. producers of Albariño, Hendry Vineyard. It was on a trip to Hendry’s winery in Napa that we first tasted Albariño and fell in love with it.

2014 Hendry Albariño

The 2014 Hendry Albariño ($22) is light and refreshing with good acidity. It is fruity and floral without going over the top. 

Floral, herbal and peachy aromas. On the palate, tangy citrus, nectarine and passion fruit flavors reflect the bright acidity.

– Tasting notes via Hendry.com

Albariño reminds me a bit of Viognier in that it is a pretty versatile food wine. It pairs best with shellfish like mussels and clams but is also great with chicken. It’s the perfect white wine to serve with paella.

For the red wine lovers in the group, we brought a bottle of 2007 Clos Mogador Priorat from Spain.

2007 Clos Magador

This bold red Spanish wine, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carinena, is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Albariño.

The 2007 Clos Mogador Priorat is dark and juicy and immensely satisfying. It brings flavors of licorice, blackberry, and black cherry. It’s a little bit spicy and a little bit smoky.

Oddly, though, because of the hearty nature of paella, this wine played well and did not overpower the flavors in the main course.

You have to love a dish with which you can pair both a light white wine and a bold red wine. Something for everyone.

For dessert, Nora made (you won’t believe this) homemade non-dairy rocky road ice cream with mini-marshmallows, almonds, and dashes of cayenne and red pepper.

That’s what I call a “HIGH EFFORT, HIGH IMPACT” recipe!

We ended the evening re-watching the movie that inspired us to do the walk in the first place, The Way.

This film from 2011 stars Martin Sheen and is written, produced and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. Dedicated to Sheen’s father, Francisco Estevez, who hailed from Galicia, the film was inspired by a trip Sheen took with Emilio’s son on which they walked part of the Camino. A real family affair.

Although the movie tells the sad story of a dad completing the pilgrimage on behalf of his late son, it also captures the beauty, the community, and the spirit of The Way.

I highly recommend it!

And if you can get Nora to make some Two Melon Soup and paella for you – even better!!

I’ll bring the Albariño.

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Beef Tenderloin and Cabernet Sauvignon

Beef tenderloin is my very favorite cut of meat.

And it scares me to death.

Beef tenderloin can be culinary bliss or if cooked improperly, the most expensive mistake you’ll ever make.

So, when I recently prepared a beef tenderloin dinner to celebrate having the twins and their parents in town, I turned to the wise and wonderful Barefoot Contessa for advice.

Seriously, is there anyone better at instilling confidence in home cooks than Ina Garten? Her soothing voice. Her “keep calm and trust me” demeanor.

She is simply the best.

Ina’s recipe for beef tenderloin calls for four ingredients.

  • 5-pound beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter at room temperature
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Ok, that’s the easy part.

I’ve made beef tenderloin enough to know the drill: take the meat out of the refrigerator several hours before cooking to let it come up to temperature, slather the tenderloin with butter, generously salt and pepper, place in a roasting pan and you are ready to go.

The very, very, very tricky part of cooking a beef tenderloin is the temperature at which to cook it.

A Google search for “how to roast a 5-pound beef tenderloin” brings results ranging from 250° to 500°.

Quite the range, eh?

Now you know why I turned to my culinary spirit animal, Ina Garten.

I will let the expert show you how it’s done.

Our crowd favors “rare” so I cooked my tenderloin at 500° for EXACTLY 22 minutes as Ina instructs here.

It turned out perfectly as I knew it would and we gobbled it up before I thought to snap a picture.

One little side note.

Because I was terrified of overcooking the main course, I used not one but two meat thermometers.

The standard, every kitchen should have one, old-school meat thermometer

Mocadeaux - meat thermometer

and the fancy-pants, set it and forget it, remote meat thermometer.

Mocadeaux - remote meat thermometer

Both were brand new as my old ones had gone caput within days of one another.

At the precise 22 minute mark, the low-tech thermometer registered a few ticks below 130°, just where I wanted it to be.

However, the high-tech device registered an alarming 86°! If I had relied just on that thermometer without the backup thermometer and the guidance of my mentor, Ina, my precious tenderloin would have been destroyed. Shoe leather.

Lessons learned: Always have a backup thermometer and always trust Ina.

Now, about the wine…

A dinner featuring my favorite meat needed to also feature my favorite wine – Cabernet Sauvignon.

Peter reached deep into the wine cellar and picked out two gems.

2007 Quintessa Cabernet Sauvignon

Mocadeaux - 2007 Quintessa Cabernet Sauvignon

and

2009 Darius II Cabernet Sauvignon

Mocadeaux - 2009 Darius II

Both of these beautiful wines are definitely special occasion gems pulled from the top shelf of our cellar. But you can find great bottles of cabernet sauvignon at your local wine store. Always remember to ask the staff for suggestions.

Check out my recommendations, including “Everyday Cabernet Sauvignons”Chimney Rock which always rocks and “A Red Wine Lovers List of Red Wines I Love”.

Mocadeaux - red wine list

With a perfectly cooked beef tenderloin and a thoughtfully chosen Cabernet Sauvignon, you can’t go wrong.

By the way, be sure to send a note letting me know when dinner will be served. I wouldn’t want to be late!

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Tapas Barcelona in Evanston

On Saturday night Peter and I enjoyed dinner at one of our favorite tapas restaurants, Tapas Barcelona in Evanston.

Tapas Barcelona in Evanston

Evanston, home of Northwestern University, is a beautiful lakefront city just north of Chicago, chock-a-block full of great restaurants.

It wasn’t always that way.

My very first big-girl, post-graduation apartment was in Evanston. My pals Clare, Catherine and I shared a snazzy apartment featuring 3 bedrooms and white shag carpet. Quite “au courant” in 1979. This palace cost us each a mere $154 per month if you can believe it.

Back in those days, Evanston was mostly dry – no bars or liquor stores and only a couple of restaurants with liquor licenses. As I recall, there was The Keg, where Northwestern students brought their visiting parents and we could not afford, and The Spot, a pizza joint which was our second home.

Gone are those restrictive days and Evanston is now a nightlife hot spot.

Tapas dining is a wonderful solution for people like me who have trouble choosing just one dish on a menu. The variety of small plates let diners sample hot and cold dishes ranging from olives and veggies to meat and seafood.

We started with a glass of Martin Codax Albariño from the Rias-Braixas region of Spain.

Martin Codax Albariño

Albariño is a dry white wine that pairs well with seafood. My very favorite domestic producer of Albariño is Hendry Wines from Napa.

The typical recommendation for tapas dining is to select three to four dishes per person. Even with a party of two, this allows for a tasting of six to eight different menu items.

Every single item we enjoyed from the Tapas Barcelona menus was delicious. Here were a few of our favorites.

Patatas Alioli – “Rich garlic potato salad with black olive mayo.”

Perhaps the best potato salad I have ever tasted. I’ve never heard of black olive mayo before but I am a huge fan.

Tapas Barcelona asparagus and potato alioli

Esparragos con Tres Salsa – “Fresh asparagus with avocado, tomato and trio of sauces.”

We almost passed up this dish figuring, meh, it’s just asparagus… This deliciousness could never be described as “just” anything. The cold asparagus was cooked to the perfect tenderness, the tomatoes were flavorful and the 3 sauces (each a variation of aioli) compelled us to scrape the plate clean.

Tapas Barcelona crab stack

Aguacate con Cangrejo – “Fresh crab meat with avocado, cucumber and tomato.”

This beautiful and tasty crab stack was light, fresh and yummy. It was a perfect pairing with the Albariño.

Now for our favorite dishes from the “hot” side of the menu:

Tapas Barcelona goat cheese and tomato sauce

Queso De Cabra Con Tomate – “Baked goat cheese in tomato sauce, nicoise olives, garlic bread.”

Served in a piping hot skillet, this tomato sauce was sweet, a touch spicy and had enough acidity to balance the creamy goat cheese. My only complaint? There was not quite enough of the garlic bread to sop up every last drop of the sauce.

Tapas Barcelona crab croquettes

Croquetas del Dia – “Todays fried croquettes with alioli.”

These “Croquettes of the Day” tasted like the best crabcake tucked inside a thin, crispy crust and resting on yet another delicious aioli.

Among an entire menu of culinary successes, the Crab Croquettes stole the night.

Now it’s your turn. Do you like tapas dining? Do you have a favorite restaurant? A favorite dish? I’d love some recommendations for next time!

(Oh, and by the way, I received no compensation from Tapas Barcelona. They had no idea whether or not a super powerful and influential blogger was in their midst. And nor did I.)

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