Tag Archives: Food

Napa: Wine Tasting Lessons & Anniversary Celebrations

Last week we took a vacation to Napa wine country and had a grand time touring the beautiful countryside; we found the wineries to be very approachable and proud of their wine heritage.  We joined my sister, Cheryl, and her husband, Ron, and tasted some mighty fine California wines.  Most of our tastings were paired with cheeses that enhanced the flavors of the wines.  I consider myself to be a novice consumer who drinks wines that I’m familiar with, but always open to new recommendations.  During the various tastings, I learned that the nuances and flavors of wine are personal and there are no rules (see my About page for more on that one) – buying decisions should be based on what excites your palette.  Both David and I realized that we had already determined our flavor preferences: wines with less tannins (dryness, tartness) and a supple mouth feel that is velvety and full flavored (fruit-forward is good).  We found that if we stick with those criteria then we rarely go wrong, especially when it’s an investment.  At one winery, we tasted about five different wines that Cheryl & Ron cooed over but David and I didn’t taste the same love.  We would catch each other’s eye and give a quick signal for no; thankfully (and sometimes surprisingly) we were always on the same page. 

Pictures: Wine barrels with character (from the top-offs spilling over), a stained glass window off the beaten path at Robert Mondavi, and lots of barrel storage at Rodney Strong.

Wow!  Can you believe we celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary?  Cheryl and Ron took us to dinner at Tra Vigne  in St. Helena where we feasted on some incredible meals made from local food.  We all devoured the appetizer, a house-made mozzarella which was heated through, sliced table-side and served over mouth-watering crostini of Ciabatta flavored with olive oil, garlic and sea salt.  It tasted so fresh and is one I will never forget.  Sneaky Cheryl and Ron surprised us with a moan-worthy bottle of 2003 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite that we had added to our own collection from an earlier tasting.  The evening was magical with great food, laughter, wine and family (and my honey). 

When in doubt, have a picnic!  David is plating up some peppered salami with green and black Cerignola olives, Castelvetrano olives, some sweet French bread, deliciously creamy Mt. Tam cheese and Highway One cheese.  It all went perfectly with a superb 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Heibel Ranch Vineyards.  Life is good!  We shall have fond memories to reminisce about when we enjoy our new wines at home.

Here are some of our favorite wineries:
Jordan
Trefethen
Franciscan
Robert Mondavi
Heibel Ranch Vineyards  (don’t miss the 4WD back country tour from Trent) Take a load off  and 

Remember to let it all hang out every once in a while…..

Cheers to you.  Eat well and share the love! 

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Fisheries…Wild-caught…Farm-raised…Sustainability…Huh?

Courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium

A few weeks ago I was discussing wild-caught versus farm-raised fish with my wise friend, Chris, when she astutely reminded me that it’s the sustainability of our fish source that really matters.   She had a very good point as usual.  Quite simply, if we eat fish to extinction then there won’t be any left to catch.  When I first thought about what I would write for this post, it seemed obvious to me that wild-caught was the ONLY way to buy fish.  After researching the topic further, I soon realized I didn’t have all the information.  Not all wild-caught fish are captured in safe and happy ways. 

To try to sum it all up for you, I’ll briefly cover four things for both fishing methods: the definition, pros, cons and the environmental impact.  The bottom line is we can make informed decisions, be aware of our food sources and support fisheries that source environmentally responsible seafood.  At the end of this post, I have listed resources for further reading.  There is a lot of information out there and I have only skimmed the surface, if you don’t mind the pun.

Before we get into each method of fishing, let’s get a better understanding of sustainability.  I went to the website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association or NOAA, who describes their Fisheries department as being “the lead federal agency responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s offshore living marine resources and their habitat”.   Even though they work with international organizations, fishery regulations only apply to U.S. fisheries, which is something to keep in mind.
NOAA’s definition of sustainability:   “Seafood is sustainable when the population of that species of fish is managed in a way that provides for today’s needs without damaging the ability of the species to reproduce and be available for future generations. If you buy fish managed under a U.S. fishery management plan, you can be assured it meets 10 national standards that ensure fish stocks are maintained, overfishing is eliminated, and the long-term socioeconomic benefits to the nation are achieved.”

So back to my happy thoughts about wild-caught fish: whistling fishermen humanely catching the fish I buy at the store, right?  Not always, I’ve learned – it needs to be sustainable.  The term wild-caught (or freshwater aquaculture) is used to widely describe fish caught in the open waters of the ocean.  The methods can range from responsible trolling (line-caught) to trawling or dredging which use large nets at various depths to scoop up the fish.  The overall issues with wild-caught can be overfishing, lack of management and over-consumption.  One fishing issue is the trawling or dredging method because it doesn’t target just one fish species, it gathers any unfortunate creature in its path – they are called bycatch  “the accidental catch of unwanted species” who are tossed back into the ocean usually dying or dead.  With lack of management, illegal fishing sometimes occurs in areas where the fish are known to gather during a particular season, potentially wiping out several generations of fish and depleting a valuable future resource.  As a consumer, I can make smart choices when selecting my freshwater aquaculture.   

Photo Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Marine Aquaculture is the official term for farm-raised fisheries. Species from shrimp to oysters to salmon to catfish are farm-raised. There are many farming methods ranging from open pens or nets in the ocean (picture on left) to man-made ponds and raceways. Issues with pens in the ocean are numerous: fish can escape and pollute the natural species; the fish are fed a varied mixture that can contain stuff that is bad for us (plus lots of real fish are used, which requires another fishing cycle); they are also susceptible to parasites and diseases and may be treated with antibiotics, all of which have access to the ocean water, exposing the natural fish (not to mention that we eat the final product).  Even though there are government regulations for sustainable methods, there are still concerns about what the fisheries do to the environment and eco-systems (water pollution, natural habitats for other animals removed, healthy fish meat). I came across an interesting tidbit from the NOAA website  published in 2010, “the United States is a major consumer of aquaculture products – we import 84% of our seafood and half of that is from aquaculture – yet we are a minor producer.  U.S. aquaculture (freshwater and marine) supplies about 5% of the U.S. seafood supply and U.S. marine aquaculture less than 1.5%.”  Maybe the slogan “Made in the U.S.A” needs to be resurrected for this industry.  As with the wild-caught fish, I will give more thought to my future fish selections.

Thankfully, we have many resources to help us make informed choices.  One is the Monterey Bay Aquarium – they are considered one of the leading proponents for a healthy ocean environment with the Seafood Watch program.   They offer handy pocket guides on making smart fish choices ranging from relatively abundant (okay to eat) to overfished (avoid), including sushi.  Monterey Bay also has information on fishing methods and seafood recommendations, an informative search for fish by species and which source they should be consumed from.  I am disappointed to learn they labeled my new favorite, Norwegian Salmon with “avoid” status because it is farm-raised and sourced outside the U.S.  I buy my fish from Whole Foods, who abide by a program called Responsibly Farmed  for their farm-raised fish and I have to make a decision about which fishery method to support.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider.  The final pearls of wisdom for me are the responsible sustainability of fishing and eating healthy fish.  Please look over the links below, as well as the ones I have included throughout this post.  I hope you found this helpful. 
Remember, eat well and share the love!

More About NOAA FishWatch
NOAA Aquaculture Program
U.S. Food & Drug Administration – Seafood
Whole Foods – Seafood
Monterey Bay Aquarium – What Can You Do?
Monterey Bay Aquarium – Seafood Watch: Aquaculture
Monterey Bay Aquarium – International Fish Resources
California restaurant recognized for their stringent policy of sustainability
2008 Article: Amid collapsing fisheries and factory-farmed salmon, how to choose sustainable seafood by Lou Bendrick 

Get Your Marmalade on for Dinner!

Tomato & Onion Marmalade with Angel Hair Pasta

I wanted my first blog to feature something that was easy to prepare and satisfying to eat – it was a difficult choice but pasta won out because it is an easy go-to for me.   It can be prepared in so many tempting ways and comes in lots of fun shapes and sizes. I always feel like a successful foodie when I can make a simple sauce that’s full of flavor in the time it takes the water to boil and the pasta to cook.  Mind you, I live at an elevation of 7,500 feet (2,290 m) so I am stuck with a little extra cooking time for pasta at this altitude.  Mostly my recipe ideas work and sometimes they don’t – this one worked great the first time I made it.  And even though the marmalade takes minutes to make it is full of rich, deep flavors. For this recipe, I recommend a combination of grape tomatoes (I am a big fan because they are packed with flavor) and Campari tomatoes on the vine.

Fresh Ingredients Give You The Most Flavor

My inspiration for this recipe came from our trip to Italy and the Marche (pronounced mar-kay) region last October. Our host Paolo at Agriturismo Ramuse  asked if we were hungry for lunch one afternoon and we excitedly said yes, knowing all the ingredients were fresh and local. It was one of the best meals I had during our trip – not to mention one of the best local Sangiovese wines I have ever tasted – because it was real food that connected us to his country and his land.

Melissa (L) and her new friend from Amsterdam, Netty, making gnocchi - a tasty blog for another time.

During a cooking class in Paolo’s kitchen later that week , I noticed the amount of olive oil they used as the basis for a simple sauce.  It was similar to how we use a few pours of chicken broth or stock to make a light sauce.  I have since re-created the tomato sauce from Paolo’s lunch back in my own kitchen and thought it would be a great segue for a tomato and onion marmalade.  The result was a satisfying meal made in less than thirty minutes.   I was excited to recently find at Whole Foods pasta made in the Marche region, which I used for the photo (Montebello brand/Capellini style pasta).  Angel Hair works just as well and is a tad thicker (try Barilla, in the blue box).   Note: For those interested, the blue and white striped apron that I am wearing in the above photo belonged to Jamie Oliver and was given to Paolo when he cooked with him at Ramuse. Pretty cool, but too bad I couldn’t keep it.

Double Duty For The Marmalade
If you have the tomatoes, you can make extra Marmalade for another meal; just double the recipe and set aside one cup.  Try using the marmalade on a crostini with ricotta (or just rub the toasted bread with garlic), as a condiment for your sandwich, over your favorite style eggs or on grilled chicken with some melted cheese over the top. 

Enjoy!  Please let me know if you try the recipe and how you liked it.  Here is the recipe:


Tomato & Onion Marmalade with Angel Hair Pasta   (click for printable version)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves 2 foodies – Recipe makes about 1 cup of marmalade

5 ounces Angel Hair Pasta (approx. 1½” loose bundle)
4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Onion half (medium), diced
Kosher Salt
Freshly Cracked Pepper
1/8 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
1 teaspoon dried Basil
½ teaspoon fresh Thyme leaves
1 medium clove Garlic, minced
1 ¼ cups chopped tomatoes (cherry tomatoes and tomatoes on the vine)
1 tablespoon fresh Basil, julienned (cut into thin strips)
2 tablespoons Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated

1. Cook the Pasta:
Heat a tall pot of water to boil; add a drizzle of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Stir in pasta and cook al dente, about 4 minutes.

2. Make the Marmalade and Assemble:
While the water is heating, start the marmalade. Heat a medium skillet over medium-low heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When hot, add the onion, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon dried basil and ½ teaspoon thyme leaves; Sauté until tender, stirring often, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and let cook for about 30 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes, a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon fresh basil and stir well. Let simmer over low heat while the pasta finishes cooking, stirring every few minutes.

With a spaghetti fork or tongs, transfer the cooked pasta directly to the skillet along with a few ladles of pasta water and 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese; toss well to coat. Serve immediately and garnish with more Parmesan cheese and fresh cracked pepper.

  • No need to chop the cherry tomatoes, just halve or quarter them depending on their size.
  •  To save time, Marmalade can be made one day ahead: While pasta is cooking, reheat on medium low heat and add a handful of cherry tomatoes to refresh it.
  • If Marmalade batch is doubled: Refrigerate extra cup in air tight container for two to three days.