A Dog (and a Wine) Named Moose

I’ve seen B.R. Cohn wines at stores and at several wine tastings. I’ve driven by the Sonoma Valley winery a couple of times. But it wasn’t until my most recent trip to Sonoma when I decided to try the wine – and I realized I should have tried it sooner

B.R. Cohn is located off Sonoma Highway in Glen Ellen, on a beautiful tree-covered stretch of road that winds around fields of grapevines stretching out as far as the eye can see. Around every curve is another winery. It’s the perfect place to spend the afternoon driving around, seeing which wineries tempt you to stop in.

After driving up the long driveway, we parked in front of the tasting room. When we walked in we heard Abbey Road playing. I’m a huge Beatles fan, so I took this as a good sign. A friendly man with grey hair welcomed us over to the tasting bar and started telling us about the history of B.R. Cohn. The winery’s founder and proprietor is Bruce Cohn, who is the manager of the Doobie Brothers. He bought the property in the mid 1970s, and began making his own wine there about 10 years later. Also on the property is a grove of 140-year-old French Picholine olive trees, the inspiration for B.R. Cohn’s distinctive labels. B.R. Cohn also produces a variety of olive oils and vinegars which I’ve seen sold at specialty food stores and Whole Foods.

We decided to stick to reds for our tasting and were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed them. One favorite was the 2005 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel. The color is deep red, almost purple. The smell is of raspberries and very ripe blackberries. In the taste those berries come through, with hints of cherries and strawberries. It has a smooth finish with very soft tannins. We purchased 3 bottles for $26 each.

Our other favorite was the 2005 Moose’s Red. It’s a blend of grapes from B.R. Cohn’s vineyard and other North Coast vineyards. The wine is named after Bruce’s dog, who’s featured on the label. A portion of the wine’s profits are donated to a local animal shelter. On the back label the wine is described as having “the potential of becoming your best friend.” It’s easy to see why – it’s full bodied with the taste of blackberries, cassis, cherries and a hint of vanilla. We purchased 3 bottles for $40 each.

Moose’s Red inspired me to think of what I would name my own wine. Here’s what it would be:

Porter, my cat, is the most adorable cat ever. Just click on the bottle to see an enlarged picture of him. I can also send you hundreds of other pictures if you need more proof. Porter is very talented, he can jump high into the air to catch his favorite stuffed mouse. If I were to make a wine named Porter it would be big and full bodied (he’s big and full bodied), with rich fruit flavors that come out after a few minutes (he can be a little shy and timid at the beginning).

From the tasting room we moved to a small building next door to taste some of B.R. Cohn’s olive oils and vinegar. My favorite olive oil was the Olive Hill Estate Picholine extra virgin olive oil. It was light and clean with a delicate flavor of olives. It was $39. Other olive oils are around $10. We tried a balsamic vinegar that was aged 25 years. It was delicious – full of flavor and thicker than regular balsamic vinegar. The man who had been guiding us through the olive oil and vinegar tasting said this was great on ice cream. I think I’ll stick to hot fudge on my sundaes, but I had no doubt the balsamic vinegar would be great on sliced heirloom tomatoes. This vinegar cost $25, others ranged from $10 to $20.

If you like your wine, olive oil or vinegar with a side of rock and roll, B.R. Cohen hosts a charity concert each fall. This year’s event is on the weekend of October 4th, and features some famous groups and of course, the Doobie Brothers.

For more information on B.R. Cohn, check out their website.

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An Easy Lamb Marinade

I’ve recently started making lamb rib chops. They’re delicious and really easy to prepare. I make a simple marinade, let the lamb marinate overnight in the refrigerator, then cook them in less than 15 minutes. It’s a quick and simple way to prepare a special meal.

Here’s what you’ll need:

½ cup of low sodium soy sauce
½ cup of Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
garlic powder
black pepper

Combine the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard. Add in a few shakes of garlic powder, more if you prefer a stronger garlic taste. Pour mixture over lamb. Using a pepper grinder, sprinkle black pepper on the lamb. This marinade should be enough for about two pounds of lamb.

To cook the lamb:

Place lamb rib chops with one side down on a hot grill pan. Let the lamb cook for 3 minutes. Turn the rib chops over and cook other side for 3 minutes. Place entire grill pan in a 350 degree oven and bake for 5 minutes for a medium rare center. The lamb will be slightly crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

Beyond the Stigma of Screw Caps

I must admit, I am a little biased when it comes to screw caps on wine. The thought of them brings back unpleasant taste memories from college. However, now that screw caps are gaining popularity among skilled winemakers in places like Australia, New Zealand and here in the United States, I’m giving screw caps a second chance.

There are benefits to screw caps. They’re cheaper than cork and you don’t have to worry about them tainting the wine. On the other side they’re not as good for aging. And there is something to be said about the tradition of using cork to seal wine bottles.

I really enjoy the ritual of opening a bottle of wine – cutting the foil, twisting in the corkscrew, anticipating that first sip. The sound of metal cracking when you twist open a screw cap is nowhere near as satisfying as the pop when the cork comes out.

Last night one of my favorite local wine bars, Wine 69, hosted a tasting that featured screw cap wines from Finnegan’s Lake in California and Stringtown Wines in Oregon. The first was a 2006 Chardonnay from Finnegan’s Lake. It was light and fruity, good for drinking on a hot summer afternoon. It was aged in stainless steel barrels instead of oak; I did miss that oak taste that I like in other Chardonnays. Next came a 2007 Pinot Grigio from Stringtown Wines. If you’re into light wines with the taste of tropical fruit you might like it. It was too fruity and a bit watery for my taste. The 2006 Stringtown Pinot Noir was nice. It did have a lot of strawberry and other light fruit flavors but it wasn’t too overwhelming. The next wine was an interesting mix of six grapes. The 2006 Stringtown Cotes du Rogue had Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Grenache. It had a fairly big taste, but seemed to be lacking direction. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Finnegan’s Lake was my favorite. It was well balanced and smooth, with very soft tannins. Price-wise it was the cheapest. Both Finnegan’s Lake wines were $22, the others ranged from $24.50 to $39.50.

Though I wasn’t too big on any of these wines, it wasn’t because they were sealed with screw caps. I may not always gravitate toward screw cap wines at the store, but in the future I’ll definitely give them another look.

Snapshots from Napa

The Napa Valley is one of my favorite places to visit. It’s a special place for me as well — I got married in Rutherford this past August. Everywhere you look is a picture postcard view, especially right before harvest when the vines are bursting with grapes. During my trips there I’ve enjoyed trying wines from some of my favorite wineries and discovering new favorites. I thought I’d share some photos from my trips. You can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Driving along Silverado Trail

Grapes at Clos Pegase

This is at Matanzas Creek which is in Sonoma County but it\'s one of my favorite wineries to visit.  Along with great wines, they make lavender products.

The photo with the lavender was taken at Matanzas Creek, which is actually in Sonoma County. It’s so beautiful it’s worth a trip over from Napa. In addition to making great wine (I’m a big fan of their merlots and cabernets), they make lavender products.

My wedding bouquet, at Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford

The final photo is of my wedding bouquet. The photo was taken at Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford.

We Want Wagamama!

Dear Wagamama: please bring more restaurants to the United States!

Since discovering this restaurant chain during a semester abroad in London I have been craving their delicious noodle dishes and patiently waiting for them to come to the U.S.

Wagamama is an Asian-inspired noodle bar with dishes that include dumplings, ramen noodle soup and stir-fried udon noodles. The first restaurant opened in London in 1992 with the idea “to combine great, fresh and nutritious food in an sleek yet simple setting with helpful, friendly service and value for money.” While I was living in London, Wagamama quickly became my favorite place for a meal with friends, family visiting from the U.S., or even on my own.

Wagamama restaurants feature sleek and modern dining spaces that resemble high school cafeterias. Long wooden tables with benches fill the room, leaving little to no space between separate groups. Most of the restaurants are located below the street level entrance so there are no windows. The open kitchen shows a flurry of cooks stir-frying vegetables and stirring soup broth. There are no paper pads here – servers write down your order on wireless handheld devices that send it directly to the kitchen. The dishes come out quickly and as soon as they’re ready, so one person may get theirs before the rest of the group. If you’re thirsty, there is a variety of freshly squeezed juices to choose from. Everything on the menu is reasonably priced.

Currently there are more than 60 Wagamamas around the UK. There are many locations around the world including in Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey and the UAE. I always thought if Wagamama could travel to these far away places, why not to the United States? Wagamama’s recipe for good food served quickly surely would translate to success here. I know I’d certainly keep one near me in business!

The good news is Wagamama has finally arrived here! The first two restaurants opened in the Boston/Cambridge area in the spring and summer of 2007. I recently checked out the Harvard Square location and found the great dining experience wasn’t lost in the trip across the pond.

I started with the duck gyoza. The deep fried duck and leek dumplings are served with a spicy hoisin sauce. They’re crunchy and not too oily, with plenty of tender meat inside. For my main course, I ordered the dish I always ordered in London: yaki udon. Udon noodles are cooked on a hot, flat griddle with curry oil, along with chicken, egg, shrimp, bean sprouts, red and green peppers and shitake mushrooms. It’s garnished with spicy ground fish powder and pickled ginger. Each bite is a different combination of flavors: the spice of the curry oil, the saltiness of the shrimp, the woodsy taste of the mushrooms. It’s a huge portion that somehow, I’m always able to finish.

Wagamama is located at 57 JFK Street in Cambridge and in the Quincy Market building in Boston. Hopefully other U.S. locations will be coming soon!

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My Favorite Mocha

One drink I cannot live without is my grande nonfat no whip mocha from Starbucks.  Espresso tastes much better when there’s chocolate – though like any chocolate lover I’d tell you pretty much everything tastes better when there’s chocolate.

My absolute favorite mocha is served at a chocolate shop and cafe in Cambridge called L.A. Burdick.  It’s a company based in Walpole, New Hampshire, the location of their only other café.  I tried their mocha for the first time on a brisk New England fall day.  It was at once warming and filling.  It’s so thick you feel as if you’re drinking a warm milkshake.  It makes Starbucks’ mochas seem like you’re drinking water.

It was sunny and warm when I stopped in last Saturday.  Still, I had to order a mocha.  L.A. Burdick’s mochas are made with cocoa powder instead of chocolate syrup, and come out nice and frothy.  The flavor is so rich and chocolaty, it doesn’t taste like there’s any espresso in it.  I ordered mine with skim milk but it tasted just as thick and creamy as if it were made with whole milk.  This is not something you grab and drink on the run; you need to savor it.  It’s too rich to drink quickly.  I actually had to get a glass of water to drink along with it.  Like a rich chocolate dessert, you need something to wash it down.

L.A. Burdick sells all sorts of chocolates as well, some in the shape of animals.  My favorites are the white and dark chocolate penguins and the mice that come complete with silk tails.  You may not always be able to stop in for a delicious mocha, but at least you can have their tasty chocolates shipped directly to your home.

L.A. Burdick is located in Harvard Square, on Brattle Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Best Lobster Roll

It’s been my family’s summer staple for as long as I can remember – lobster. Every summer we’d spend a week at my grandparents’ house on Cape Cod and feast on some of the freshest and tastiest lobster. One restaurant we never missed is the simply named “Raw Bar” in the Popponesset Marketplace in Mashpee. They have the best lobster rolls on the Cape, and perhaps anywhere. It’s all meat, no filler. Huge chunks of tail meat are mixed in with enormous claws that are still whole, held together with a little bit of mayonnaise and piled high on a hot dog bun.

Since my grandparents sold their home on the Cape a few years ago, my visits to the Raw Bar have been less frequent. This past weekend I was in Boston with my family, and we couldn’t pass up a trip out to our favorite seafood spot.

The Raw Bar hasn’t changed much since I began going there. The indoor bar is always packed with people waiting for one of the bar stools to open up. A wooden mermaid hangs above a fish tank with live lobsters. The ceilings are covered with Red Sox paraphernalia, the walls with photos of parties held at the Raw Bar. Barbados Bob, the owner, shucks all the oysters right at the bar and chats with all the regulars. Outside, the picnic tables quickly fill up with customers ordering lobster and beer in thick Boston accents.

When we arrived it was raining, so we grabbed a spot at the bar. I ordered a Sam Adams Octoberfest and six cherrystones.

For me it’s a special treat to eat cherrystones since they’re hard to find on menus in South Florida. They’re thicker and meatier than oysters – definitely not for those who are afraid of raw shellfish. When you bite in you get such a satisfying taste of the sea. It’s a little salty, a little sweet, a little slippery. Yum.

The cherrystones were shucked at the bar and placed in a paper dish with a lemon wedge. I like mine with a healthy serving of cocktail sauce. These ones were so big you almost needed to cut them in half to eat.

After savoring the cherrystones it was time for the main event, the lobster roll. It’s just as good as I remember. There were tons of claws, my favorite part of the lobster. The meat is cooked perfectly; it’s just the right texture and not too chewy. Best of all, there’s no work involved (besides digesting all that lobster). If I had to crack all the lobsters to produce this much meat, I’d be cracking lobster all day! The sandwich is truly decadent. It’s a special treat I urge all seafood lovers to indulge in. If you’re wondering, yes, I was able to eat all that lobster meat. It took me a while and I skipped the bread, but I couldn’t see any of that lobster go to waste!

The Marketplace Raw Bar is located in the Popponesset Marketplace, accessed by entering the New Seabury community near Mashpee. There’s a second new location in Hyannis, on Ocean Street.

Delicious and Easy Broccolini

I really enjoy cooking. I’ve found some of my best meals come from combining ingredients I think will taste good together, rather than following detailed instructions from a cookbook. I thought I’d share some of my favorite dishes for those who enjoy cooking, but want a stress-free and easy experience.

One of my favorite vegetables to cook and eat is broccolini. It’s a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli and contains vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, folate and iron. I could probably eat it every single night. It’s delicious without the bitter taste of broccoli rabe or the unpleasant smell of cooked broccoli. This dish goes well with everything from fish to lamb.

My recipe for broccolini is quick and easy – it only involves three ingredients, one being broccolini. It’s about 3 minutes of prep time, and 15 minutes of cook time.

Broccolini is sold in supermarkets with several stalks tied together. For two people I recommend buying at least 3, or 4 if you have big appetites or want leftovers. The other ingredients are olive oil (I prefer extra virgin olive oil), and red wine vinegar. The vinegar I always use is cabernet vinegar by O Olive Oil. You can find it at Whole Foods or similar grocery stores.

Wash the broccolini and cut off and discard the ends of the stems. Place the broccolini in a pot and drizzle equal amounts of olive oil and vinegar generously over it so the stalks are coated. There should be enough olive oil and vinegar to leave a thin layer of liquid at the bottom of the pot. You want to make sure there’s always liquid there as you’re cooking so the broccolini won’t burn.

Put the pot on the stove, turn the burner to high, and cover the pot. I like to check it every 5 minutes or so, just to stir around the broccolini. The ones closer to the heat will cook more quickly; I like to make sure all the broccolini cooks at the same pace. If you need to, add more olive oil and vinegar to make sure the broccolini at the bottom of the pot doesn’t burn.

The broccolini needs about 15 minutes to cook, a little bit more if the stalks are more thick. It will turn from a bright green color to brown when it’s cooked. You can tell it’s ready by looking at the base of the stalks, there will be a brown ring around the edge from the vinegar. I like my broccolini to still be a little crunchy; if you prefer it less firm you may want to cook it a little longer.

Here’s the abbreviated version of the recipe:

Ingredients:
3 to 4 clusters of broccolini
extra virgin olive oil
cabernet vinegar

Prep time: 3 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

Trim ends and place broccolini in pot. Sprinkle equal parts olive oil and vinegar over the broccolini so it coats the stalks and leaves a thin layer of liquid at the bottom. Place pot covered on high for 15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes to stir broccolini and adding olive oil and vinegar if needed. Broccolini is ready to eat when it turns brown, with a ring of brown at the base of the stalk.

Cuban Coffee in Miami

I’m back in Miami and I’ve been craving an afternoon espresso. While in Paris I had at least one each afternoon, so I guess you could say I’m having a little bit of caffeine withdrawal.

It comes as no surprise that the best coffee in Miami is Cuban coffee. I don’t usually put sugar in my coffee, but there’s something about that ultra sweet taste and supercharged shot that really packs a punch. I’ve survived many late nights and early mornings at work because of Cuban coffee.

Thanks to Miami’s large Cuban community, there are great Cuban restaurants and cafés all over the city.

My favorite is a no frills hangout and takeaway spot on Northeast 1st Street, one block west of Biscayne Boulevard, right in downtown. I actually thought it didn’t have a name, until I saw “Café Manolo y Rene” on their takeaway menus. The cafe is open 24 hours a day – and you’ll see people hanging out there 24 hours a day. It has just enough room for a bar and a handful of stools, so the crowd often spills out to the sidewalk.

My favorite drink there is café con leche. Their version is the perfect mix of creamy and sweet, like thick hot chocolate minus the chocolate flavor. And like anything creamy and chocolaty, you may want a drink of water at the end to wash it all down. The combination of caffeine and sugar is just the jump start you need to be going strong for hours.

If you’re hungry this corner café is one of the most wallet-friendly places to eat. There’s a wide variety of sandwiches costing $5.50 or less. My recommendation: skip the Cuban sandwich and go for the medianoche instead. You’ll get a generous serving of ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese, along with that traditional pickle, all toasted on yummy semi-sweet bread. It’s the sweet taste of that bread that I’ll find myself craving. The sweet plus the saltiness of the meat and the acidity from the pickle always makes for a delicious combination.

I’ve found medianoches seem to taste better around medianoche – or midnight, for non-Spanish speakers. When you’re hungry after a night of barhopping or clubbing it’s the perfect snack.

A Shellfish Feast

One of my favorite meals was lunch on our final day in Paris. I had spent the entire week roaming all over the city, in search of the best restaurants and cafes in each arrondissement. So it was a surprise to find one of the tastiest spots right in our own hotel!

We stayed at Hotel Lutetia, on the corner of Boulevard Raspail and Rue de Sevres, in the sixth arrondissement. It’s a very nice hotel in a great location, with small but comfortable rooms and real showers. The bonus is free wi-fi all over, including in the downstairs bar that serves coffee and aperitifs until late.

We didn’t want to search for a lunch spot in the rain, so we opted to walk downstairs to Brasserie Lutetia. It was 2pm, and the restaurant was packed. Some diners were tourists, but many were local businessmen and women having lunch. While waiting at the bar we decided to celebrate our final day in Paris with a glass of champagne. After our drinks arrived we were told the raw bar was closing in 15 minutes so we should order soon. Feeling good after half a glass of champagne, we decided to do all seafood – and there was plenty to choose from on the menu. Seven types of oysters, snails, shrimp, mussels, clams and crab claws, and I think I may be leaving other crustaceans out. We placed our order just in time for our table to be ready.

We slid into our booth and ordered a half bottle of white wine to complement our shellfish. Then our spectacular assortment arrived. We ordered 4 different types of oysters, all from France – one each from Normandy and Brittany to the north, and two from Marennes, to the west. The menu listed them as being medium in size, but all four were some of the biggest oysters I’ve ever eaten. They were bigger than blue point oysters from Long Island, which most Americans would describe as large. My favorite was the Claire de Marennes. It was thick and meaty, with a buttery and almost sweet taste. Hands down the best tasting oyster I’ve had in recent memory, perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted.

We also ordered bulots and bigorneaux, which are translated into English as winkles and welks. I tried them for the first time three years ago during a trip to Normandy and Brittany, but haven’t had them since. I’ve been unsuccessful at finding them on menus in the United States. Winkles are sea snails. They’re different from escargot in color, taste, and the way they’re prepared. The escargot I’ve had this week were cooked with lots of butter and garlic. In a word – delicious. Winkles are prepared much more simply. They’re cooked in boiling water like you would with clams or mussels, then served chilled. You carefully take out the animal from the shell using a small metal rod that looks almost like an unwound paper clip. It’s yellowy-brown in color and kind of slimy looking, but tastes great. It’s a burst of flavor when you bite in. It has just a hint of salt and is surprisingly not too chewy. Welks are much smaller, about the size of a dime, with black shells. You use the same thin metal tool to take out the tiny animal. For its small size it has a bigger taste than the winkle. It’s saltier and a bit tangy. It does seem like a lot of work for such a small bite, but I always find food tastes better when you have to work to eat it!

After we finished our shellfish feast I did have a couple regrets. The first, that we hadn’t tried this brasserie earlier in our stay. The second, we had a late lunch. If that raw bar wasn’t closed I would have definitely gotten another round!