Category Archives: cooking

Sunday Dinner – Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage and Mushroom Sauce

by Xochitl Maiman   October 2, 2015

With the weather turning cooler, my menu planning turns to the flavors and colors of fall, and that means butternut squash.

Butternut Squash takes a leading role in this pasta dish, boiled, pureed and made into a rich silky sauce with ground turkey and crimini mushrooms.

Holly's Hill Vineyards Petite Sirah El Dorado

The richness of this butternut sauce, with it’s earthy sage and mushroom flavors calls for a full bodied luscious red and petite sirah fills that bill beautifully. Try Holly’s Hill Petite Sirah – El Dorado County. When I made this dish the 2010 was the vintage I had in my cellar, but for all the years I have been drinking Holly’s Hill Wines, I’ve yet to open a bottle I didn’t love.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards produces only Rhone varietal wines and blends made from  Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Counoise. Co-winemakers, Josh and Carrie Bendick, carefully craft their wines in an elegant old world style, yet each wine clearly is a reflection of the lush fruit grown in their estate vineyards, located at 2700 feet in the Sierra Foothills of El Dorado wine country.

Besides many wonderful wineries to visit, El Dorado County also offers visitors the unique opportunity to re-live California’s Gold Rush history with visits to nearby Placerville and Gold Bug Park and Mine.

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash Pasta and Mushroom Sauce

Butternut puree

To make butternut squash puree:

2 lbs butternut squash, chunked

2 cups chicken stock mixed with 1/4 cup of sherry

Boil butternut squash in chicken stock and sherry until tender. Add salt and pepper, 1/4 tsp each of garlic powder and onion powder. Puree squash with immersion blender. Set aside.

Meat/mushroom sauce:

Butternut Squash and mushroom sauce

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

2 Tbsp butter

1 pound crimini mushrooms, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup sherry

2 cloves garlic, minced

1lb ground turkey

Pasta with Butternut Squash Sage and Mushroom Sauce

3-4 Tbsp minced fresh sage

1 Tbsp fresh minced rosemary

1 cup frozen peas/carrots blend

5-7 oz pkg roasted chestnuts, quartered.

4 Tbsp. butter

4 Tbsp. flour

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup sherry

1 cup whole milk

2 cups of shredded Gruyere cheese

1 lb. short cut rigatoni (or your favorite pasta)

In pan, sauté shallot in olive oil, just until softened. Add butter and mushrooms. When mushrooms have released their juices, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, S&P and 1/4 cup sherry. Cook until almost all juices have evaporated. Remove mushroom mixture from pan and set aside.

In same pan, brown ground turkey with  fresh sage and rosemary and S&P.  When cooked through, return mushroom mixture to pan and add peas and carrots and chestnuts. Set aside.

In large saucepan, melt 4 T. butter. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute over medium heat. Whisk in chicken stock, 1/4 cup sherry and milk. Cook, stirring, until starting to thicken. Add squash puree and took till thickened. Add shredded Gruyere and cook and stir until cheese melts and sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add meat/mushroom mixture to sauce.

Cook rigatoni. Drain. Return to pot. Add 2 cups of meat sauce to pasta and combine.

To serve: Spoon pasta into bowls and top with additional sauce. Serves 4

More on the Wineries of El Dorado Wine Country

El Dorado Visitors Authority





Wine Country Beef Stew is a Dusi of a Recipe!

by Xochitl Maiman – May 17, 2015

Paso Robles Wine Country Cooking for a Crowd – Dusi Family Beef Stew

Wine night happens pretty regularly around our house. And for those of you who know me and are saying, “Isn’t that every night?”, well, yes could be the answer. But, I’m referring this time to gatherings of thirsty wine-loving friends that happen every couple of months, ranging in size from 6 people to more than 40. But whatever the size, one of the challenges is figuring out what to feed my guests that is delicious, satisfying, wine friendly and can be prepared in a large quantity and ahead of time.

East this with Paso Robles wine - cookbook cover

In my quest this year to cook my way through my friend, Lisa Pretty’s cookbooks, “eat this with Paso Robles Wine”, volumes 1 and 2, I came across a recipe for Beef Stew… with a provenance.

Sylvester and Caterina Dusi immigrated to the United States from Northen Italy in the 1920’s, settling in Paso Robles. In 1945, along with their three sons, Guido, Dante, and Benito, they purchased land on the west side of Paso and planted Zinfandel. It is on this estate and in this esteemed vineyard that Janell Dusi was raised with the vines and today makes wine under the label of J. Dusi Wines. The highly sought after fruit from the the Dusi Vineyard is also used by other Paso Robles wineries such as Turley, Tobin James, Brochelle and Cypher.

Janell Dusi

Last year I had the opportunity to tour the Dusi Vineyard, meet Janell and taste a number of wines from different producers using Dusi Zinfandel. While nuances varied from wine to wine, the common denominator was rich, ripe, bold wines with layers of flavors. All would pair nicely with a hearty beef stew. (Visit my Dusi Vineyard Tour photo album)

Stew and polenta has been a Dusi family favorite for generations, and Janell shared her family’s recipe with Lisa for publication in Volume 2. Like most cooks, I couldn’t resist “tweaking” the recipe a bit, but the result was probably the best beef stew I ever made. Of course, Zinfandel is wonderful with this stew, but other red wines pair nicely too, making it the perfect dish to serve when many different wines are being tasted. While I didn’t have any of Janell’s wines on hand, I did have a bottle of Parrish Family Vineyards 2012 Zinfandel (not Dusi fruit) that I was anxious to try and turned out to be a delicious choice.

So gather some friends, open some bottles of zinfandel, get out your stock pot and give this recipe a try, The recipe below is my version for a crowd, but can easily be cut in half. Please, also check out the original recipe in Lisa’s book, along with all the other Paso Robles wine country recipes to share with family and friends at “wine night” at your house.


Dusi Beef Stew


4 lbs cubed lean stew meat

3/4 cup flour mixed with 2 tsp instant espresso powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning, salt and pepper

Olive Oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

Parrish Family Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles

1 1/2 cups celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal

10 large carrots (rainbow if possible) sliced on the diagonal

2 large leeks, dark green parts removed, trimmed, halved lengthwise and thickly sliced

2 lbs of baby white fingerlings, scrubbed and sliced in half lenthwise

8 cups of beef broth

1 bottle of dry red wine (I used Primitivo)

2 Tablespoons anise flavored liquor ( I used Jagermeister)

1 Tbsp each dried oregano and basil

1/2 cup of coffee

1 sm can tomato paste

2 ozs dried wild mushrooms (re-hydrated in boiling water for 20 minutes – then drain, and coarsely chop. RESERVE LIQUID

1 cup sweet baby peas

For the Stew: Toss the cubed beef in the flour mixture. Heat 3 T. olive oil in large skillet – Working in batches, add meat to pan (do not overcrowd) and brown on all sides, adding more oil as needed.

In each of two dutch ovens, heat 3 T. olive oil. Add half the onions to each pot, cooking on med-low for a few minutes. To each pot add half the garlic, celery, carrots, leeks and potatoes. Stir and cook for 3 minutes over med high heat. Add the beef broth, wine, liquor, coffee and herbs, half to each pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer while preparing mushrooms.

In skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook till beginning to soften. Add all but 1 T. of the can of tomato paste to the pan. Stir to cook paste. Add reserved mushroom soaking liquid, being careful to retain any sediment. Cook mushroom mixture a couple of minutes then stir into stew pots. Cover pots and simmer stew on low 2-3 hours till meat and vegetables are tender. If stew is too thin, remove cover and cook till desired consistency. Five minutes before serving, add the peas.


1 stick of unsalted butter

1/4 c olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

3 c. chicken stock

2 c half-and-half

2 c whole milk

2 c polenta

1 container mascarpone cheese

1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

Fried onions (like Durkee)

Crumbled gorgonzola

For the Polenta: Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the chicken stock, half-and-half and milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and slowly sprinkle the polenta into the hot liquid, stirring constantly with a whisk. (Grandma Dusi said to always stir in one direction) Cook, stirring constantly until polenta thickens and bubbles. Stir in mascarpone and parmesan cheeses and continue to cook, gently, stirring, until polenta is tender ( 5-10 min). Season with salt and pepper and a dash of red pepper if desired.

To Serve:

Place 1/2-3/4 cup of polenta in pasta bowl. Ladle stew over polenta. Top with fried onions and crumbled gorgonzola.







Tolosa Winemaker Dinner

Last night about 50 lucky diners were treated to a gourmet feast at the Tolosa Winemaker Dinner at Fab’s in Sherman Oaks, created by guest chef Rico Mandel. Fab’s is the neighborhood restaurant frequented by my “wineaux” friends  for dinner and our monthly wine tastings. And while there were many more guests at this event, it still felt comfortable and intimate as friends and family of Chef Rico gathered to begin the feast.


After a glass of perfectly chilled Proseco at the bar, we took our seats, and our gracious hostess, Amelia Yokel, promptly poured us a glass of Tolosa 2009 Oaked Chardonnay. The “oohs” and “aahs” were immediately audible as the amuse bouche was set before us as well. The roasted peach slices with fresh fig, pancetta lardons and treviso was a work of art and a fantastic combination of textures and flavors.


The next course reflected the bounty of the summer season combining lobster, heirloom tomato and watermelon slices with dill, hazelnuts and a drizzle of truffle oil. This course was paired with Tolosa 2010 No Oak Chardonnay, and each served to elevate the other.


After Amelia poured our first red of the evening, the Tolosa  2009 Pinot Noir, our first entreé arrived. Prosciutto wrapped chicken roulade stuffed with sundried tomatoes and greens, with asparagus and sage cream sauce. Have you ever seen a table full of adults pick up their plates and lick them clean? Well somehow we managed to maintain some level of decorum, but that sauce was “crazy delicious”!


As we recovered from this buttery indulgence, Amelia came by with the first of two Syrahs we would be enjoying with the meat course, Tolosa 2009 Syrah. Winemaker, Larry Brooks, explained to us that the fruit for this wine and the second Syrah, 2007 “1772” Reserve Syrah, are from the same vineyard, but some vintages produce fruit that is so special it winds up in the “1772”. Indeed I did prefer the raisin-y, earthier flavors of the “1772” with the venison chop with baby artichoke hearts, chanterelles, summer squash and Hibiscus sauce, but both syrahs were lovely.


Dessert, poached apricots, ricotta mousse and chocolate dipped almond florentine topped with blackberry syrah sauce (yum) was paired with an equally (yum) dessert wine, Tolosa’s 2009 Legacy Sweet Viognier.


Ahhhhhh……delicious wine…..savory food…..laughter…..good friends…..and all on a Wednesday! I’ll Drink to That!

Sunday Dinner #3 – Honey Marinated Pork

One of my all time favorite meats is pork tenderloin. There are so many ways to prepare it and it is always tender and juicy whether you grill or roast them whole or pan fry slices. This last Sunday I had to be out all day so it was the perfect opportunity to try a recipe that called for marinating for a few hours. It was ready for cooking when I got home with only the sides to get prepared.




Honey-Marinated Pork w/Gremolata on a bed of Cornbread Dressing

Honey-Marinated Pork w/Gremolata on a bed of Cornbread Dressing



4 cups cubed cornbread, toasted – (1 box Trader Joe’s Cornbread Mix can be used instead)

1/4 cup butter

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large brown onion, diced

5 ribs of celery, sliced

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, sliced and diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp minced sage

about 1/4 tsp Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning

1/4 cup white wine or 3 Tbsp Jack Daniels

2/3 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup dried cranberries

Approx 4 cups chicken stock


In large saute pan over med high heat, sweat onions in butter and olive oil till opaque. Add celery and apple and continue to cool till just tender. Add garlic and saute for 2 more minutes. Add sage and seasoning mix from TJ’s mix, if using. If not, along with sage and Creole Seasoning, add salt and pepper to taste and 1/2 tsp dried thyme and 1 Tbsp dried parsley. Add wine and about 2 cups of chicken stock, cranberries and pecans and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

In large mixing bowl, mix bread cubes and vegetable mixture along with enough additional chicken stock to moisten, but not too mushy. Season again to taste with salt and pepper and more Creole Seasoning. Place in buttered casserole baking dish and bake at 375 degrees along with pork till heated through and slightly crusty on top.


2 12 oz bags of frozen french style green beans

1 lg red onion, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp butter

1 tsp honey

1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

In medium saute pan with olive oil and butter, slowly cook onion till deeply browned, about 15-20 minutes. Add honey, balsamic and pinch of salt and cook 1 minute more, stirring. Season with pepper. Can be prepared ahead and set aside.

Cook green beans in boiling salted water just till heated through. Drain immediately and well and add to pan with onions, mixing well. Cook over med heat till warmed. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a bit more Creole Seasoning. ( I put this stuff in everything!)

Presentation: Slice tenderloins and lay overlapping on top of cornbread dressing in casserole. Pour juices from pan over meat then sprinkle with gremolata. Serve with green beans and some really good fresh bread. Pour a full bodied Zinfandel.


Tobin James Fatboy Zinfandel, 2007 – ($55) – The name says it all. This wine is full-bodied, rich and jammy with flavors of star anise and blackberry, and a velvety vanilla finish. This is Paso Zin, folks, not for the meek and mild. Made from grapes sourced from some of the most famous Zinfandel vineyards in Paso Robles, with some being from 50 year old or older vines.  Cheers!

Thanksgiving Dessert

Thanksgiving can be a very hectic affair for the host/hostess and sometimes a shortcut or two is just what’s needed to keep things manageable. And if a homemade dessert is your “assignment” for the grand feast, but perhaps you are short on time or just not much of a baker, this simple cake that starts with a mix could be the thing for you. I recently found this recipe in a notebook of magazine recipe clippings probably from the early ’80’s, but it’s a good and simple recipe with lots of festive Fall flavors. If you’ve read some of my past recipes you’ll  know that I am a fan of F.R.O.G jam, a marmalade I pick up on my trips to Paso Robles. (fig,raspberry,orange and ginger marmalade) The marmalade in this recipe is optional, or you could use any regular marmalade.



1 pkg 2-layer-size spice cake mix

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup milk

1 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup finely snipped pitted dates

1 Tbsp molasses

1/4 tsp gound nutmeg

1/3 cup of F.R.O.G.  jam or marmalade (optional)

2 Tbsp. Jack Daniels or bourbon, optional

1 – 8 oz. container whipped dessert topping, thawed

In large mixer bowl, combine cake mix and soda; add milk and pumpkin. Blend at low speed of electric mixer till moistened. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Fold in nuts and dates. Pour into two greased and lightly floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or till cake tests done. Cool; remove from pans and cool completely on racks.

For filling: In small bowl place 1 cup of the dessert topping – mix in 1/3 cup of  jam or marmalade if using. Place one cake layer, flat side down, on cake platter. Spread filling on cake layer leaving 1/2 inch to edge of cake all around. Place second layer, top side down, on top of filling.

In container with remaining topping, fold in molasses, freshly ground nutmeg and Jack Daniels. Spread topping over top of cake. Chill cake several hours before serving.


If you are very lucky and can snag a bottle of Bootlegger from Red Soles Winery, this wonderful solera style dessert Viognier would be perfect to serve with this cake and end the meal. See more details on this delicious wine in my last post.

Red Soles Winery "Bootlegger" Dessert Viognier

Red Soles Winery "Bootlegger" Dessert Viognier

Enjoy the holiday, and may you all be blessed with a table surrounded by those you love. Cheers!


People often ask me about Viognier. When I try to explain it to them, I am reminded of all the many styles in which it can be made. It can be perfumey or redolent of tropical fruits. It’s mouthfeel can be thick and rich or light with crisp acidity. But whichever style you prefer, there is a viognier for every palate, and finding the style that’s right for you is half the fun. Although this grape is the star of Condrieu in France, California is making some shining examples, many from the Central Coast. Many wineries blend their Viognier with Rousanne and Marsanne, creating a white Rhone blend that I find absolutely delicious!

I first started drinking Viognier when I began to see them popping up more and more on my winery visits to the Santa Ynez Valley. The nose on most of those wines was very floral and perfumy. Not my favorite attributes and they carried over into the flavor profile as well. But because the wine itself was so clean and crisp with a lovely full mouthfeel, I persisted,  tasting as many examples as I could find. Eventually, over not too many years, I noticed a trend. More and more of the Viogniers I was tasting had lost that perfumy component while maintaining a wonderful honeysuckle nose. Ahhh, now I was obsessed. Viognier, and Rhone white varietal blends became a passion, and I was thrilled whenever I found one in a winery’s tasting line-up.

One of my “go to” Viogniers comes from Bridlewood Estate Winery, whose gorgeous tasting room is located on the Eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. No visit to this wine region would be complete without visiting this beautiful property, and no visit complete without tasting their Viogniers. Using fruit sourced from the Central Coast, Bridlewood’s Viognier expresses  an viognieraromatic bouquet of honeysuckle and nectarines, with a flavor profile featuring guava and nectarines. The wine is well balanced with a rich creamy mouthfeel. This versatile wine drinks great before a meal, and pairs beautifully with fish with a cream sauce, scallops, chicken and pasta with a brie cheese sauce and chives.

Also in the same area Tolosa Winery, along with their wonderful pinots, is making some nice Viognier. Their 2009 is 100% Viognier made with fruit  sourced from the Edna Valley AVA. It is fermented in stainless steel and then bottled to preserve freshness. This wine exemplifies the varietal with orange blossom and peach in the nose, medium acidity with a full mouthfeel, and finishing with a bit of lemon.

One of my very favorite Viogniers is from Cass Winery in Paso Robles. I have been a fan of their wines for a number of years and last year I had the opportunity to help bring in their 09 Viognier harvest. What fun that was! dscn1650csIt was a warm August morning as I entered their vineyard on the East side of Paso, where I met up with Steve and Ted, owners, Ted’s wife Lisa, the winemaker Lood Kotze and the rest of the Cass harvest team.aug-sept-09-234s As I spent the next couple of aug-sept-09-222chours sorting through bins of sweet viognier grapes, I became acutely aware of the event’s significance. This is the moment when a year’s worth of tending, nurturing, worrying, watching, waiting, hoping and praying comes together.  When that tenuous partnership between mother nature and farmer survives another year of negotiations and deal making, the fruit of that relationship is harvested, with a sigh of relief and a heavy dose of gratitude, not forgetting for one moment that this is the wine we’ll be drinking next year. Oh how much more wonderful that Viognier tastes this year! Must try this one with the famous crab cakes served every day at the Winery.

So give up the Chardonnay just for a while and venture into the world of Rhone white varietals. You won’t be disappointed. Cheers!

Chef Jacob’s Crab Cake Recipe

1 lb. Crabmeat (Phillips Crab)
½ cup Cooked Corn (frozen petite white corn)
¼ cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced green, yellow, red, or orange bell pepper
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup smooth Dijon mustard
Dash of Sirachi hot sauce
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups Panko bread crumbs (1 cup in mix, 1 cup for coating)

*Preheat oven to 425

Combine all ingredients and mix until ingredients are evenly incorporated without over mixing. Form crab mixture into eight balls/patties. Carefully coat the patties with the remaining 1 cup panko bread crumbs and chill covered for at least 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium-size skillet. Cook patties over medium heat until golden on one side (about 3 minutes) then flip to other side and place entire pan in oven for about 4 minutes.

Makes 4 lunch sized portions. Serve with side of remoulade and enjoy!

Chef Jacob’s Remoulade Recipe

1 cup Mayonnaise
¼ cup smooth Dijon mustard
1 minced shallot
2 Tbsp non-pariel capers, chopped
1 Tbsp Meyer lemon juice
½ tsp siracha hot sauce
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Mix all together!

Not eating potatoes? Try this dish instead.

If you love potatoes, maybe too much, and are trying to stay away, try this recipe in place of mashed spuds. It’s really delicious, even to a carb fiend like me.


Mashed Cauliflower with Butternut Squash



1 large head of white cauliflower, core removed and cut into large florets

1 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

2-3 Tbsp butter

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 Tbsp minced fresh sage

3 Tbsp grated parmesan

1/2 cup shredded cheddar or goat gouda

Salt and pepper to taste

Toast squash in 425 degree oven till golden and tender, about 30-40 minutes, turning half way through cooking time.

Cook cauliflower in rapidly boiling salted water till tender, but not falling apart. Drain well. Add roasted squash to pot and mash till it looks like large crumbs. Mixture should not be smooth. Stir in butter then rest of ingredients. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4

Great with ribs or steak and a medley of roasted root vegetables, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and topped with crumbled goat cheese and a sprinkling of Herbs du Provence.

Beef ribs

Beef ribs


Tobin James Fat Boy Zinfandel – 2005 – Paso Robles

This bad boy weighs in at a whopping 16% alcohol and is thick, rich, jammy and over the top. A Paso Zin in all ways and perfect with any beef you are thinking of BBQ’ing, especially if you are using a sweet heat glaze like I used on these ribs.  Cheers!

Laraneta – Wine and Food Pairing

Just south of Paso Robles in an area known as the Templeton Gap, there is located a small family run winery – Laraneta Winery. They don’t have a tasting room, yet, and are not open to public tastings, so you would drive right by the property on Templeton Road going to and returning from the many other wineries in the area.  But if you’re lucky enough to have received an invitation to visit or are in need of lodging, at the end of the Liquid Amber tree lined driveway lies Honey Oak House and B & B where Melinda and Joseph Laraneta warmly welcome their B & B guests to old fashioned hospitality and, of course, a glass of their wine.

Liquid Amber lines the drive

Liquid Amber lines the drive

Joe and Melinda Laraneta

Joe and Melinda Laraneta

My husband and I were lucky enough to be on the receiving end of all that hospitality when, on one beautiful Paso Robles day last Autumn, they invited us to taste their line-up of award winning wines.  I had tasted a few earlier in the year at a tasting in the LA area, and was anxious to spend some time with the Laraneta’s learning about them and their wine making adventures. As we entered the drive, we noticed the olive orchard situated opposite the vineyard. They also have a line of hand-crafted olive oils, which we tasted that afternoon as well. The Laraneta’s and their dog Peaches greeted us and brought us in to meet some friends and we spent the next hour tasting and chatting. The Laraneta’s enthusiasm and passion turned into an invitation to take a golf cart tour of their estate which we eagerly accepted.


Owl box

Owl box

Who knew chestnuts come from a crazy looking pod?

Who knew chestnuts come from a crazy looking pod?

View of the Laraneta estate from the front veranda

View of the Laraneta estate from the front veranda

We learned about planting, harvesting, owl boxes, protection from cold and wind and birds, and even what chestnuts look like just off the tree.  We saw the different kinds of olives and Joe proudly explained about the many varieties of shrubs, trees, flowers and roses he had lovingly planted about his property.We left, glad to have made new friends in the Laranetas and making the commitment to “stay in touch”.

As luck would have it, Melinda and Joe were planning a visit to family and were going to be in the LA area for just two days in March. We asked them if they would like to come to our home and share some of their wines with a few of our close friends who really appreciated wine and those whose passion it is to create it. They said yes, and a week later we were hosting them and a small group of eager tasters.

We greeted each guest with a glass of Segura Viudas Cava to set a festive mood for the evening. Being a strong believer in food and wine bringing out the best in each other, I decided to create a tasting menu pairing an appetizer or dish with each of the 6 wines they would be pouring. They also brought four different olive oils which I put out for tasting with bread dippers.

After all the introductions were made Melinda poured their first wine. Cameo is made from  Vernaccia, a white wine grape from the San Gimignano area of Tuscany. It is  crisp, clean and a bit lemony with a buttery mouthfeel and a slight vanilla finish.  The guests were offered  rich, creamy Clam Fondue on sourdough toast. They happily noshed while Melinda elaborated further on the background of the grape and how they came to plant it.

Next up was their Vera Sano Rose, which is an unusual blend of  80% Vernaccia and 20% Sangiovese. One taste of this delightful wine had us all thinking “salmon”. So luckily I had made  salmon salad with Dill nestled in Endive leaves with a drizzle of the Laraneta’s Lemon Olive Oil.

Their Merlot, which they call Sa Va, is actually the wine that  attracted my attention to Laraneta in the first place. Dark and full bodied, this 100% Merlot is layered with black cherry, roasted coffee, sage and red currant. For this wine, I made a Merlot Risotto, then shaped it into bite size cakes, pan fried them and topped them with a dollop of aioli made with Laraneta Rosemary Olive Oil. What a beautiful color these tasty morsels were!

Red wine risotto cakes with Rosemary Aioli

Red wine risotto cakes with Rosemary Aioli

Next in the line-up was the Sangiovese, and of course I thought, pasta! So a quick pour, some education on Italian wine, and everyone grabbed a plate of  Baked Rigatoni with Sausage and Mushrooms served with some good crusty rosemary/olive oil bread.

With everyone well fed and feeling good, we moved into the “decadent” portion of the evening, and the last two pairings. First, the cheese course served with Laraneta’s Cabernet Sauvignon. This elegant cab, enhanced with Merlot and Sangiovese, was extra yummy paired with Cambezola and an aged Gouda. We all had great fun determining our opinions of which cheese was more delicious with the wine, and of course we had to keep trying them just to make sure. It was a task happily taken on with much gusto.

Wine, bread, pasta, cheese – only one thing was still needed. Yes, chocolate! And lucky for us the Laraneta’s had brought with them their ’05 -No. 5. This is also a blend with the predominant grape being Merlot at 75%, supported by 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Sangiovese.  This velvety wine boasts characteristics of dried cherry, plum and toasted hazelnuts with aromas of cocoa, blackberry and sweet spices. All that was needed here to compliment this delicious wine was an assortment of chocolate truffles, and I was happy to oblige.

The tasting line-up

The tasting line-up

So…if you plan on visiting the Paso Robles area for a special event or festival, or just need a weekend away, consider Honey Oak House and Laraneta Winery – good wine, good friends, good times!

I’ll Drink to That!

Winey Cake Recipe – great for Holiday Entertaining

A couple of years ago I was treated to a wonderful weekend driving through the beautiful Sierra foothills, just outside of Sacramento, trying some of the wines of this historic area. Once busy with gold mining towns and prospectors anxious to become rich with their gold discoveries, this  is now a 14K area perfect for growing grapes and turning them into liquid gold – premium wine.

Boeger Winery sits on an 1850’s site that was homesteaded by the Fossati-Lombardo family. The original house, cellar and distillery are still used today. Greg and Sue Boeger purchased the ranch in 1972 and started planting vineyards and built a new state-of-the-art-winery the following year.  The old Fossati-Lombardo house was converted into a tasting room and was opened to the public in 1974. For over three decades the Boeger family has dedicated themselves to crafting some of the Sierra Foothill’s finest wines.  The old cellar has recently been restored and is now used for special events and private gatherings.

While there tasting, I picked up this recipe for Red Wine Cake and I think it would be a great dessert for any  holiday dinner. Enjoy with some red dessert wine or Port.



1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp baking powder

2  1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup Boeger Red Wine

4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips


1 jar of Trader Joe’s Morello Cherries

1 bottle (375ml) of red dessert wine or Port

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a bundt cake pan. Sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and cocoa. Set aside. In a large bowl cream butter and sugar till smooth. Add eggs, one at a time till incorporated. Add vanilla. In two parts each, alternatively add flour mixture and red wine,  till just mixed in.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to one hour or till tester comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Remove and finish cooling on rack.

Cake is great like this, but I have also added the following embellishments.

While cake is cooling, reduce in small pan, the liquid from 1 jar of Morello Cherries (available at Trader Joe’s), with 1/3 bottle (375ml) of red dessert wine or Port. Cool. Poke holes in cake with toothpick. Carefully drizzle from a spoon red wine/cherry liquid reduction over cake and into holes.

To serve: Warm cherries in remaining reduction. In separate pan warm hot fudge sauce. Pour a bit of each over cake slices and serve with more of the red dessert wine or port.


Opolo Spiced Cranberry Sauce

This recipe was sent to me from Opolo Vineyards in Paso Robles. I’ve been a fan of their line-up of zins for a long time so this recipe sounds really good to me. I’ll be adding it to my Thanksgiving menu this year. I’ll let you know what I think of it – please let me know if you try it and what you think.


3 1/2 cups Opolo Mountain Zinfandel

2 cups sugar

2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar

12 whole cloves

12 whole allspice

4 cinnamon sticks

2 – 3×1 inch strips orange peel

2 – 12 oz bags fresh cranberries


Combine all ingredients, except cranberries, in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced to 3 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Strain syrup into large saucepan. Add cranberries t syrup and cook over medium heat until berries burst, about 6-8 minutes. Cool. Transfer sauce to medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until cold. (Can be made 1 week ahead. keep refrigerated.)

Note from the winery: Unless your family really loves cranberry sauce, you might want to cut tis recipe in half.  The best part about doing that is that you’ll end of with half a bottle of Mountain Zinfandel left over to drink while you cook!  Happy Holidays!

I wish you all a joyful Thanksgiving – there is so very much to celebrate and be grateful for. I am thankful to all of you who have come along on this writing journey with me the last 5 months – I look forward to many more things to raise a glass to. I’ll Drink to That!

Opolo Mountain Zinfandel – 2007

The ’07 Mountain Zinfandel is loaded with gobs of boysenberry, wild cherry bottle_opolo and blackberry. Rustic anise and ripe velvety tannins on the finish.