I’ve been home from New Orleans long enough to do a pastry buffet for a baby shower, drink some Page Springs wine, wash my laundry and dump my photos onto my computer. Ready for the next adventure!
Heading to my former stomping ground, Las Vegas, to watch a good friend run in the last race of Indy season. So excited to go support him. Send good vibes our way this weekend, friends. More food pics, recipes and travel goodies when I get back!
If you are unaware, there are some very interesting people making wine in Arizona. I know, everyone looks at me like I’ve been drinking too much when I tell them of the burgeoning wine country in Arizona, but it’s here and it’s quite amazing. I gift many bottles of Arizona wine throughout the year and I wait impatiently for the phone call or email of pleasant surprise, once they’ve been consumed.
Page Springs Cellars is the only wine club I’ve ever belonged to, and they’ve spoiled me for any other club. Multiple member events, discounts, a gorgeous new tasting room and a masseuse at the ready in the vineyard, it’s hard to compete. The newest member event is Wine Wars. I have to say that I’m not normally first on line for the member events. My perception of them used to be that member events were more in the realm of lameness. I am happy to report that I was very wrong.
Rhonni from Arizona Wine and Vines Magazine and I arrived on Saturday afternoon at Page Springs Cellars in Cornville, AZ. After a little wine in the tasting room, we headed down to check in and sign up for a team (we were quite nervous about what our cryptic “Put A Cork In It” category would entail). Walking through the vineyard, around netted vines, we made our way down by the creek. Stacks of hay-bales corralled people away from the vines and created a natural jungle-gym for kids. A makeshift plywood board stage was set up overlooking folding table with chairs.
Justin busted out his karaoke machine to MC the event. Old school game-show theme songs played throughout, everyone could guess for a chance to win goofy prizes, while contestants competed. For each competition, the winners received a $15 gift card for the tasting room.
The first competition was two teams of two people. Each team had two bottles of wine and were required to open their wine and fill the glasses of all the audience members. Competition two was a grape toss into a number of glasses, large and small openings, worth different amounts. The third competition, Rhonni and I didn’t wine and will be practicing for next year, was seeing how many bottles we could hand-cork in a minute. We got 5 bottles and we were beaten by the other team, with 7 bottles.
The forth competition was my favorite by far…to watch that is! Rhonni and I were eyeballing this competition at the beginning, hoping it wasn’t the one we signed up for. Four plastic storage bins, filled with water, corks floating on top and bungs on the bottom. (Bungs are corks for barrels of wine.) Apparently, the game was just supposed to be bobbing for bungs, but they found out that bungs don’t float, so the game had to be adapted. For every cork a player scooped up in their mouth and delivered to the wine barrel placed behind the competitors, they would receive 100 points. For every bung that they managed to get off the bottom with their mouth and deliver to the wine barrel, the would receive 500 points. I was worried the players wouldn’t totally get into it, but I was surprised to see one woman diving into the container with her entire upper body, in an attempt to get a bung. She ended up winning and deservedly so! When I returned to PSC the next day to pick up my wine shipment before heading home, I ran into some guys who were attending Wine Wars, the Sunday edition. We started talking about the competitions and they told me that a woman got all the bungs but one! Dedication!
We broke for some lunch and a couple of little guessing games they had set-up (guess the song title with wine in it, how many corks in the vase, blind wine tasting). Lunch was sausage from The Meat Shop in Phoenix. The sausage was good, but the rest was a little lacking. I know some chefs, myself being one of them, who are in the wine club, and would love to come up and cook for an event. Homemade s’mores in the vineyard with a glass of wine? Just saying! ;o)
The fifth competition was making a bottle of wine. Two teams of three people, just so happened to be women vs. men. Hilarious! The women were totally into it and busted out some I Love Lucy grape-stomping moves. The men weren’t as into it and remained with shoes intact while they squeezed grapes with their hands and potato-mashers. Next they had to strain out the juice and make sure they had enough to fill a half bottle. Add the yeast, siphon into the bottle and cork the bottle. The competition wasn’t even close, as the women pushed the cork into their bottle and did a barefoot, grape-stained victory dance.
One of the highlights was tasting a 100% Arizona grown pinot noir. We tasted 6 wines at the event and they were all heavily discounted for purchase. After purchasing some wine (err, 4 bottles, plus the 6 from my member shipment), we headed back up to relax in the new tasting room. Sipping some great wine, listening to Puscifer, while chatting with friends. Good day in the vines.
It was an interesting girls weekend in Cali. We bested the largest spider known to man. Read trashy tabloid magazines. Drove a massive diesel truck through LA. Drank copious amounts of red wine. Ate steak in Fontana. Farm fresh eggs in Rancho Cucamonga. Fish and chips on Huntington Beach. Chinese takeout in Beverly Hills. Breakfasted with croissants and a flat tire on the way to the airport. And I ran in 4 inch heels, to catch my plane in the Ontario airport. All-in-all, great weekend.
I have a love-hate relationship with summer. It is definitely my least favorite of the seasons, and it was even when I was a kid. All I can think of are shorts, which I don’t wear, because they are highly unbecoming, or being 8 years old, and sticking to the leather seats in my grandfather’s gold Lincoln. The saving grace for summer not receiving my pure, sweaty hatred, was, and is, stone fruit season. Nectarines, peaches, cherries, apricots, and my personal favorite, plums.
My mom only used to buy black plums, the deepest shade of purple with a white shimmer on them. The soft sweetness of ruby center disintegrates between the tongue and the roof of your mouth. The skin demands some chewing. As your teeth pinch the skin, tartness seeps and kicks your rear taste buds in the face. I’d slip into the refrigerator like a ninja, taking two plums at a time. I’d gobble them, locked away in my room, staring at a Donnie Wahlberg poster. Tucking the pits in a paper towel, I’d bury it at the bottom of the garbage can so no one would know I was double fisting stone fruit.
In this last bit of summer weather, while I pray for rain to pour from the skies and cool this retched desert off, I need the consolation of my favorite part of summer. The warm jamy plums, topped with buttery, sweet crumble. Perhaps a farewell, before kicking summer out the door.
Rachel Ellrich Miller
For the filling:
6-8 plums (I used pluots, but you can use any that you love)
1/2 c. - 3/4c. granulated sugar (taste the plums and decide how sweet you want to make it)
1/2 each lemon, juiced
For the crumble:
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. almond meal/flour
4 oz. butter, slightly softened at room temperature, but still cold (I use Irish butter. Once you eat Irish butter, you won't go back. Kerrygold is imported by many grocery stores. The only draw back is it's price at $4.99 for 8oz.)
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla paste
For the whipped cream:
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.
Prepare your plums into slices. Make sure they are all about the same size so that they cook evenly. Toss them with the sugar and lemon juice and place in a buttered, oven safe dish.
In a mixer bowl, place flour, sugar, almond meal/flour, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and toss into the mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to medium and mix until it becomes sandy and the butter is incorporated. This is why you want the butter to be semi-soft. Add the cream and vanilla paste and mix till incorporated. It will be paste-like consistency. Crumble the mixture in pieces over the top of the plums. I use my hands to do this. It's the easiest way and it allows for even coverage of the plums.
Bake at 325 degrees F, until plum juice bubbles up and becomes syrupy, about 30-40 minutes. Turn the oven up to 375 degrees F, till the crust is golden brown, and bake about another 10-20 minutes. It honestly all depends on how hot your oven bakes. You want the plums to thicken and become jamy, and the crust to brown.
Allow to cool slightly. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Whip cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla extract, to your taste, for whipped cream to top crumble. Store in fridge and eat cold, by the spoonful, over the sink for breakfast.
My hometown of Erie, PA is not a culinary mecca. The glass gems in our cheap tiara would be the concord grapes (grown for Welch’s) that perfume the air in the fall, Smith’s hotdogs (costs more to ship them to my house in Arizona than for the hotdogs themselves), sponge candy, and pepperoni balls (we used to pimp them for school fundraisers in grade school and often ended up eating most of them). Perhaps not valuable to anyone but me, nonetheless I keep that cheap, old tiara next to the real diamond earrings I got for my 18th birthday.
But just a bit south, and on the route to the Pittsburgh airport, is Hank’s Frozen Custard, a true hidden diamond in the Pennsylvania countryside. Old school frozen custard, rich and creamy. Hand packed onto the ice cream cone. The good stuff people used to eat before the proliferation of fat-free frozen yogurt.
It’s painful and uncomfortable when friends are cheap. Usually those people will end up on my dodge list. If you’re my friend, I not only want to share my good times, but my homemade cheese, the best croissants, and a perfect bottle of wine I’ve had stashed away. What is the beauty of a moment if you can’t share it with your friends?
I feel the same way about the food I’ve put out in every restaurant I’ve worked in. We don’t skimp on ingredients or cut corners, putting the best we can on the plate in front of you.
At my last job, an Italian restaurant, I ate fresh pesto slathered on a piece of bread, hot from the oven, every morning. A heavenly morning experience, and one I crave often. I went to the grocery store in search of some pesto and the packaged basil pesto that I picked up was chockablock full of low-quality, cheap ingredients and preservatives. Walnuts instead of pine nuts. Canola oil instead of olive oil. A whey protein in the place of parm cheese. Preservative names I can’t pronounce. Yum!
Fresh pesto is so vibrant in flavor and simple to make. Once you learn and taste the difference, you will hopefully never feel the need to go back to the store bought preservative-laden junk.
By the way, I’ve been thinking about starting a new pesto wrestling league, way better for your skin than jello wrestling. Let me know if you have any cheap-ass friends whose face you’d like to smash in some fresh pesto. Freshly baked bread not included.
Slather Me in Basil Pesto
Rachel Ellrich Miller
2.25 ounces Basil Leaves
3-4 cloves each Garlic, Cloves (or if you are more adventurous, 6-7 each - don't plan on kissing anyone if you go the adventurous route ;o) )
2.25 ounces Pine Nuts
1 ounce Parmigiano Reggiano (though in my house, extra pinches are sometimes added)
1/2 cup EV Olive oil, good quality
1/2 each Lemon, Juiced
To taste Salt, Kosher
To taste Pepper, Freshly ground
Turn oven to 350 degrees. Place raw pine nuts on a sheet pan and toast. Note: Watch closely when you are toasting nuts. Some ovens are hotter than others and will toast your nuts more quickly. (That's what she said ;o)) Shake the pan once or twice to ensure nuts are toasted on all sides and do not burn. Allow the nuts to cool completely.
In your robo coup or food processor, place the basil, garlic, pine nuts, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Begin to puree. Stop robo coup and scrape down the sides. Begin to puree again, and add the remaining olive oil through the top of the machine. Stop the robo coup, scrape down the sides. Add the parm cheese, and pulse to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper and pulse once more to incorporate.
Keep pesto refrigerated when not devouring. If you have any leftover, it should keep for a few days in the refrigerator, or a month in the freezer.
One more note: I love this extra virgin olive oil from California Olive Ranch. It sells at Henry’s Markets in California and Whole Foods Market in Arizona. Reasonably priced, I believe under $15, and delicious.