Archive for the 'Wine' Category

BonBonBar 2010 Holiday Newsletter… Blogged

Saturday, February 6th, 2010
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Hello,

Happy Holidays!  Even though I have been quiet on the newsletter front, it has been busy at BonBonBar.

The most exciting news is that I have been hard at work writing a cookbook! It is called Beautiful Candymaking, and it is due out in the Fall of 2011 through Sterling Publishing.  The book will feature my take on a wide range of candy recipes — from toffee to fudge to caramel corn — along with candymaking tips/techniques and gorgeous photography courtesy of The White on Rice Couple.

After developing so many recipes for the book, I thought that it would be a good idea to recharge and seek new inspiration for the company’s confections.  So, BonBonBar will be closed from December 23 to February 1 as I eat my way around France, Italy, Brazil, and California.  I am looking forward to returning with refreshed ideas for new products, but it most likely also means that, unfortunately, some candies will be rotated out in the new year.

As always, thank you so much for your support and enthusiasm.  Happy customers have always been my favorite part of this BonBonBar adventure, and you have given me the amazing opportunity to run a truly artisan food company that will be going into its fourth year. I am grateful, and lucky.

All the best for a happy and sweet holiday season, and I hope that BonBonBar treats will be a part of it!

Thank  you!

Nina

Founder & Chief Chocolatier,BonBonBar

MORE BONBONBAR NEWS

So far, our candy bars are being featured in Fine Cooking, DailyCandy, and The Huffington Post’s 2010 holiday gift guides.

If you would like to place your holiday orders in advance of when you would like them to ship, please let us know in the comments of the order.

All orders placed during the break will ship after February 1.

I Left My Heart at Chino Farm

Sunday, August 5th, 2007
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When Chad suggested going to the Wild Animal Park just outside of San Diego on Saturday, I countered with a suggestion to stop at the legendary Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe on the way.

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Walking up to the stand, we were greeted from just about this point by the mingling fragrances of glorious produce (and it can’t be denied, the sight of many parked luxury cars).

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Looking at these pictures, I feel the same pang of regret that I feel when I look at my pictures from Pierre Herme: Why didn’t I get one of everything when I had the chance?

And my pictures barely begin to show the variety of produce that was available. I’m particularly haunted by the memory of their peach tomatoes, in both red and yellow. They were tomatoes with a matted, slightly fuzzy skin, and looked so unusual.

But we were sporting around in a car without A/C, and we had a hot day at the wilderness park ahead of us to boot. It wouldn’t have been right to let such produce waste away in the heat, so I got as much as I thought we could handle as part of lunch.

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I’m posting this picture a second time, because they were amazing. We were told that they were French strawberries, and I’m guessing that they were mara des bois. Despite the ubiquity of strawberries and strawberry flavorings, strawberries often have an elusive flavor — their fullness experienced in fleeting, almost side, sensations. The flavor of these was full-on, with an exquisite, lingering after-taste. If you were in a certain mood, I bet that you could spend a pleasant afternoon by eating one every five minutes.

This punnet had been fuller, btw; we ate quite a few before I managed a photo (and I swear that they were much redder than my pic shows up online). It cost $5.

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I also got golden raspberries. I loved their velvety texture, and the plumpness of each drupelet. These were mildly sweet and mildly tart, with a sort of honeyed apricot undertone to the raspberry flavor. They were $5 (and had also been grazed on by us before the photo).

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I also inquired into their pluots, and was told that they were still starchy and needed to sit out for a few days. When I explained that we were going to eat the fruit right away, the kind woman searched through their selection and found one that was just right. It was a gorgeous, deep red inside, with a balanced sweetness and flavor. I’ve started to brace myself for the tartness of plum skins, but this had no such way about it, probably thanks to the apricot influence. And it was gratis.

Driving around the area is great fun, by the way. It reminds me slightly of a hotter Sonoma, with farm stands tucked into the hills and curvy roads. Back when I lived in Napa, I would often daydream about hopping into my car to make the pilgrimage to Wild Flour Bread. Now, Chino Farm is my new dreamy destination of choice.

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We even stopped at a winery, Orfila Vineyards, that we happened upon for a tasting. I particularly liked their tawny port, which was accompanied by a bittersweet chocolate callet.

And the Wild Animal Park was very good. It’s an “1800-acre wildlife preserve that allows visitors to view herds of exotic animals as they might be seen in their native lands.” It’s affiliated with the San Diego Zoo. In general, there seemed to be a lot of room for the animals (so if you go, prepare to walk a lot). We saw flamingos, warthogs, okapis, lions, gorillas, cheetahs, meerkats, Asian and African elephants, vultures, tarantulas, snakes, guineafowls, gerenuks, tigers, and more…

We also learned that lions sleep up to 20 hrs a day!

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One Day in Napa on May 5

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007
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Thanks to special deals from Southwest, Chad and I were able to indulge my wily scheme to visit Napa (and Sonoma!) for one day. No hotel… mostly movement. We flew out of Los Angeles at 8am, and we flew out of Oakland at 8pm. It was a tight schedule, but everything went like clock-work — the 4 shuttles, 2 planes, and 1 rental car. There was the issue of the collapsed freeway, but that only added a tolerable amount of traffic.

It’s been 3 months since I moved away, and I was so eager to remember the day that I took pictures of everything that I could. I’ve compiled them into an album on Snapfish of 136 photos with some captions (sorry, registration required). They are snapshots, not composed photographs. The majority of them were taken from the passenger seat of our rental car, going as fast as Chad deemed fit. It’s amazing how many of them are in focus, and even contain pieces of what I was aiming at. I like to think they fit well on the web, which reveals and preserves so much of day-to-day life around the world. I recommend slideshow mode. This was what it looked like to drive around Wine Country on May 5.

I did miss some things, though, like the two girls in Sonoma walking around with a youtube-inspired sign that said “free hugs” on one side.

Since this is a food blog, I don’t want to bury all my leads, so these were the food and drink goings on…

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The top sirloin burger at the girl & the fig in Sonoma (here are previous posts). The cambozola option is the way to go with this burger, but bacon’s optional. I love the way this burger tastes, but as always, the subtle genius is in the Dutch crunch roll. It gives a satisfying crunch, but its inner softness marries it well with the other elements in the burger. I’ve read that a burger bun is ideally as soft as the burger meat, and I agree… and I can admire this bun because it bends the rule for a greater good. I suspect that the bit of salt from the cheese and the bit of butter from the bun are also secret weapons in this burger.

Unfortunately, Chad and I ordered our burgers medium-rare, but mine turned up rare and his medium. His was also missing cheese, which is, as I mentioned, mandatory. When informed, the restaurant took the plate back, put a piece of cheese on it in the kitchen, and brought it back out. I’m kind of conflicted about that. While I hate to see food go to waste, a cooled off burger isn’t as much fun to eat and doesn’t melt cheese well. It’s like a permanently defective burger.

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At least our Roederer and Fig Royale (w/ black mission fig syrup) were refreshing. And the bread was freshly soft on the inside and delicious.

And for fellow devotees, the rabbit pappardelle pasta is on the menu again. When I had it last year, it was phenomenal.

Then to Bouchon Bakery in Yountville (previous posts here). Disappointed that their once heavenly Cheese Danishes were still sporting a coarse sugar crystal dusting and looked over-baked, I got a pistachio macaron, and Chad got a caramel.

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The caramel flavor was good — caramel-y, butter-y, salty, but the cookies a bit too dense… and the filling a bit too light and buttery. Instead of a lighter than air wonder, the whole thing felt more like a standard sandwich cookie.

On the other hand, my first bite of the pistachio macaron was spoiled by my need to exclaim that “this is the worst macaron I’ve ever had!” The top crust shattered above the empty pocket of air in the cookie to lead to the way to the hard and chewy remainder of the cookie.

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I went back into the store with it, and told them that it was really tough, like it was stale, and asked for a caramel instead. I would have loved a good pistachio one, but I didn’t want to take another chance with it. I was promptly given a caramel one by a courteous staff member, and was told that it was odd that they were stale b/c they were baked in the last day or two… but in my opinion, that’s a day or two too much for macarons. They don’t age gracefully.

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I wish that the pain au chocolat could have made up for it, but that was off, too…

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It shattered more like a folded cracker than a laminated dough. Perhaps it was old, but it seemed more like a prep issue to me. Either not enough butter was used or it was rolled while too warm to prevent it from laminating properly. At least the chocolate inside it was unaffected, and quite edible.

That was all the food we ate there. You might say that it was a little disappointing, but we’ll probably go back to both the next time we’re up there. This is one reason why I’ve never been comfortable with “reviewing” eateries, and recommending them to other people. None of them will ever have perfectly consistent food. Every dish that leaves the kitchen is different. Every dish is practice to improve.

I can reconcile these facts two ways. The first way reminds me of something that a film professor once told me – the skill of a director is measured by what she edits out of her movie. What’s shown is truly the best and most pertinent. This applies to restaurants in so far as what they choose to put into customer’s hands. It’s quality control. There will always be some rejects in food preparations, but standards vary about what will go out, from restaurant to restaurant, employee to employee, and day to day. There are waste and cost issues with this, so that’s where the “every dish is practice to improve” idea is handy.

Also, there are the emotional ties to restaurants. I happened to like the girl & the fig and Bouchon Bakery as local hangouts and will always have good memories at both, food-wise and personal-wise. Very subjective. Only an offensively bad experience would keep me away from them in the future, and going back to them is nostalgic excitement. Like most of this trip, it was just pleasing to know that they’re still out there.

Anyway, I also bought a couple spices from The Spice House in Chicago while in the campus store at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. According to their labels… Ground Mahleb, which is the pit of sour cherries, is used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern breads, cakes, and pastries… China Tunghing Cassia Cinnamon has a very high 4% natural oil content, which lends it a smoother, sweeter flavor while maintaining a strong spiciness. I’ll report back when I use them. I also bought a fancy cherry pitter at the Sign of the Bear in Sonoma, because I have high hopes for lots of cherries this summer, along with every other fruit I can manage.

I wanted to go to Duckhorn Winery, but it was closed for a special event. I have a good knack for choosing wineries on days that their closed, but luckily, Plumpjack was open.

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The lively rock ‘n roll and conversations that surrounded us mirrored the boldness of the wines, which were a bit tannic and strong for me. Chad was more of a fan.

We also went to Paraduxx, which is is affiliated with Duckhorn. Again, the mood fit the wines. A relaxed, chic tasting room (and patio) matched the smooth and luscious wines.

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Their wines are all fusions of zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.

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Be aware that tastings are $15, though it does include table service, spiced almonds, cheese straws, and bottled water.

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Frankly, though, if you’re going to Wine Country with someone else, sharing tastings is the best option. Once you become accustomed to the fact that all wines taste and feel differently, you become eager to see what else is out there — what else wine can do. If you have to drink all the tastings by yourself, you’re more apt to become tipsy and unable to sample more, at least thoughtfully. After a while, the tasting size seems like so much. If you like it, you know you want to buy some or look out for it on the future, and if you don’t, you want it out of your way. For better or for worse, wine tasting is rarely a time to savor, per se. It’s a time to evaluate, and you may as well try as much as you can without getting overloaded. On the other hand, I prefer wineries like this one — with tables and chairs, a mellow ambiance, and pre-filled up glasses — so if you want to savor… well, just go right ahead.

Bounty Hunter – Napa

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006
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When the Beer Can Chicken arrived at our table at Bounty Hunter in downtown Napa, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how oddly… voluptuous… it is. And the knife is the crowning genius of it all.

Once you start carving your way through it vertically, it becomes a lot less voluptuous, and those wings akimbo become a lot more accusatory: “How could you do this to me?”

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Well, you do it because the chicken is so flavorful, and moist, and amazing. It’s rubbed with cajun spices, and I even found myself carving extra skin to eat; I usually avoid it altogether.

So, Bounty Hunter is a wine bar that has over 40 wines by the glass and 400 wines by the bottle, and apparently because of a tiny kitchen, they make great use out of barbecues and smokers outside in the alley. So, you could also get things like BBQ Ribs, or Pulled Pork Sandwiches, but I don’t know I’d ever be strong enough not to order Beer Can Chicken, unless maybe if ordering for a large group.

Bounty Hunter is casual, but everything is done well. It’s loud and fun, but feels more friendly than busy. It’s not quite cheap, but a lot of plates are meant to be shared. The whole chicken is $22.

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The chicken comes with salad, which I liked because it was just barely covered with dressing, as salad should be. Chad sighed that “a salad just isn’t a salad without grey salt,” but liked it well enough, even so, and took solace from the moist, pungent olive bread.

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I liked the Artichoke Dip because it was really about the roasted artichokes being supported by garlic, red bell peppers, Serrano Ham, Parmesan Reggiano, and Scallions — it was not about melted cheese. It was chunky, not gloppy, and as Chad said, “warm and inviting.”

It could be a meal in itself, if you could possibly pass up getting a chicken sitting on a Tecate can.

Schramsberg Vineyards – Calistoga

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006
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Schramsberg has an excellent tour to match its excellent sparkling wines, and I’d recommend making it part of a visit to Napa (reservations mandatory, $25 for tour and tasting; no tasting without a tour, even if you just want to taste again). It’s the second oldest winery in Napa, dating back to 1862. Only Charles Krug is older, and Beringer was founded shortly after. Interestingly enough, these wineries were founded by German immigrants, and produced rieslings and gewurtzaminers, and the like (the French and Italian winemakers came a bit later). Schramsberg closed down production for the most part during Prohibition, but was revived in the 60’s by the Davies family. They were the first American winemakers to produce methode champenoise sparkling wine. Since then, Schramsberg has regularly been served at the White House, and in 1972 the 1969 Blanc de Blancs was served at the “Toast to Peace” in Beijing, between President Richard Nixon and Premier Chow En-lai.

Our friendly tour guide told us this before leading us into the wine caves built into the hillside that the winery is built on. There are two miles of caves that contain two million bottles of sparkling wine. The only awkward part of the tour was when we were told that after the transcontinental railroad was completed, the Chinese workers on their way home were “invited” up to Schramsberg… to build the 2 miles of caves. That took 18 years. What an invitation.

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Cellar 2

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Cast

The above is a cast of the Schram family seal (the original winery founding family). There are three of them. In olden days, two of them had been lost by Jacob Schram during a poker game to Beringer from Beringer winery, but the wineries recently staged a fixed poker game so that Schramsberg could win them back.

Anyway, we were eventually led into a tasting room with tables and chairs, and four glasses set at each. We tasted three sparkling ones and one cab, and they were all fantastic. Our guide also talked a bit about tasting wines, and said that it’s best to let white wines roll down from the tip of your tongue and down its sides to get the most out of the flavor. For me, each sparkling wine was closely associated with a fruit taste. The 1999 J. Schram was of caramelized apples, the Blanc de Noir was of cherries, and the Blanc de Blanc was of peaches and berries. It was the first time that I considered signing up for the Wine Club, in which you perks and 2 bottles (inc one J. Schram or Prestige) shipped to you 4 times a year for $90/shipment. It seems so worth it for the quality, but I’m still mulling it over… and probably will for a while. 🙂