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Category Archives: Food

My Journey Past the Orange Curtain

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 So I leave tomorrow down to Orange County, home of Disneyland, TV shows like The OC, Real Housewives of OC.  I’m there to do some wine dinners starting Wednesday with my friend Pascal at his restaurant in Seal Beach.   The restaurant, Thai on Main, a block from the pier, is amazing; and therefore, always busy.  How does someone named Pascal own a Thai Restaurant you’re wondering?  Well, Pascal’s background is Cambodian/Chinese, but he was raised in France.  He speaks fluent French, Cambodian, and English.  His family owns Chinese restaurants in Grenoble, France; his mom the Chef who created the recipes.  Thai food has been another passion for them.  And best of all when visiting is that Pascal’s hospitality is second to none. I’ve had the privilege to travel to France and Cambodia with him and his family.  I can tell you, I’ve never eaten so well and so much as on trips with his family.  They are always looking over my plate and piling it on when it gets half empty.  Their genuine care for other’s enjoyment is very visible at his restaurant when you see the customers’ faces.

Thursday I’m in Newport Beach at 21 Oceanfront.  This is as classic as it gets.  When you want the dishes of yesterday that continue to live on, it’s nice to go to a place that does it right.  Not to say that’s all they do; their chefs have been innovative keeping up with new culinary trends; but it’s nice to go back and know you can get some of the classic favorites they’ve had there for decades.  Sadly, this dinner is sold out; but we may add another one Friday! 

In any case, if you can’t make it this week, don’t let that stop you from visiting them another day.  Just cause I’m not there, doesn’t mean the hospitality and quality stop. They don’t.

And if you’re afraid to get through the Orange Curtain, don’t be.  I’ve lived there for over 20 years, and those were some of the most memorable years of my life.  There’s a reason those shows based their themes there.  Its beauty, conveniences (and shopping) are arguably second to none in this country.


My Garden; Amazing Yields…and Zucchini for all!

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In our second year of planting a vegetable garden here at the Chateau, we’re finding just how productive a squash plant can be.  Every year, the Barrett family is generous to offer some land to any staff who wants to grow a garden.  Last year, Gil, our Cellarmaster, and I set off to grow some tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, melons, and peppers.  We did not see ideal warmth through much of the summer.  Melons were few – and horrible. Cucumbers – barely a couple fruited.  Peppers – just average.  Squash?  More than we could eat!

So this year, with optimisim of a nice, warm summer, we planted over a dozen varieties of tomatoes, 10 different types of squash, pumpkins, cucumbers of 6 varieties, peppers, and a number of beans.  Also wild strawberries.  So far, we’re off to a good year. Cucumbers are coming in fast and furious, tomatoes are starting to show lots of promise, peppers and pumpkins show vigorous growth; and the ever dependable squash: zucchini, scallop, crooknecks, sunburst, etc…are growing like weeds.

I’m finding new ways to cook the stuff. I’ve given so much away to friends (who may not be if I keep pushing this on them as often as they’re growing).  It makes me wonder, with just how fast and full these plants grow, why aren’t more homes doing this? For the cost of some squash I’ve seen, as easy as it is to grow, cut and eat, we can reduce the hunger issues while encouraging healthy eating (provided they don’t only make fried zucchini fingers with Ranch dressing). I mean, two plants per household is ALL they need…trust me.  Doesn’t take much space, soil has to be ok, sunlight is essential, but we all have that to some degree at home or nearby…

The beauty is, you don’t even really need to have a green thumb, and you can look like a veteran gardener with this stuff.  So do yourself a favor; go buy a plant or two at your neighborhood store for a couple bucks; it’ll yield ten-fold what you paid for them in the end, and you will feel good about yourself…

Lightened-Up Caprese Salad…For Sauv Blanc Lovers

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Now that Heirloom tomato season is here, I’m planning meals around the ultimate tomato dish in our house…the Caprese Salad.  But our summer meals with Caprese on the table most often go to Mediterranean flavors. Lately, I’m loving sipping our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before sunset, with its crisp refreshing acidity and bright citrus notes. So I had to tweak the Caprese to pair with this wine and the light summer fare I serve along with it. It was an easy variation, of course. Instead of fresh mozzerella and snipped basil, I use deliciously salty and acidic fresh local sheep’s milk feta and fresh garden mint. Along with a splash of balsamic I layer a squeeze of lemon, and drizzle all with a lively green olive oil.

For four servings, you’ll need:

2 medium to large ripe heirloom tomatoes

6 oz. fresh sheep’s milk feta cheese

½ cup fresh mint leaves, washed and patted dry, then snipped

Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

A splash of aged balsamic vinegar

A squeeze of ½ lemon

Fresh “green” olive oil, to taste

Slice the tomatoes and pepper liberally. Sprinkle the feta over the tomatoes, then top with snipped mint. Splash with the balsamic and lemon, then drizzle with olive oil. Serve at room temperature.


An Ode to Chocolate

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It is no secret that I love chocolate.  I even have a “chocolate stash” in a secret compartment of my desk (saved only for those moments when the sweet tooth rages it’s ugly head, which is often…usually daily).  I really enjoying discovering new chocolate brands and/or flavor combinations, particularly chocolate of the dark variety.  Just this past weekend, I discovered this amazing little candy, made by Cadbury (because many of life’s most delicious treats are made by Cadbury – why is that?) called a “Crunchie” bar.  Being milk chocolate, I wasn’t sure that I would love it…but this little piece of candy bar heaven is my new favorite dessert.  The description: “golden honeycomb centre surrounded by delicious Cadbury milk chocolate” and delicious it is!  I enjoyed this tasty little bar with a glass of our 2003 Zinfandel (Zin and chocolate – it doesn’t get any better).

So tell me, what is your favorite chocolate treat?  And what do you drink with it?

My Friends with Wine

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As I conclude the July 4th holiday and get ready to head out for a real R&R vacation in the beautiful state of Montana, I’ve realized that among my many friends, I’ve grouped them into two categories.  There are those that are wine collectors, or “snobs,” and those that aren’t.  Don’t get me wrong; when I say “snob,” I mean that in an endearing way.  I, myself, am lumped into that category by all my friends.   I live by the creedo, “life’s too short to drink bad wine,” and have even taken it a step further. If I’m gonna take in the calories on a beer, I’m going for the good stuff – Microbrews all the way!   If I opted for a lite beer, I’d just assume drink water; far better for the body if I’m just putting flavorless liquid in it.  If I opt for a burger, I’m not going to a place that wraps it in wax paper in a styrofoam box and offers drive-thru; I’m sitting down to a $15 gourmet Wagyu or premium ground sirloin with Maytag blue melting down the sides. You get the point.

So back to my friends.  My guests for the July 4th barbecue were the non-snobs.  Yes, they appreciate the good wine when it’s there, but most will settle for whatever’s white, whatever’s red.  They love it when I break open a good bottle; but when my back is turned and I’m out the door, they’re back to sipping  the stuff in a box. I occasionally turn a few of them towards the other side; they curse and thank me at the same time.   With these friends, a great time is had by all, regardless of what we drink.

Now to my Montana trip.  Going with close friends, and all are “snobs.”  When we normally get together, we all bring some prize bottles to share, knowing this is the group of friends who we like to brag to each other about what we have; and that they can appreciate the nuances of some of these subtle, yet, intriguing wines.  We’ll all bring 4-6 bottles each for a group of 6 of us; and we’ll return home with 4 or 5 of what we brought.  We’ll leave knowing we’ve drunk to our fullest of some of the finest wines from each other’s cellars.  In fact, a good portion of our conversation is dominated by what we consumed.  We soak in the moments with food…and great friends.

What is the moral of this story?  Life is about diversity; you can’t live on a bland, predictable diet.  Having friends with differing interests keeps me healthy. My picnic friends make me realize there’s more to life than just great wine.  They enjoy the knowledge that I can share with them, and make me feel good about what I know; and at the same time, laugh and talk about other worldly and not so important topics.  My snobs? They rejuvenite the juices in me to further learn, as I realize I really don’t know everything about wine there is to know.  We learn to appreciate the finer things in life; the details.  Both sets of friends are truly loved and appreciated.

And yes, there are other friends that are “tweeners.”  A whole other, but appreciated category!

Happy 4th!

Hawaiian Ahi Avocado Poke

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Looking to pair our new release 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay with fresh fish? I love pairing this visually stunning first course of fresh ahi tuna and avocado with the luscious texture, citrus and tropical notes of the 2009 vintage. Traditional island style poke usually contains kukui or macademia nuts as an ingredient. Here, I’ve married a bit of California to the recipe…with avocado as a middle layer in a stacked presentation. The roasted seaweed adds some salty sweetness and a wonderful crispy texture component. This should be prepared within hours of serving, but once stacked and plated, it’s really done and ready to go*. Preparation time is about 20 minutes, including plating. Serve with plain water crackers.


16 ounces sashimi quality ahi tuna, medium dice

2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Pinch chili flakes, or siracha sauce

2 Tablespoons green onion, sliced very thinly

1 teaspoon garlic, chopped

1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds (optional)

2 medium Hass avocados, halved and pitted

Juice of one small lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

Kim Nori (roasted salted seaweed), as garnish

Hoisin sauce (optional), for plating


Combine first eight ingredients in a stainless steel bowl and gently mix. In a separate bowl, combine avocado, lemon, salt and black pepper, mashing to a chunky consistency. For each serving, rub the inside of a 3 inch ring mold with sesame oil; set on serving plate. Gently press about 2 oz of ahi mixture into the mold using the back of a teaspoon. Spoon a layer of avocado mixture gently on top. Finish with another 2 oz. of ahi and gently press. Keeping pressure on the spoon, lift the ring mold off of the stack. Garnish with the dried seaweed.  I

*Tip: If you don’t have a ring mold, try using an oiled large ice cream scoop, stacking per instructions above, and then inverting on a chilled plate.


Support Your Local Farmer’s Markets

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I’ve been a big advocate of local farmer’s markets for many years.  While I do ponder why the costs of fruit and veggies at these direct-to-consumer venues is as high, if not higher than, some of your finest grocery chains, I’ve also come to realize that it’s still money well spent.  Here’s why:

*Quality.  Just as in buying wine directly from the source. You know you can count on the quality of it. Did it drive across country and back on warm, summer days?  Did it sit next to a furnace in some building?  No, it was stored best by the people who know how.  For produce, you know where it’s coming from; you meet the farmers and get first hand information.  You understand the TLC that went into it.  Tasting tree ripened fruit or fresh cut veggies from the ground is so much better. This is as close as most can get in an urban surrounding.  And, you’re often getting true organic or non-genetically modified produce; which translates to better for the earth, better for the body.

*Price.  Yes, it isn’t “as cheap,” but you know it comes directly from the source, and no middlemen taking their shares.  Think back when how farms struggled, and the government had to subsidize to make sure we have food on our tables.  They’re not getting the same subsidies.  This tremendously helps them to eek out a living. After all, when was the last time you drove by a farm and saw their mansion on the grounds?  It’s not high-profit careers until it gets to the hands of conglomerate grocery chains.  These folks stress every year about how the weather will be; they’re up at the crack of dawn till sunset; and they don’t often get two days off a week.

*Uniqueness.  Some, if not all of these markets will have things you’ve never seen or heard of.  Every July, I crave the candycots that are only available at the famous Ferry Plaza farmer’s market in San Francisco on Saturdays. These little gems, appropriately named, are like eating candy.  They are exclusively grown in the Fresno area, and just through the months of end of June and July.  Being far from where I live, I tracked down the farm and asked them if there’s any way to get these. Their response, “either come to our farm, or the SF Farmers market, that’s it!”  Can’t ship, no stores..  And, I’ve never found as sweet boysenberries; heck, haven’t found boysenberries, period; except there, for a 4 week window.  And the variety of Asian pears!   Oh my, I can go on… You just have to go frequently and find these unique things.

*Fun Factor. It’s just plain fun to walk around with friends and family; sample the “fruits” of their labor, be outside, and eat at the adjacent food tents.

So support these farmers, bring your wallet, and bring home of nature’s goodness!


Vietnamese Spring Rolls

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Chateau Montelena Sauvignon Blanc deserves an ideal companion for pairing. Fresh lime, aromatic herbs, and shellfish compliment the bright palate and crisp finish of this varietal. For me, it’s a light lunch or first course of Bodega Bay Crab Vietnamese Spring Rolls. Our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc has a great acidity that champions both the citrus and the crunch in these delectable fresh rolls! No worries if you’re too far from Bodega – any fresh crabmeat rocks this dish, and so does shrimp. You can omit protein altogether for a veggie version-try adding sliced avocado!  I use a spicy peanut sauce for dipping, but any Asian-inspired sauce (mango, lemon, or other prepared sauces) can boost your own kitchen creativity. These rolls take less than 30 minutes to make and plate if you have your ingredients prepped – but you do need to prepare them within 90 minutes of serving. Like sushi rolls, they will get soggy if you try to make them too far ahead.* The good news?  Nutritious, delicious, low cal and a perfect match-up for our Chateau Montelena Sauvignon Blanc!

Serves 4 as a light lunch or 8 as an appetizer (makes 8 rolls)

  • 1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
  • 3/4 cup carrots, fine julienne
  • 1/4 cup green onions, fine julienne
  • ½ English cucumber, fine julienne
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh cilantro, reserve whole leaves for garnish
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh mint, reserve whole leaves for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 8 8-inch round spring roll wrappers
  • 8 ounces fresh or frozen crab claw meat
  • Prepared peanut sauce for dipping
  • Juice of 1 lime
  1. For filling, in a large bowl combine cabbage, carrots, green onions, cucumber, cilantro and mint. Dissolve the sugar in the rice vinegar; combine with soy sauce. Toss lightly with the vegetables to coat.
  2. For the dipping sauce: in a small bowl stir together 1/2 cup of peanut sauce and juice of one lime; season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Place 1 cup of luke-warm water in a shallow dish.  As you prepare each roll, dip each wrapper in warm water for 7-10 seconds until limp (as a cooked lasagna noodle). Place on damp dish towel for filling and rolling. Don’t over-soak; they will tear or rip if over-soaked.
  4. Center 1/3 cup of filling about 1 inch from bottom edge of one of the moistened spring roll wrappers. Top with 2 tablespoons crab meat.  Driizzle with a bit of dipping sauce. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper over the filling. Fold in sides. Gently, roll up tightly as you would a burrito, keeping filling snug. Repeat with remaining filling and spring roll wrappers. Cut in half on a diagonal; serve with dipping sauce. *Do-ahead tip: Prep all the veggies as early as the night before and submerge in ice water; drain well on paper towels before assembling the rolls.


Louisiana Saturday Night…

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  Well, you get down the fiddle and you get down the bow,
Kick off your shoes and you throw ‘em on the floor.
Dance in the kitchen ’til the morning light:
Louisiana Saturday night…….

Montelena’s Estate Zinfandel truly is a versatile wine!

Thanks to my sister Hannah for sending me this picture!

Movable Feast 2011

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We closed the winery down on Saturday the 21st, as we do every year on the third Saturday in May, for our annual party to end all parties – the Movable Feast.  This party allows us an opportunity to celebrate our CellarMaster members, enjoy fantastic food and pull some of our older bottles out of the cellar to enjoy with friends old and new.  We hosted one of our largest groups in recent history – over 260 party attendees came to eat, drink, and be merry at Movable Feast 2011.  With Cajun-themed food (think gumbo),  music courtesy of the talented Louisiana-based band L’Angelus and an impromptu conga line, it was a very memorable afternoon.  To make a special occasion even more so, Author George Taber (formerly a writer for TIME magazine and the only journalist present at the 1976 Paris Tasting) was able to join in the festivities to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 1976 Paris Tasting that put Chateau Montelena on the world wine map.  It’ll be a tough one to beat, but we’re ambitious enough to try to make Movable Feast 2012 even better.

The scene is set

The Movable part of the Feast

Lunch is served

The conga line snakes around the tent


Hope to see you here next year!

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About Our Authors

George Blanckensee

An expert event planner and an avid basketball and sports fan, George can tell you about all the best off-the-beaten path eateries.

Kali Clark

A Napa Valley native, Kali returned to the area after a stint on the East Coast and can be found documenting the latest happenings at the Chateau. When not behind the camera, she likes to experiment in the kitchen, travel, and enjoy the outdoors