Wednesday, July 30, 2008

zucchini madness?

everyone i have ever known that grows zucchinis in california has the same story to tell. the first crop is delightful...delicious...a joy..and zucchini pops up on the menu for many meals in a row. then, this prolific vegetable produces and produces and produces...and zucchini is added to every dish imaginable..family and friends go from loving the bounty to raising their hands in a desperate cry to MAKE IT STOP!!...but no relief..more and more and more. soon, every person you have ever met, along with every food bank in your town has been given some of your harvest and still..more squash. sometimes, you just need ideas for new and different ways to prepare zucchini.

my friend deb over at the martha stewart, everyday food website, along with the folks at the away to garden site, is hosting a blog-a-thon on cucumbers and zucchinis.. at this time of year you just gotta...and then repeating the event with a new item every thursday between now and labor day.. it works like this..food and garden bloggers post stories regarding the week's topic..and ask readers to share their comments on the blogs..and check out all the other blogs on the same subject. ( as well as the two aforementioned sites)...this week's topic: "cukes and zukes, from tips for growing to how to take the bounty from garden (or farmer’s market!) to table."

i love zucchini and find it is really easy to grow, so i am going to post some of my favorite..easy..recipes. please check them out and let me know what you think...also..and this is really important..please post your favorite zucchini..or cucumber..recipes in the comments section of my blog... readers from other blogs will be linked to this one..so the more recipes you share..and the more blogs you check out..the more zucchini and cucumber recipes we can all add to our collections..how cool is that?
regular readers of this blog know that i am a broken record on the subject of quality ingredients..the following easy-breezy summer zucchini recipes use just a few ingredients..so it is important to use the freshest and best quality possible..try growing your own produce, or visit a local farmer's market..and keep your pantry stocked with the best extra virgin olive oil, "real" balsamic vinegar..organic sea salts, etc. ...you will not be disappointed...oh, and for those of you that have had problems growing zucchini..or anything else...check out the website away to garden... i have learned so much from margaret..you will too..and if you leave her a question in the comments section of one of her stories..her response time is remarkably fast..

roasted zucchinis and tomatoes with parmesan and balsamic
8 small zucchinis cut in half lengthwise
1 pint cherry tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese-grated
sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp basil (cut in chiffonade)
balsamic reduction (recipe follows)

preheat oven to 400 degrees. place zucchini and tomatoes on rimmed baking sheet. drizzle with olive oil and turn vegetables ensuring all sides are coated in oil. place zucchini cut side up. sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and roast in oven until tomatoes begin to collapse and zucchini is soft (knife pierces easily) and lightly browned. remove from oven and top zucchini with grated parmesan cheese. place back in oven and roast an additional 3-5 minutes until cheese has melted...watch carefully to ensure cheese does not burn. remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

drizzle each plate with balsamic reduction and top with 2 pieces of zucchini. divide tomatoes evenly between plates. drizzle a bit more really , really high quality extra virgin olive oil on top and sprinkle with basil and a bit more sea salt if needed. serve. variation..substitute the balsamic with your favorite homemade tomato sauce. serve with freshly grilled bruschetta rubbed with a clove of fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

balsamic reduction
reducing balsamic vinegar results in a sweet, syrupy sauce which is delicious drizzled over vegetables, roasted meats or chicken..even garlic mashed potatoes. do not use the super expensive aged balsamic for this..but ensure the brand you use contains 100% balsamic vinegar..no colors, sugars or other additives. cook over low heat until reduced by half... i store in a squeeze bottle for ease of use later...

zucchini/potato hash browns
1 lb potatoes cooked* and grated (i use the large holes of a box grater)
1/2 lb cooked and grated zucchini*
1/2 cup grated onions
1 tbsp italian parsley (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon grey sea salt
1/4 tsp teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
grated cheddar cheese (if desired)

stir together the potatoes, zucchini, onion, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl. heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. add the potato/zucchini mixture..spread out in the skillet to ensure the entire bottom is covered. cook until the mixture is nicely browned on the bottom. this should take about 6-8 minutes. frequently press down on the mixture with a wooden spoon or spatula to help form a crust. run the spatula around the edges of the hash browns to loosen from the bottom of the pan. place a plate over the top of the mixture and flip over. add the hash browns back to the pan with the cooked side on top. cook until dark brown, about 5 minutes longer...watch carefully..do not brown. if desired, sprinkle cheese on top during the last few minutes and allow to melt.... cut into wedges and serve immediately.

*note..i steam the potatoes and zucchini until crisp/tender, allow to cool and then grate. if your zucchini is throwing off a lot of liquid, place in a clean cotton dish towel and gently squeeze prior to adding to potato mixture. also, i like the texture of potato skins so i do not peel. if you want, peel prior to steaming...

o.k. everyone..enjoy the zucchini dishes..and remember, please share your favorite zucchini and cucumber recipes in the comments section..the other readers..and i..appreciate it in advance...or feel free to request a recipe..we will try to accommodate..

best,
napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style"™

Friday, July 25, 2008

do you like punt e mes?

happy friday afternoon everyone! at least it is friday as i write this...it is a beautiful, warm day here in napa..has been a very long week..and i have decided that it is the perfect time for a cocktail. my twitter friend, sandy gluck, editor from martha stewart's everyday food magazine, posted last week that her favorite at home cocktail was punt e mes on ice with a squeeze of lemon. i confess that i had completely forgotten about punt e mes..had not had it in years..and as soon as i read her twitter message i went out to buy a bottle. i have been talking about it all week and have not found anyone who has ever heard of it..so i have been encouraging everyone i know to give it a try..thought i would do the same for all of you...if you are a punt e mes fan please share your stories and recipes in the comments section...for everyone else...if you are unfamiliar with this beverage let me provide a bit of history.

punt e mes falls in the vermouth category.... according to the label "it is an original aperitif based on hillside wine, sugar and mountain herbs." the literal translation for punt e mes in italian is a point and a half.... in my research i discovered that the name came from an on-going disagreement with a barman, antonio carpano, and a customer regarding the amount of vermouth the customer wanted added to his wine. they finally agreed on the ratio a point and a half..and voila..the drink was born! the vermouth in question was made by carpano..and..while the stories vary a bit on various internet sites..the common agreement is that carpano decided to market his recipe and the business was born.... this was in turin, italy in 1786, and the carpano family produced punt e mes until 2002 when it was sold to the milan firm of fratelli branca. the legend of how the recipe was created used to appear on the bottle along with the carpano name. the bottle i purchased last week reflects a bit of a branding makeover. the carpano name is gone replaced by the words antica ricetta di vermut pregiato. my italian-to-english translation is old recipe of precious vermouth...(note to the italians reading this blog..please feel free to correct my translation with a more accurate one)...the taste of punt e mes is a hard-to-describe mix of sweet and bitter..with a earthy back taste. my favorite way to drink it is on the rocks..really, really cold..with a slice of orange...(sandy uses a squeeze of lemon)...the bottle also suggests mixing with soda..and there are many recipes which call for mixing with other ingredients for a cocktail..but straight on the rocks is my choice...

so a quick (at least for me) story. i really wanted to see the new movie mama mia. my husband is one of those people that hates musicals in movie form. he is o.k. with most stage plays..but a musical movie..no way.. i asked my friend shesh to go with me..she adores musicals..and we went tuesday night... i was feeling fine during the movie..but we decided to grab a quick dinner afterwards and..as soon as we sat down..i began getting a headache...it quickly turned into a migraine. i literally threw some money at shesh to pay for my portion..left my mostly untouched entree..and drove home. happily, i live 5 minutes from the restaurant...by the time i got home..massive migraine had set in..the works..weird light in my left eye, horrible pounding head, queasy stomach...and major sensitivity to noise and light... i pulled the blinds..turned off all lights..got in bed and pretty much passed out. the next day the headache was mostly gone..but i still felt groggy and a bit queasy. tried to ignore it..even went to the gym..no luck..finally, my husband suggested an afternoon punt e mes cocktail..we both remembered that it is sometimes used to settle upset stomachs..well, it worked like a charm..felt 100% better after 2 sips...must be the herbs?..but in any case..what a benefit!..oh yeah..and my husband has been rubbing it in all week that i left home to see mama mia..and returned with a massive migraine...i promise..really, really, promise..one had nothing to do with the other...but he is getting a lot of mileage from this.


anyway, give punt e mes a try...and please let me know what you think..i think i will finish my cocktail now..enjoy your weekend everyone!


best,

napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style"





Monday, July 21, 2008

do you appreciate craftspeople?

when i started my business it was very important to me that i find ways to tell the stories of the artists and craftspeople producing our products....i hand select every item we sell and the design criteria needs to meet the following objectives..handmade using reused, repurposed, reimagined or recycled materials..or organic for food and body care..and they must be "hip, cool, eclectic, clean, simple, beautiful..and kinda groovy"... high standards..right? that is why i am so passionate about celebrating people who appreciate fine craftsmanship and deliver excellence in all that they do..whether they are chefs, painters, musicians, woodworkers, seamstresses, producers of quality organic food ingredients..you name it, to me the common thread is the work..especially in this mass -produced, disposable everything world. i spent some time last year around some businesspeople here in the napa valley that operate under what i think is a bit of a less than honest practice. they purchase products from others..and then market it under their brand name..i even learned the term..shiner...which is what it is called when you order food products and ask the manufacturer to leave off the labels so you can add your own. now, there is nothing wrong with this practice unless you give your customers the impression that you made it yourself...i think smart merchants know that telling the stories of the products and the makers of the items leads to a more interesting dialogue..and honesty in business and treating people fairly is always the best policy...so i decided to stop watching others..and start doing myself..which is what led to napa farmhouse 1885 .

i designed the home page of the website with "featured artist" sections and asked each artist to write a bit of their bio to publish..i ask as many of them as possible to accompany me to events, trade shows, festivals and publicity requests to ensure the stories are told..and that customers can meet the people who craft the products..their success is my success and viceversa..so it works for all of us. i also thought that..once in a while..i would take the opportunity to share their stories on my blog. so today, i am happy to introduce ragna ruffner..ragna creates our organic bath and body care products...i love knowing that they are all handcrafted... here is a bit about her..in her own words...
"I have been using essential oils for over 20 years for aromatherapy, primarily in bath soaks, room sprays and massage oils. I am committed to using organic ingredients, botanical ingredients for coloring, and essential oils for fragrance. I love being creative with luxurious oils and unusual ingredients, however, there is nothing wrong with unscented either! I make my own herb- and flower-infused oils. I grow many of my own organic herbs and flowers and I also visit local lavender farms to hand-pick the lavender that I use in my products. My sister Rena introduced me to soap making. It was not long before I became hooked and had another product to scent! I immediately noticed the change in my skin. No more dryness. Like many people, I just didn't know how real soap, which retains natural glycerin and moisturizing properties, is not drying but nourishing, revitalizing and down-right GOOD for your skin. I have known that skin is the “largest organ of the body” and can absorb both toxins and nutrients. I am committed to using the best organic ingredients I can find for all my soaps. I am always experimenting with different blends of natural bath ingredients and and best of all, testing my products thoroughly before I offer them to you. No animal testing here! All products are manufactured in a smoke free environment. Enjoy natural, handmade products that will change the way you think about bath and beauty - forever!”

i want to continue to find opportunities to recognize craftspeople..and to urge others to seek out individuals who create beautiful, handmade products. my goal is to tell the stories of many of the creators of artisanal foods, organic gardeners, artists, winemakers, chefs and designers here in napa...and... if you know of someone whose story must be told..feel free to email me..or post in the comments section of this blog ..and remember..the best stories are those that are passed on.

best,
napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style"™

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

do you love guacamole??

first i should say that i love avocados..pretty much in any form. when i was a kid, my aunt lena had a really big avocado tree in her back yard in southern california. this tree produced massive amounts of avocados..my memory may be faulty..(ya think?)..but i seem to remember avocados year round. she used to give bushels of them away to everyone in the family..so i ate avocados all the time. it wasn't until i was older..and met people from outside of california..that i realized not everyone was familiar with them..many people i met had never even tried one..now, with the popularity of guacamole, most people know of avocados..but still have questions regarding their use..their fat content...and the on-going controversy of the world's best guacamole recipe...happily, we now know that the fat in an avocado is the good fat, that they are full of fiber and vitamins..and that there are countless ways to use this fruit (yes, an avocado is a fruit although it is used more like a vegetable) ..
i still use avocados all the time..i will spread mashed avocado on toast with a sprinkling of sea salt and eat for lunch or as a snack..i slice and add to salads, omelets, taco topping..cut them in half and fill with tuna, chicken, shrimp, crab or lobster salad, add to sandwiches, make avocado salad dressing..avocado soup...hundreds of recipes. but..more than all of these options..i make guacamole. i must admit..i am pretty addicted to guacamole..and have tried many different recipes. i have found that people are pretty passionate about their guacamole recipes..and everyone thinks their version is best. i have my own favorite..but like to try different recipes too. my friend shesh came to dinner sunday and brought over a few avocados. she decided to make her guacamole..which is the simplest version i have ever tasted. she just mashed up the avocados..added a bit of cilantro, salt and pepper..and served...it was really good. the avocados were perfectly ripe, the cilantro had a bit of a bite and the flavor was really pure...we gobbled it up.

my version uses avocado, finely diced red onion, cilantro, freshly squeezed lime juice, sea salt and diced jalapeno. i don't really used a recipe..i just add the ingredients to taste... but i do ensure all the ingredients..including the avocado..stay chunky..i like texture in my guacamole.... for those of you that have never cut up an avocado..here is a classic..and my favorite..technique. cut the avocado in half lengthwise. there is a big seed in the middle so you will need to cut around it. the seed will stay in one of the halves. use a chef's knife to gently whack the center of the pit so that the knife is slightly embedded in the pit...don't whack too hard or you will cut through the pit...twist the knife, pull out the pit and discard. (note..for safety's sake, put a kitchen towel in the palm of your hand and place the avocado on the towel the first few times you try this technique...be careful!).
slice each half of avocado lengthwise into 1/8 to 1/4 inch strips, and then cut across forming a grid. use a spoon to gently scoop out the avocado flesh.

combine the diced avocado with the onion, cilantro, lime juice, sea salt and jalapeno. serve immediately...i finely dice all ingredients except for the avocado and keep a lot of texture in mine.

i spent all day today trying out different versions of the basic recipe (i have a tough life!)..i substituted lemon juice for the lime in one batch..and took at least one of my ingredients out of each option to see how it would impact the final result..they all worked..so adjust the recipe based on what you like..if you dislike onions..leave them out..hate cilantro?..skip..(i find that people are seldom neutral regarding cilantro..you either love it or hate it)..you will always need salt and the lemon or lime..otherwise..go for it...



a twitter friend @emilyolson reminded me of the guacamole at rosa mexicano...i have ordered guacamole at numerous restaurants throughout the united states and mexico...while i have had many really good versions the absolute best restaurant guacamole i have ever had was at rosa mexicano in manhattan. their guacamole is prepared tableside in a traditional molcajete, which is a mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock...i have included the rosa mexicano recipe to get you started.... if you have never made guacamole before...give it a try..it may become your favorite too...but don't be afraid to experiment with ingredients you like...i challenge you to create your own "signature guacamole recipe"...oh and since this requires salt and freshly squeezed limes..can you say "pitchers of margaritas"??!!

rosa mexicano guacamoleIngredients:
1Tbsp white onion
cilantro
jalapeno
salt (i use sea salt)
3 hass avocado
3 tbps diced tomato
2 tbs chopped cilantro
Tortilla chips

Preparation:
1. Grind 1 tbsp. finely chopped white onion, one firmly packed tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, 2 tsp. finely chopped jalapeƱo, and 1 tsp. salt together in a molcajete until all the ingredients are well ground. (Alternatively, use a fork to mash the ingredients to a paste in a wide bowl.)
2. Prepare the avocado using the method described above
3. Scoop the diced avocado flesh into the molcajete. Repeat with remaining avocado halves. Gently fold the avocado into the chile–onion paste, keeping the avocado pieces fairly intact.
4. Add 3 tbsp. diced tomato, 2 firmly packed tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro, and 1 tbsp. finely chopped white onion.
5. Fold together all the ingredients. Taste and add salt, if necessary.
6. Serve immediately, directly from the molcajete (or bowl), with tortilla chips.
Makes 4 servings.


we are having guacamole tacos for dinner with refried black beans, spanish rice, homemade green chile corn tortillas..and margaritas.. want some?
best,
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"™

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

have you been to safari west?




i am not crazy about circuses or zoos...something about the way animals are treated seems unnatural..but i had read about safari west in the napa valley for years and wanted to give it a try. allie loves animals so during her "napa vacation" this year we decided to add this to our plans. safari west is not a zoo..they are very explicit in their description that they are a wildlife preserve. the following is their description from the safari west website...

"In a world increasingly dominated by technology, instant communication and instant gratification, Safari West stands as a tangible testament to the joy of the natural world, where the pace of life is dictated not by deadlines, but by nature.
Nestled on 400 acres in the heart of California's wine country, Safari West is home for over 400 exotic mammals and birds. Not a zoo, not a drive-through park, it's a wildlife preserve where the whole family can experience some of nature's most beautiful animals in a natural habitat.
Established by Peter Lang in 1989, Safari West gained membership in the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, one of only six private facilities in North America to belong to that prestigious organization. The ongoing mission of Safari West is wildlife preservation through breeding, education, research and public interaction.
What happens at Safari West?
Safari West serves two important functions: first and foremost, we are a wildlife preserve, with several important ongoing projects such as:
The propagation of endangered species. Safari West is the home of zebras, giraffes, cheetahs and many more exotic creatures.
Under the directorship of Nancy Lang, Safari West is breeding several endangered bird species.
Conservation programs are in place for two species of Saharan Desert antelope now extinct in the wild.
But Safari West is more than a preserve. We are dedicated to raising awareness of our exotic neighbors and promoting understanding through in-person contact. That's why we offer safaris year-round. If your only experience with a zebra or giraffe has been at a zoo, you should see these beautiful animals in their natural habitat. You owe it to yourself, and to them.
""It is not often that a person's vocation matches his passion. But, when it does...the result is excellent."
"
i must agree...safari west is excellent. imagine 400 pristine acres in the napa valley...with wild animals allowed to live as if they were in their native habitat..no cages...no bars...no unnatural performance training...now picture being able to experience this up close and personal. i have never been fortunate enough to go on safari in africa...but i think this runs a close second. when you go, you spend part of your time on a walking tour..but most of the time is spent bouncing around in a two level jeep traveling those 400 acres. the prime spot is the 4 person seating on the jeep's roof...you rotate your seating throughout the tour so that everyone can experience the "upper deck"..we were fortunate on our tour..there was only one other family on the jeep..so we each got to spend half the time upstairs...it was a gorgeous day..warm, blue skies...and you could see for miles up there.. the highlight of the trip for us was passing the giraffes' habitat..and having one of the giraffes come right up next to allie... the tour guide said she could pet his head..oh my...have you ever been that close to a giraffe? they are even bigger than you think...and have you ever seen a giraffe's tongue? way, way bigger, wider, longer..and slimier than you can imagine..

safari west also has antelopes, gazelles, lemurs, zebras, cheetahs, wildebeests, nyalas, african cows...over 100 different species of mammals native to africa.. what an experience... but i must tell you my favorite story of that day. the guide was telling us about the safari west wildlife foundation..and their mission to educate the local community through seminars, workshops, wildlife camps for children and more...so that we all develop a deeper appreciation for the animals and continue to understand the importance of conserving/preserving nature and the planet. our guide was telling us that one thing they are trying to do is raise enough capital to put the wildlife preserve into a trust so that it can never be sold to developers..can you imagine how attractive 400 pristine acres in the napa valley would be? allie looked at him and said.."if that happens, what happens to the animals?" she then looked at us and said, "we can't let that happen..i have $35.00 that i saved up for my vacation to spend in napa..i was going to buy some shoes..can i give them the money instead?" how cool is that?..a ten year old so touched that she wanted to donate her vacation money...we told her that of course it would be o.k...the guide was so moved that he radioed for peter lang, the founder, ceo and president of safari west to meet us when our tour ended...the following photo shows peter and allie..with peter holding allie's envelope of money. he was extremely gracious and told us that a donation like that meant a lot more to him than massive amounts from major donors..because it was given from the heart of a 10 yr old who "got it"..and understood what they were trying to accomplish.

i live in napa..it is crazy that i had never been to safari west before..i will be back..and will work to support their mission. if you live in napa..please go..if you visit napa..please add this to your itinerary..i promise you will not be disappointed. in the interim..please check out their website safari west for more information..
best,
napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style"™

Thursday, July 3, 2008

have you been to uva trattoria & bar?

in downtown napa? uva is one of those places that makes you feel comfortable, happy and relaxed...sounds like an odd description for a restaurant doesn't it? what about the food? here is what i mean..the food is really, really good, the service..knowledgeable and friendly...the bar..terrific..they have live jazz wednesday through sunday..and there is a good mix of locals and tourists...many tourists i have talked to have commented that they enjoy feeling "like they belong here"..or "this is what it must be like to live here"...uva is that kind of place.



i went there for lunch wednesday with my good friend richard. we had loads to talk about..but i was a bit distracted because i knew i wanted to write about the restaurant in this blog..richard got into it..he even snapped the photos..and the waitstaff was so accommodating they actually brought some of the daily specials to our table just so we could photograph them...i had grand visions of writing a really cool review..i can dream can't i..but i did not want to do the typical.."here is what i ate..and here is what i thought" kind of review... i thought it would be more interesting to have everyone's imagination come into play..you see, i found myself totally immersed in just reading the weekly specials menu..the names, the combinations and the ingredients used.... i have written many times about my passion for really good quality ingredients... i was reading in a magazine once about a woman who shared this passion. she said something like.."i would rather invest in quality ingredients than expensive shoes"..i totally understood where she was coming from. anyway, the descriptions of the menu items were so compelling..i thought i would just list them for you. trust me..everything we ate was delicious...but here is a tip..read these dishes..and imagine what each dish would taste like...imagine each vegetable tasting like it was just picked at a local organic farm that morning, everything else..the highest quality ingredient possible...if you are like me, a logical next step would be to buy the ingredients and try to recreate the recipes for yourselves.. and maybe even add your own special twist...if you do..please let me know how they turn out..i will do the same...

oh..and the chef/owner is giovanni guerrera...giovanni..if you happen to read this..and want to share any of the recipes in the comments section..we would be very, very happy.

zuppa-red pepper puree' w/eggplant garnish (i had this..is was fantastic..the eggplant garnish was an eggplant tapenade spread on crostini floating on top...so, so good)
antipasto-flash fried squash blossoms stuffed w/teleme cheese w/zucchini relish and tomato sauce.
pasta-spinach tagliatelle w/grilled portobello mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, toasted garlic, pecorino romano.
risotto-seared gulf of mexico scallops w/roasted shallot puree', asparagus & prosciutto risotto
pesce-alaskan halibut w/brentwood sweet corn & morel mushrooms, garlic whipped potatoes, zucchini salad garnish.
carne-5-dot ranch skirt steak w/roasted shallot sauce, flash fried fingerling potatoes, torpedo onions, broccolini, gorgonzola aioli.
pizza-fontina cheese, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms, arugula.
dolce-frog hollow peach cobbler w/vanilla gelato
visit their website to learn more about uva and their own commitment to quality ingredients..they even own their own organic farm where most of their produce comes from...and read the stories of the two owners giovanni guerrera and sean pramuk..oh..and, please visit uva next time you are in napa...


uva trattoria & bar
1040 clinton st
napa, ca 94559
707.255.6646


best,
napa farmhouse 1885
"live a green life of style"™