Sunday, January 27, 2013

Harvest Theme at Mark & Melissa's

My mouth was watering long before we arrived. The email said to bring a Cabernet Sauvignon, and think ‘Harvest’. We were greeted by Toffee, the dog, who also happens to be a red wine aficionado. She wagged her entire body in anticipation (much like myself).

The dinner table was set with fall leaves, and glittering autumn colored candles. First item to catch my eye? The Mushroom Stilton Gilette. I love pie crust. I love pie, but it’s because of the crust. This was awesome because it had the crust and it had mushrooms. It was beautiful.

Next to catch my eye was an odd pile of rectangle blocks. I bit into one and burned my tongue. Fried Polenta Sticks with Sage. Talk about melt in your mouth. In a bowl nearby was glazed spiced nuts.

After our elaborate process of transferring the wine to the carafes, Joe brought them all to the table and the feast began. A new system was initiated that night. Each table setting had three wine glasses, numbered 1-2-3. This was something we’d talked about because we didn’t like having to finish a pouring before moving to the next wine. Each wine should be tasted with each food item, so having all three wines present throughout the meal made sense. I think it worked very well and will be repeated.

A bowl of Acorn Squash Soup with Toasted Walnut Butter was the first course. Nothing says “Harvest” like squash soup! Next course was Pork Tenderloin with Cider Glaze and Dried Fruits. This was a nice blend of pork and soft dried fruits, such as raisins and apricots (I think?). Braised Fennel with Olive Oil and Garlic was a surprise. I’ve had fennel leaves on things before, but this was the root of the fennel. It looked like an onion. I liked the slight anise taste. On the plate was a little soufflé bowl filled with Sweet Potato Soufflé. It had some sort of sugary layer on top that was scrumptious.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the dessert was so good that I regretted eating my meal. It was one of those deals where you take one bite too many because you simply can’t help yourself. You know you’ll never make it yourself, and never find it in a restaurant. It was a crunchy Caramelized Nut Tart with homemade Rum Raisin Ice Cream.

Note the coveted plastic medal
 The meal was coming to an end and the gold medal glittered in the candlelight. Who would win? Carafe number one came in first . . . Ours! The Earthquake Cab from Lodi won, followed by Rutherford Hill Cab and La Castillana Cab, both out of Napa. The Earthquake got everyone’s attention straight off the block, but with food pairing the other two gained momentum. In the end it was a tight race, but we won finally :)

Next Wine Tribe Gathering is scheduled for January, so until then . . .

Napa Valley Theme at Dan & Denise's

Friday night marked the second anniversary of the Wine Tribe. This is a small monthly gathering of three couples. We take turns hosting the event. The hosting couple goes all out, with amazing appetizers, dinner, and dessert. For some unspoken reason we always choose a theme.

My mouth waters over the memory of our creations. Usually the theme is national; Thailand, Italy (Chianti), France, Mexico, Spain, India, Napa. Some are thematic; comfort food, ranch food, my mom’s spaghetti, California barbeque, white trash food (but gourmet somehow). I’m forgetting many of them I’m sure.

The table is set to match the theme. This can get complicated, trust me, but we can’t seem to help ourselves. I remember at Mr. & Mrs. S’s house they used woven Mexican purses for placemats for the ladies settings, and we got to take them home with us. For comfort food night, Mr. & Mrs. W used all their oldest china and glassware . . . an impressive collection. When we did French Provencal, I used at least ten flowered napkins spread out to make a tablecloth. The cabin weekend gatherings are always spectacular, especially with Joe's barbequed ribs. 

The first night we gathered we each presented a bottle of wine for the long evening. Little did we know how it would evolve. A decision was made that first night (I think it was the first night?) to brown bag our wine at the next house and do a tasting party. Now we have a system. It’s a bit complicated, but we discovered we couldn’t be trusted to vote fairly if we knew whose wine belonged to whom. We always seemed to have very close scores . . . very diplomatic and hospitable. Now we have 3 carafes, 3 cloth wine bags, tags 1-2-3, and fancy wine-tasting score sheets. We even have a medal. It looks like it came out of a bubblegum machine, but we covet that medal! The hosting family chooses the varietals. Here’s how it works:

• One person from each couple separately enters a designated room, pours their wine into a decanter, and bags their bottle (completely covered). They place their bottle and decanter side-by-side and leave.

• One person who didn’t go into the room is chosen to go in and wrap a numbered tag around each decanter. They then place the corresponding tag on the corresponding bottle.

• Finally that person carries out the decanters, but leaves the bagged and tagged bottles in the other room.

• When the scoring is done, the bottles are brought out and revealed.

So this begins a long journey of sharing our Wine Tribe dinner events with our wine and foodie friends. I begin with the 2nd anniversary dinner party at the W’s.

We entered their home and were welcomed to Napa. In the center of their kitchen they’d rolled a real wine barrel for the cheese and crackers. The counter was loaded with sliced artisan bread and crackers, Smoked Trout Pate (caught the week before in Alaska by Mr. W) and Kahlua Baked Brie. The table had a runner of lightweight burlap, a large basket of fresh fruit, and each table setting had a menu with a fall leaf attached.



Smoked Salmon Trout Pate
Kahlua Pecan Baked Brie
Cheese Plate


Great Bering Sea Ceviche (mouth watering)


Tagliata With Baby Spinach and Arugula
Wild Alaskan Salmon (with some sort of coffee-bourbon-molasses rub)
Gorgonzola Croquettes
Braised Green Beans with Portabella Mushrooms


Flourless Chocolate Cake and Carmel Sauce (decedent)


We were told to bring a “blend”, so we brought a bottle of Prisoner (Orin Swift), the S’s brought 2010 Berhold Crankcase. The W’s cheated and presented their own home-made wine, a blend of Syrah and Zinfandel. The S’s stole the medal from us for best food-pairing wine, but the W’s wine was savored ‘til the wee hours over nibbles of chocolate cake, and gazing at the stars.

All-in-all, another wonderful evening of fellowship. Next Wine tribe gathering . . . November.

By-the-way . . . we will be in the Bahamas for two weeks in October. For my Travel Buddies, be on the look out for new postings!