Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Pinot Noir, the Perfect Wine for Autumn

Autumn is beautiful. The weather is wonderful, the air is clean, the sky blue, and the food is great. It is probably the best season to enjoy Pinot Noir wine. I enjoy all kinds of wine at any time of the year, but for me autumn always calls for Pinot Noir.

People often tell me that they love Pinot Noir, but rarely can they explain why. Perhaps it’s a fashion/trend, or maybe there is no particular reason other than its appealing taste. Pinot Noir is becoming increasingly popular in America, and it is definitely one of the most celebrated wine varietals.

Pinot Noir is the grape used to make great red Burgundy wines, and it is one of the main grapes used in making Champagne. Its low yields and sensitivity to soil and climatic conditions make it difficult and expensive to cultivate and to make into wine.

It reaches great quality in certain (cooler climate) regions, including in California (Carneros by the San Francisco Bay, Russian River in Sonoma County, Monterey in the central coast), and Oregon (Willamette Valley), as well as regions of New Zealand, Chile and Northern Italy.

So how is the great taste of Pinot Noir different from that of other fine red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux? For me it is the fineness of the wine’s color, the elegant aroma (bouquet), delicate fruit (berries), mild tannins and food-friendly acidity.  But perhaps the best answer is that you have to taste them and discover for yourself. Because there are hundreds of styles (by countless winemakers), tasting descriptions and opinions vary greatly. As a wine lover I can only offer one person’s opinion, albeit based on having tasted hundreds of different Pinot Noir wines.

Fortunately, I have lived many years in the San Francisco Bay Area surrounded by great wine regions: from San Francisco it’s an hour drive north to the Napa and Sonoma wine regions; one and a half hours south to Monterey County and others. Many California wineries produce great Pinot Noir with quite different styles.

I have also been to the classic Pinot Noir wine country of Burgundy, France, both times in the beginning of autumn just before the grape harvest. Most wineries there are not typically open to the public, unlike in California, so all you can do is look at the vineyards, feel the air and sample the grapes (free), then taste the wines in local wine shops. Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are classic, well balanced delicious wines, but the food in Burgundy is as special as the wine... it is created to complement and enjoy with the wine. And many dishes are cooked with Burgundy wine such as famous Boeuf bourguignon, Coq au vin, Jambon persille, Quenelle Lyonnaise. There are countless regional specialties.

California and Oregon wines are getting more graceful and unique in style, as is the food. Try and enjoy Pinot Noir wine from different wineries and regions. The differences can be striking, as is the range of foods that can be paired with the many styles... perfect for the autumn table.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Peach Melba

Peaches are in their season. They look beautiful, smell wonderful, taste sweet feminine and flavorful. I love it all my life ever since I first tasted. I still remember that it was very hot and muggy summer day when I was a little boy, remember that my grandmother picked up a peach from an ice-water filled porcelain bowl and then halved and peeled it for me to enjoy with her endless love. I was sweating; an old electric fan was making a bit noise but sending cool air. It was delicious and I loved it. We always peel peach, apple, pear, persimmon… and we use a utensil to eat, not with bare hands, except watermelon and mandarin orange, perhaps.

All natural food products were nothing like today’s market...they were available only in their seasons. If their season is gone, you must wait a year to see and taste it until next season. So once their short season is gone you had to dream how good taste was. It is hard to explain to today’s young friends about the feeling, but something like your a girl friend is gone for far away college, so you cannot see her until next summer break….it was no iPhone and IPad, so each moment of experience and memory were so precious and important. It was a good time, having it with romantic attachment. 

Over a decade or so later when I became a young cook in the French kitchen, people called me garçon pêche because I love eating fresh peach more than anyone else, and also Peach Melba was one of the most popular desserts at the time. It was so popular that we had to have on the menu even out of the season, and used overly sweetened can or jar peaches. It was sad for me because the taste is nothing like fresh one but you know they are not available at all the time, and learned I just cannot get always what I want.

I remember many pastry chefs were normally mild temper and nice guys, so they often shared with us their work to taste it, unlike other brutal guys in the kitchen I had to work with. 

 Classic Peach Melba recipe is that halved fresh peach and then cook lightly with butter and sugar and then removes the skin. I am guessing that when the recipe was created over a century ago, in London, and Paris, the weather was much cooler than today, so the fruits were not so ripen and sweet like today. (This is another example of current climate change phenomenon? There wasn’t any jets, cars and air conditioning.) 

In California, the sun is so strong and days long that all fruits grow and ripen fast. So it elevates sugar content in high not like many other places. I like California white nectarine very much that I often eat without peeling skin, same as for my Peach Melba.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

ROSE WINÉ - Great Summer Wine

Rosé wine is perfect wine of hot summer. They are pretty, pink in color, light in body, but packed with summer fruit flavor (strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, etc) and crispy acidity on palate (summer food friendly; comosed salad, pasta with light sauce, pizza, even for dessert like lemon tart) and they are having a big momentum in America.

Some of them are nicely sweet but many dry versions of rosé wines are made with different grape varietals by each different appellation (region) around globe today. One of new from California is made from expensive Pinot Noir grape. They are a bit pricey but worth a try, but in general many imported roses are reasonably priced.

Well chilled rosé wine is very refreshing taste and nicely summer food friendly. I have been having a glass of rosé wine everyday as soon as I come home from work. And I often make rosé spritzer with adding a lemon slice and fresh mint leaves, making it a bit like Mojito (cannot run out rosé in my refrigerator in summer time). It is very refreshing and tasty!

Dry Rosé wine from Provence, south of France has been known and famous for many years, but it wasn’t many brands available in California until recent years, plus it was a bit pricey if you could find one in wine shop.
However welcome news is that many Provencal rosés  are available even in ordinary large super markets in this year among with many others. I see that my local Trader Joe’s carries at least a half dozen Provence rosé wine among many others, as well as at Safeway market. I was a bit surprised that Safeway near my home carries over 50 different rosé wines from around world. They filled the sheves, top to bottom include California rosé (of course) in this year. It is something that I had never seen it before. 

Interestingly, Provencal rosé wines are easy to spot, because many rosé wines have different unique bottle shape. They are quite artistic that no wonder many great artists have lived there (e.g. Picasso, Miró, Cézanne in the past) and keep attracting many young artists to live and work there (great weather, beautiful sea, delicious food and wine.).

My current two favorit this summer are, De Mont, which has very elegant taste and it got everything Provence rosé wine caractor can offers; light, crispy and summer fruits flavor ($8.99 at Trader Joe's). Magique is slighty sweet but very tasty and good wine. I like it a lot ($4.99 at Trader Joe's).

I also enjoyed Loma Negra rosé  from Chile made with Cabernet and Merlot blend ($4.99) and Emma Reichart rosé from Germany made with Pinot Noir ($4.99). Trader Joe's carry 3 dozens rosé wine this summer, and their price is wonderful, more than just affordable!

Anyway dry rosé wine’s popularity is very obvious that a clerk at Trader Joe’s told me they cannot keep up stocking this year. I should go to check out Rosé wine at Wholefoods market this weekend, wondering what they have stocked.

Here is a good Provence wine information site.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Plum Crumble Tart with Super Natural Organic Plum

We have a big old plum tree in our small backyard. Every year the tree gets a lot of sweet dark red plums (called Santa Rosa), with no tending/any work required, either given water. That is why I call it our “super natural organic plum tree.” (perhaps it is only California) 

This year is exceptionally great year that I have seen it only once every few years since I moved to this place 18 years ago, but probably the best one ever I had. I harvested almost three 5-gallon buckets in last 10 days, plus a lot of plums have fallen to the ground and  need to be discarded. This is a very sad story but my garden enemy, squirrels and I have been a bit overwhelming this year's abundance. I have learned that my backyard birds don’t care about it, either racoons (but the truth is I haven’t seen them eating.).  

I have given plums to my neighbors, friends, and made a lot of jam but plums are still all over my kitchen table, inside refrigerator and yet quite few plums on the tree.  So my backyard and kitchen are filled smell of plums at moments. I am now worried that they are rall ready tofall off very soon. Only last thing I can think about it is making “plum wine” which I have never tried it but I have a bit of temptation to do it.

I normally enjoy my plums just eating fresh fruit, baking simple tart or pie with using almond cream or paste as the base (the are very juicy). However I found this recipe online  and looks very nice  (Bruno Ablouz, at his great baking recipe collection site ( . He also has good instruction video for each recipe which is very professional and fun.). So I made it and it came out perfect for my great Super natural organic plums. 

Plum Crumble Tart
Recipe adapted by by Bruno Ablouze

Makes one 7.5x 2-inch or 10x 1 -inch Tart Pan with removable bottom
Yield 6-8 servings
The plum crumble tart can be refrigerated for a couple of days. This pie should be eaten at room temperature.

For the Tart:
One 10 ounces (300g) Sweet Pastry Crust/ Pate Sucée*
A few slices brioche, challah or bread crumbs
2 cups Almond Crumbles**
A few slices brioche, challah or bread crumbs (optional)
2 pounds (900g) pitted red plum (also nectarine and peach as well)
2 ounces (60g) brown or granulated sugar ( lower the amount of sugar by half if using nectarine or peach)Garnish (optional)

Powdered sugar and fresh currents (optional)

*Sweet Pastry Shells (Yields 2 tart shells):
5 ounces (150g) unsalted butter, soft at room temperature
3 ounces (90g) powdered sugar or ¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (280g)  all-purpose flour

Place the SOFTENED butter and salt in the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl if whisking by hand and cream until completely smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and continue beating until homogenized. Mix in half of the the flour until just incorporated and add remaining flour and mix just until it forms a ball. 
Flatten the pastry into a square, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or until firm (can be placed in freezer for about 30 minutes). The dough must be completely chilled before being used. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 5 days or freeze for a month.

**Almond Crumble:
2 ounces (60g) whole almond
5 ounces (150g) almond paste***
½ cup (60g) all-purpose flour
2 ounces (56g) butter, cubed, chilled
Zest of one whole lemon

Almond paste is made from 50% equal proportion of almonds and sugar.
Marzipan has a higher ratio of sugar (up to 75% sugar) plus other ingredients. The larger proportion of sugar makes the marzipan cheaper, smoother and easier to roll out. Marzipan is only used for covering cakes and making edible models.

***Almond Paste: 
 Makes about 1¼ cup (about 250 grams)

1 cup (100g) blanched almonds
1 ½ cup (100g) confectioners’ sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon almond extract
A pinch of salt

In the bowl of food processor, process the almonds to fine ground about 1  minutes.
Add the sugar, egg white, almond extract and salt, process until smooth paste about 2 minutes.

Remove the paste onto a surface of board dusted with confectiones’s sugar and form into a log shape. Wrap the log in a plastic and refrigerate it until firm. It can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week.

To assemble the tart
Placet the rack in the center and preheat the over to 375°F (200°C).

The original recipe does not state prebaked the tart shell however I recommend it to do so lightly to be dried the shell (about 15 minute with pie weight and another 5 minutes without weight.)

Spread 1½ cups almond crumbles  on the tart. Lay slice breads if using. Sprit the plums and and remove the pits. Arrange plums nicely over the bread.
Sprinkle brown sugar and then the rest of almond crumble ot the top of fruit.
Place the tart in the oven and bake about 45 minutes.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019


We have passed the summer solstices last week and it is now officially summer season’’ on our calendar but here in Bay Area, we already had record high of scorching hot days weeks before. It is now that the air is hot, the sun is high, but smell of varieties of fresh summer fruits and scent of summer flower, such like Jasmin are fantastic.

We are having perfect California weather this week (hot days and cool night). Summer means no doubt for the great fruit season. Strawberries are all over the market, cherries and plums are ripe, apricot, peach and nectarine started available, and other fresh berries and watermelon are coming soon. It is truly the season for fresh fruit lovers. Their vibrant colors, rich sweet smells and juice flavor, all are more than irresistible and make us very happy.

We have a long season of cultivated local strawberries in California but its prime is perhaps to its peak now (April to June), and I am now waiting for to tasting those wild berries like small organic strawberries that are coming to our farmers’ market soon. 

Popularity of strawberry is so huge today and Commercial strawberries on the market are so massive in all seasons, but nothing look bright, vibrant red color and luscious sweet flavor of strawberries in its historical season, spring to early summer are exceptional (magic of nature). 

Strawberry is very easy to grow in your backyard even on the terrace of sunny apartment. I started experiment with only on large pot with few plants a few years ago and I have few pots and dozen plants this year. You are not going to get a pint of strawberries every few days but you may enjoy few of them in every couple days.  It takes about 3-4 weeks to harvest ripe strawberries after their blossom of white flowers, but having fun to watch them growing and ripping day by day. For me it’s a big joy tasting real thing.

French Strawberry Tart

For one 9 to 10-inch tart, serves 6.

2 pints of ripe strawberries about 23 ounces (700g) try to get similar size of berries
One baked tart shell, bout 9 to 11-inch
1½ cups pastry cream
2 tablespoons raspberry, strawberry or apricot glaze or powder sugar on the top of strawberries.

For Tart Shell (PÂTE SUCRÉE /Flaky Sweet Pastry):
For one 9 to 10-inch tart

4 ounces (120g) unsalted butter, softened at “room temperature”
A pinch of salt
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
1 large egg (50g)
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/¼ cups (180g) unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted

Place the SOFTENED butter and salt in the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl if mixing by hand and cream until completely smooth. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and continue beating until homogenized. Mix in half of the flour until just incorporated and add remaining flour and mix just until it forms a ball. 
Flatten the pastry into about 6-inch disc, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour or until firm (can be placed in freezer for about 30 minutes). The dough must be completely chilled before being used. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 5 days or freeze for a month.

For Pastry Cream (Crème Pâtissière):
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
1 vanilla beans or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
2tablespoons flour or corn or potato starch

In a saucepan heat up the milk with a half portion of the sugar.
In a small mixing bowl, mix with the rest of the sugar, flour (or starch) and egg yolks. Pour ½ of the hot milk in the bowl and quickly whisk mixture well. And then return to the saucepan and stir constantly the cream over low heat until thickened, about 2 minutes. Immediately plunge the sauce pan into the large bowl of ice water to cool. If sauce is a bit too lumpy, strain through a sieve. 

Assembling the tart:
Spread the pastry cream onto the bottom of prebaked pastry shell. Slice the strawberries way you like, also way would like to decorate. Glaze, brush the warm jam on the top of berries and decorate with small mint leaves.

Note.  You can bake the tart shell and pastry cream a day or two in advance. So you need clean and slice the strawberries on the day you serve. (Recommended)

For chocolate fan, melt 3 ounces (90g) of dark chocolate and spread over the bottom of the tart before spreading chilled pastry cream. It is also preventing tart shell become soggy quickly (good idea for two reasons!)