Just home from a wine tasting trip to the lush green Willamette Valley (rhymes with “damn it”) in Oregon, I’m once again amazed and grateful by how a little change of scenery — along with some wine, friends, food, and song — stirs me up to cook something new in my Colorado kitchen. And what if it’s just in time for an easy, fun Valentine’s Day at home?
On Valentine’s Day, restaurants can jack up the prices, downsize the portions and serve inferior ingredients. “Some people will pay whatever amount to impress their date. Restaurants might take advantage of that,” says chef Jen Johnson, who worked for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse and is now the co-founder of Sebastopol, CA-based Hip Chick Farms and The Kitchen.A Chef’s Recommendation for Valentine’s Day: ‘Stay home.’ Read the whole article from NBC news here.
Need recipes right away? Scroll way down past the wine trip travelogue.
Our fearless leader, longtime friend and sommelier Drew Robinson (in red shirt at center above), put the entire tour together — what a feat! See the winery lineup on the back of the trip teeshirt in the photo below. Low bow and great thanks to Drew along with all of the winery and restaurant crews. A beautiful trip with beautiful, dedicated and sincere people. I was a tish teary on the return flight.
...a few highlights from the tastings and vineyards…
above: Drew and Jill in the cave at Archery Summit
below: a gorgeous representative of the great wine dogs we met
Drew Robinson disgorging sparkling wine with dispatch at Argyle (short video below)
Disgorgement: When making sparkling wine, this technique is used to remove frozen sediment remaining in the bottle after the second fermentation. Through the riddling process, the sediment settles in the bottle neck and the neck is then dipped into a brine solution and frozen. Working quickly, the bottle is turned upright and the crown cap removed. The plug of frozen sediment is ejected by the pressure of the carbon dioxide. Also known as Dégorgement~WINE SPECTATOR
And, of course, there was food–at “home” and in a few tasty restaurants…
Ready to cook now? I thought you might be. While Valentine’s Day often features fancy food on fancy plates on fancy placemats, I’m turning the tables and going for food that’s a bit of fun. Maybe simpler or even easier. Lighter in the tummy. (Though you could serve this on china plates if you liked…why not? The dish police aren’t coming.)
I’m ever amazed by how much people love tacos and how far they’ll go to chase down some truck by the side of the road to get some. With that trend sticking around for as long as it has, tacos of all shapes, sizes, and varieties have popped up around the country. My own take on a sirloin steak taco features a French roasted red bell pepper sauce (scroll down for info and recipe as well as hacks) with a perky blue cheese garnish. Who doesn’t love steak and blue cheese? And because woman doesn’t live by tacos alone, there’s a fast and lemony-herby root vegetable salad to serve as a side or even on top if it so moves you. Dressing? I hope you enjoy making the world’s easiest vinaigrette comprised of only Oregon Chardonnay (naturally) and olive oil, salt and pepper. Try this:
sirloin steak tacos with red pepper sauce and blue cheese
- Stove top Grill Pan or Heavy Cast Iron Skillet
- 4 small –5” to 6” tortillas I like LA TORTILLA FACTORY Handmade Style Tortillas, blended white corn and wheat
- Canola oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 12- ounces sirloin steak cut in half
- ½ small red onion very thinly sliced
- Red pepper sauce printable recipe on blog post
- 1 ounce blue cheese crumbled
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees and place a small baking pan lined with foil on a rack at center to keep tortillas warm.
- Heat a small griddle or skillet to high over medium high flame. Heat the tortillas one at a time until very warm on one side; flip and heat the other, taking care not to burn them. Place in oven in the lined baking pan, covering the tortillas with foil after each addition.
- Preheat indoor grill or cast iron skillet to medium-high heat over medium flame. Flick a couple of drops of water to check the heat; they will fly away when the grill pan is hot enough.
- Brush the steak with oil and season well with salt and pepper on both sides. Add the two 6-ounce steaks to the hot grill/pan an inch or two apart and grill for about 4 minutes until well-seared. Turn and grill the other side for another 3-4 min. for medium rare (130 degrees Fahrenheit) or longer if you like a well-cooked steak. Remove steaks to a platter and let rest a minute or two—or you can turn off the heat under grill and let them slowly cook just a bit more. Slice the meat thinly crosswise.
- TO MAKE THE TACOS: Remove warm tortillas from oven. Place one tortilla on the cutting board, add 2 or more slices steak in the center, top with a few slices of thin red onion, and spoon about two tablespoons of the red pepper sauce over all. Sprinkle with a bit of blue cheese – or to taste. Repeat with remaining tacos. Serve the rest of sauce in a small bowl at the table. Great with the Root Vegetable Salad (printable recipe on post).
ABOUT THAT RED PEPPER SAUCE…
Odd reading habits of mine include leafing through books or magazines from the back to the front; I have no idea why, though it’s been with me from the get-go. (No, I do not want to know the ending first; that’s not it!) So the recipe that first caught my eye from fave writer and cooking teacher Susan Herrmann Loomis’ ( onruetatin.com) lovely book, FRENCH GRILL, was from chapter 8, “Building Blocks,” — which included things like aioli, mustard cream, vinaigrettes, vanilla sugar — RED PEPPER SAUCE (La Sauce Poivrons Rouge in French) on page 255 out of 288 pages. (By the by, I think Susan’s got a new book in the works. Stay tuned!)
The sauce for my tacos is not Romesco (the slap-happy later in summer Catalan sauce that includes red bell peppers, tomatoes, and nuts, among other things) — though there’s a version of that in the book, too — but a simpler topping. The main elements and tastes are only two: steamed garlic and grilled red bell peppers, though the seasonings, Piment d’Espelette and sea salt, are just as critical as the ingredients. While the sauce is quite flavorful, it’s not terribly hot like many toppings used on more typical southwestern tacos. If you can’t find Piment d’Espelette–a ground, mild Basque pepper, Susan gives you the option of subbing a blending of paprikas. (See below for link.)
Red Pepper Sauce
- 8 fat cloves garlic
- 4 grilled red bell peppers–skin and seeds removed (Steam for twenty minutes in a closed paper bag after grilling, and then remove skin, slice, and take out seeds.)
- Fine Sea Salt, Piment d’Espelette* or a blend of hot and sweet paprika
- Bring 3 cups of water (750 mto boil in the bottom half of a steamer. Place the garlic in the steamer, cover, and steam until the garlic is completely soft, which will take 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat. When the cloves are cool enough to handle, remove the skin.Purée the peppers and the garlic in a food processor, then transfer the purée to a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low heat. Cook just until all of the pepper liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened, 8 – 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and piment d’Espelette. (Start with ¼ teaspoon each and add more as needed.) Set aside until needed. The sauce will keep for several days in the refrigerator and for up to three months in the freezer.
Notes: I made a half portion of the pepper sauce for this recipe. As it’s luscious on eggs, sandwiches, salads, etc., you could make the whole thing and store the remainder for another use. It’s a perfect soup perk up, too. While the recipe doesn’t indicate it, these peppers need to not be simply grilled, but pretty much blackened and soft before you take them off the grill and put them into the paper bag to steam.
HELP! I don’t have a bamboo steamer. WATCH THIS! Adore Justin Chapple. (See below for my solution.)
HELP! I’m slammed. Can I do this faster? YES! Buy a jar of roasted red peppers, drain and puree them, warm and season them as above in a saucepan before using. (Do make the scratch sauce later!) You could also use a quick drizzle of your favorite bbq sauce in a pinch.
HELP! What is Piment d’ Espelette anyway? It’s available at some specialty stores or through amazon.com. You can also sub a lesser amount of ground cayenne with the paprika if you’re into heat. But! The heat of this sauce should not kick your butt; it’s not that sort of thing. It’s more of a gentle warmth you’re glad you added.
root vegetable salad with lemon zest, hazelnuts, and oregon chardonnay vinaigrette
- 1 cup baby arugula
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 scallions, divided, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced on the bias thinly
- 3-4 baby red beets-1-2 inches diameter, peeled, sliced very thinly
- 2 red radishes, trimmed, sliced very thinly
- ½ medium fennel bulb, trimmed, sliced very thinly (a few fronds reserved for garnish)
- Lemon zest, about ¼ of a medium lemon
- 6 salted roasted hazelnuts, crushed (Place nuts on cutting board and crush them just a bit using the side of a chef’s knife—you want them in large pieces.)
- 1 tablespoon each Oregon Chardonnay and extra virgin olive oil for the vinaigrette
- Fresh parsley leaves for garnish
- Add ½ cup arugula to a small, shallow serving bowl. Season with a pinch each of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of the sliced scallions; toss with your fingers. Top with ½ of the beets, 1 sliced radish, and ½ of the sliced fennel. Zest a bit of lemon rind over the salad. Sprinkle with 3 crushed hazelnuts and another teaspoon or so of the sliced scallions. In a measuring cup, whisk together the Oregon Chardonnay, olive oil, and a pinch each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to make the vinaigrette. Drizzle the salad very lightly with the vinaigrette. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds and parsley leaves. Repeat process for the other salad. Chill both bowls up to an hour before serving
WHICH CHARD? Oregon Chardonnays are lovely, accessible, and not overly expensive across the board; I doubt you’d buy one you didn’t like. We drank several, bought more, and squished yet another into an already-full suitcase. (No, it didn’t break though it was packed in a wine sleeve.) If you’re looking for the first one to try, I’d give Soter Vineyards’ a go. There’s also a reserve version if you’re feeling flush. Since you need so little for the vinaigrette, you’ve got the rest of the bottle to make up your mind about! (For more info, scroll down to the reading section below.)
WINE: Blue cheese is a trick to pair, but you can try a gorgeous Oregon Pinot Noir here and see what you think.
DESSERT: Try my Whipped Cream-Filled Brownie Cupcakes and be glad you did.
READ UP ON OREGON WINE, CHEESE, HAZELNUTS, WINE TASTING, and VALENTINE MOVIES:
Cook at home for health, wealth, and happiness…even or especially on Valentine’s Day. Invite a friend for dinner and a movie if there’s no romantic interest available. Celebrating love is a good thing to do with anyone,