Codfish with tomatoes, olives and chiles: Bacalao a la vizcaina

Bacalao a la vizacaina is yet another example of the very tasty yet very simple dishes thatcome from the northern Spanish region of the Basque Country. It is one of the most popular Christmas dishes in Mexico. The main ingredient of Bacalao a la vizacaina is codfish. Cod is perhaps one of the most consumed fish in Spain, although historically this fish was mostly a product eaten during Lent. It is also a fish that is easily fished around the coasts of Spain, of which there is a lot!
The Spanish made the most of the New World ingredients they found in Mexico, using potatoes, tomatoes and chiles in this dish, in addition to the olives they imported from Europe and the salted, dried cod that accompanied them on ocean voyages. The dried cod piled up in the markets at this time of year undergoes an almost magical culinary transformation from a rather unappetizing looking ingredient to an outstanding dish with an inspired combination of flavors..

• 4 pounds dried cod(fresh cod can be used)
• 12 cups milk
• 3 cups olive oil
• 2 whole heads garlic, separated and peeled
• 3 large white onions, peeled and finely chopped
• 3 pounds tomatoes, roasted on a comal or dry griddle
• 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
• 1 pound small, new potatoes, boiled and peeled
• 1 ½ cups pimento stuffed olives,
• ¼ to ½ cup pickled jalapeño or güero chiles, according to taste

Soak the cod overnight, changing the water 4 times. Squeeze out excess water and place the cod in a bowl with the milk. Soak in milk another 2 hours, squeeze out excess milk and remove the bones and skin from the fish. Shred it finely and set aside while the seasoning sauce is being made.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven, add the onions and cook over medium low heat until they soften and begin to turn golden. Add half the garlic and continue to cook until it begins to get soft.

Puree the roasted tomatoes and the remaining garlic in a blender, strain and add to the pot. Cover and cook over low heat until a thick sauce forms and all juice from the tomatoes has evaporated. The sauce should take at least an hour to caramelize properly.
Add the shredded fish, parsley, potatoes, olives and chiles with their pickling juice to taste, and simmer for another 30 minutes. Add salt judiciously if desired; this dish should not require much. Allow the dish to stand before reheating and serving. It can be made a day ahead and refrigerated before reheating slowly. Serves 12 as a first course.

Recommended wines to pair with.
2012 Eric Ross Albariño.
Bodkin- Blanc de Sauvignon Blanc-Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc.

Bacalao makes the best sandwiches the day after Christmas.

Thousands Throng To Downtown Geyserville

GeyservilleSantaphotoEarlier this year we were almost into the Spring before any measurable precipitation fell. The recalcitrant high pressure ridge sitting off the West coast for 13 months had growers predicting dire yields, indeed it was imminent that irrigation would no longer be feasible for acres and acres of vineyards all over the region. Come the season for giving thanks we’re deeply grateful and relieved for what appears to be a more traditional Northern California weather pattern. Rain, rain and more rain has never been more welcome.

The good burghers of our little village scheduled the mondo Geyservillian Christmas shindig that is the “Christmas Tree Lighting and Tractor Parade” for the Saturday after Thanksgiving (and why postpone party season?). Despite warnings of a heavy storm crowds came from far and wide, lining Geyserville Avenue three and four deep to witness the spectacle of large decorated farm equipment, fairy lights, diesel particulate, and illuminated inflatable reindeer. It really is a fun event—kids, klaxons, whooping and hollering, whistling and general good cheer. Visitors looking for parking had to walk almost a mile into town.

Mercifully the weather held and a good time was had by all—Diavola was packed from 4:00PM on and still found time to serve hot dogs up in the Oddfellows Hall above; Catelli’s had more than 400 covers; and the Locals faithful enjoyed wine by the glass into the evening.

Yet more merciful, as I write the rain is bucketing down again, the Mayacama mountains are lush and green and snow is piling deep in the Sierras.

Happy Holidays to All!

Vegan Curried Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Bodkin 2013 Muscat Canelli

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith Fall in full swing its a great time to explore new rich soups for chilly evenings. The following soup is so rich and creamy you will be surprised that it is made without cream. And the smells that fill the house as you are making it are an added bonus!


1 head Cauliflower
4-5 cloves garlic
1 large onion
Vegetable Broth
Good quality Curry Powder
Cayenne Pepper
Earth Balance vegan spread
Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 400
Break the Cauliflower into florets and place in a large bowl
Quarter and slice the onion into thin slices, add to the cauliflower
Peel the garlic cloves, chop roughly, add to the cauliflower
Add about 1/4 cup of olive oil to the cauliflower, onion and garlic mix
Salt lightly
Mix thoroughly
Pour the cauliflower mixture onto a large baking sheet and roast in the oven until the vegetables are a nice golden brown (about 30 minutes checking periodically)

Remove the cauliflower mix from the oven and scrape the vegetables, oil and any accumulated juices into a large soup pot
Add vegetable stock until it passes the top of the vegetables by 2 inches or so
Bring soup to boil and simmer until the vegetables are very tender (about 30 minutes)

Add a tablespoon of curry power (a little more or less to your taste)
Add cayenne pepper to taste
Add 2 tablespoons earth balance

Using a stick blender puree the soup to desired consistency.

Check and correct seasoning as needed.


Dia de los Muertos (DAY OF THE DEAD)


Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated on October 31-November 2 of each year, is a celebration in honor to women, men and children who have passed away, this a tradition that has roots nearly 4000 years old.

Dia de los muertos expresses the beauty and mystery of life and death. For many, it is a time of partying and celebration; for others, it is a time of introspection. At its most potent, it is a balanced blend of the two.

Traditionally, every family in Mexico builds an altar in honor of their deceased loved ones, people make an effort to lay out the best ofrenda (altar), they can afford, consisting of things the dead person enjoyed while s/he was alive, traditional stuff like alfeñiques which are sugar cane figures with skull designs, flowers, candles, favorite food and special drinks, Tequila of course, but wine too, like the bottle of Rioja red wine that I used to put for ofrendamy grandpa.

Week 5…Harvest 2014

9-24image copyOk…by now it is all a blur of processing grapes as they are picked, pressing the grapes that have turned into wine, and punch downs…ALWAYS punch downs. There are a couple things that distinguished this week from others at harvest…we got our new French oak barrels and we had rain…nothing stops harvest, not even rain in Sonoma County!

Prickly Pear

Prickly_pear_cactus_beedHave you ever eaten prickly pear?. If you have not, you should consider it next time you see them at the farmer’s market, prickly pear is a cactus with jointed stems and oval flattened segments, having barbed bristles and large pear-shaped, prickly fruits.

This fruit is fruit is very common in Mexico which is known as “tuna”, it comes in three different colors red, green and yellow Tunas (prickly pear) is not only delicious and refreshing and with a nice watermelon aroma, it’s got a ton of benefits, has been promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and even hangovers!.,

prickly_redThere are numerous of recipes that you can make at home too, jam, Margaritas and even wine, just remember “Be careful with the spines or the wine could have a bite”.


Week 4…Harvest 2014 – We Have WINE!

9:15image-1 copyWe have WINE! The first fruit, Pinot noir, to come into the winery has now evolved into wine! I noticed that the cap of grape skins was falling on a small fermenter yesterday morning. By the end of the day it was completely submerged and we had wine. It tastes very fresh, with tart cranberry and raspberry notes, deliciously refreshing! It will be pressed today and put into French oak barrels to rest for about 9 months before it is bottled.

We continued to receive and process Pinot noir fruit this week along with more Chardonnay and some Viognier. When the white grapes come into the winery they are immediately pressed and the juice is pumped into an enclosed tank where it settles over night. The next day the juice is racked off the settled solids and into either stainless steel barrels or French oak barrels for fermentation. The cellar sounds like it has multiple fish aquariums running with the consistent bubbling from the air locks on the barrels. The air locks allow the carbon dioxide created during fermentation to escape while keeping oxygen out.

9:15 copyMy biggest accomplishment this week was doing ALL of the punch downs on ALL the fermenters for midday. I am developing some definite muscles along with some blisters too and we aren’t even half way through harvest yet! The reward is knowing that we will make a good wine and the views from the top of the fermenters.

Week 3…Harvest 2014

9:7image-1A thrilling and exhausting week it was! I had some of my first 10 hour days and we saw the first obvious signs that fermentation has begun. Harvest is a big, messy chaos of receiving and processing fruit, managing fermenting fruit, cleaning incessantly, and still dealing with all the other daily tasks of a small winery such as bottling 100 cases of 2013 wine and cleaning 94 oak barrels.

The most exciting aspect of all this is the daily arrival of new grapes. We received and processed nearly 20 tons of grapes this week! As the black grapes come into the winery, the individual berries are removed from the stems and then they are placed into large vessels for fermentation. The grapes just hang out for a few days and then you begin to see obvious signs that fermentation is beginning. Bubbles develop and the fermenter begins to warm up…nice on our cool, foggy mornings! This is where things are with the estate fruit that was the very first to come in last week. We even had one tank with overflowing yeasty froth. The froth tastes like a spritzy sort of sweet, tart candy! We also started punch downs on the fermenters this week.

9:7image-2 copyAs the yeast begin to ferment the sugar in the juice, the grapes that are still whole rise to the top of the fermenting vessel pushed up by the yeast creating carbon dioxide. The skins on the top need to be kept moist to prevent microbial growth and to be sure to get all the color, flavors, and tannins desired from the grape skins. To perform a punch down you use a tool made of hollow stainless steel that has a dinner plate sized disc at the bottom of the handle. It also has two handles coming out the sides. You place the disc on the top of the skins and…push…until the disc breaks down to the looser, more juicy lower layers. This is hard work and sometimes you have to step on the middle handles to push it through the dense grapes. Then you pull it up, heavy with a layer of wet fruit from the lower part of the fermenter, and start over again, inch by inch, until the entire upper layer has been punched down and the top of the fermenter is all covered with wet grapes again. Initially this is done once a day and eventually it increases to four times a day. With all of our large fermenters now full, and many of our smaller ones too, punching down can take over an hour now. It can only be described as a labor of love!

Second Week….Harvest 2014

8-30-14image-2 copyAs predicted, the beginning of harvest week for us started with bottling all the 2013 Chardonnay.  As a small, family owned winery, most of the bottling is done in house and only very large lots require a bottling truck company.  We finished up in two days bottling nearly 500 cases of wine and we were ready for vintage 2014 to begin!

When determining when grapes are ready for harvest there are three major factors involved.  The first factor is the varietal.  Chardonnay and Pinot noir have a shorter ripening time than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.  The second factor that determines the time necessary for ripening is where the grapes are planted.  Vines on slopes at higher elevations ripen more quickly than vines planted on flat valley floor or on slopes at lower elevations.  The last, and most definitive sign of ripeness and the date of harvest, is the winemaker’s decision.  Winemakers have many different parameters to consider in determining if a particular vineyard, or block of a vineyard, is ready to pick.  8-30-14image-1 copyThis is influenced by the sugar level and the taste of the grapes, the signs of physiological ripeness, such as the color of the seeds, and also by the style of wine he or she is making.  Sparkling wines are made from grapes that would be much too under ripe for making a bigger, bolder style of wine.

8-30-14image copyHarvest began for us on a foggy morning that turned into warm sunshine as it often does in these valleys.  The first grapes to come in were the younger vines of Pinot noir from the estate vineyard.  The next day it was Chardonnay from a neighboring vineyard.  In the Russian River AVA, things are ripening a week or so earlier than usual, probably due to the consistent warm temperatures for most of the summer.  Yields are quite high again as they were for 2013.  There is some speculation that this may be due to the drought, but no one knows for sure.  The Pinot was especially beautiful with perfect small, dense clusters.  Harvest is a lot of work, but it is an exciting time too!

First Week…. Getting Ready for the Harvest

image copyMy life was good, maybe even perfect…but I got bit hard by the whole wine thing.  I was a happy, successful medical professional and I just couldn’t be satisfied with the answers to my questions given to me in the tasting rooms….oh, no…I had to learn more…had to know more.  Here I am, a middle aged woman, completing a degree in Wine Making doing an Internship at a Russian River winery…and this is how it goes…

Week 1 – What I learned:

  1. Preparations for harvest are as serious as the impending harvest.
  2. You have to get organized.  We spent all day, ALL DAY reorganizing the cellar.  We moved stacks of barrel racks, each carrying 6 full barrels of wine holding 60 gallons, outside.  We rearranged them, and then moved them all back inside.  This put all the empty barrels in one place, all the wine still aging in barrels at the back, and all the wine to be bottled soon, up front.  At the end of the day no one but us would have been able to tell the difference.  I thought it was gorgeous!
  3. Pressure washing is loads of fun!  There is a sort of POWER derived from pressure image-2 copywashing.  I pressure washed all day…I washed the destemmer, the filter, multiple fermenters of various sizes, holding tanks, and last but not least LOTS of FYB’s (fu#%ing yellow bins).  There is a reason they bear this name.
  4. Don’t put off what you can do today.  In the shadow of harvest it is not uncommon to bottle what you can bottle, as you won’t be able to do much of anything to older vintages once harvest begins.  The toddlers will be on their own for a few months.  To that end, we racked Chardonnay into tank, let it settle, lightly filtered it into another tank where it will wait for bottling next week.
  5. Harvest truly is right around the corner.  I was asked to pull a grape berry sample from the estate vineyard.  This involves walking down the vine rows and doing your very best to pull a random sample of about 100 grapes.  You want to pick berries from the top, middle, and bottom of different clusters as you walk down the row.  You can’t just pick the ones you would like to eat!  Once picked they are crushed all together and a sugar reading is taken.  It was close to being right where our winemaker wants it.  What does this mean?  We may be processing grapes right alongside all that bottling!