This last weekend we went to Sonoma! We both really love wine, and Ryan’s got a “very nice palate” (according to one of the wine guys we saw). I, on the other hand, pick wine’s that I like “just because it tastes yummy and I don’t know why”. We’ve done the Russian River area in Sonoma before, we’ve visited Napa, we’ve done Santa Barbara and Temecula by San Diego, but this was our first time in Sonoma Valley and we loved it! The little town of Sonoma has a central plaza with amazing restaurants all around it. We had food that looked like it walked off the set of Top Chef. We had cheese that made us want to skip all other meals. We tasted wine, and bought wine, and even (hey JT!) went to a beer tasting. Sonoma is so much different than Napa. It’s laid back and not pretentious at all. You don’t need to dress fancy or know a thing about wine to really enjoy yourself. Plus, we saw hardly any drunk idiots (which is also one of Napa’s less redeeming qualities).
The first day we were there, I found a great tour company to arrange our day for us. Platypus picked us, and just one other couple, up and took us to pre-arranged wine tastings. They only visit smaller wineries. Wineries who are serious about their wine, who don’t just mass-produce and have a big name (which is what you’ll see a lot in Napa). The first one we went to, Petroni Vineyards in the two pictures above, is an estate owned by a very famous chef in San Fransisco. This place is indescribable. It’s on a hillside with acres and acres of vines and olive trees he had flown in from Italy. 10,000 of them. There’s this gorgeous house, which he never uses, that’s used for tastings. We sat, drank, and had Lorenzo’s olive oil on crusty bread. It was really easy to imagine being in Tuscany (where he has 2 more houses, btw). They talked to us about how their wine is created to compliment food (lower tanins, blah blah, technical stuff) and it was delicious. We bought a bottle of Brunello, which is a special sangiovese grape that’s followed very strict care guidlines. Lorenzo has the only 5 acres of this grape outside of Italy.
The rest of the day: we visited with a winemaker who is also a former well-regarded physicist who built particle accelerators (random), had wine in a cave, and visited a tasting room. We also snacked on a cheese tray in our bus between visits, which was awesome. By the end of it though, I was wined out! Saturday we only visited one winery and spent the rest of the day driving (responsibly, of course). What a GORGEOUS area. We took a little hike in the Redwoods, drove the coast, and had some seafood. Look how windy it was:
The area around the Russian River looks fake. It’s so beautiful up there. Vineyards everywhere, redwoods, animals, greenery, cherry trees in blossom. It was magical. Our last stop on Saturday was the Lagunitas Brewery. We’ve been to breweries before and thought the “Tap Room” was going to be set up like a wine tasting room. When we got out of our car in the packed parking lot, we heard loud music and tons of people. Turns out the Tap Room is really a raucous party with a live band, people with their dogs, a crowd fighting for drinks at the bar… But magically, two seats opened up, we sat down, and made our own flights. I tried all the odd beers, including a Cinnamon beer. Ryan had all their pale ales.
Ok, ok! Lest you think I’m trying to get off easy with my post today by just showing you boring vacay pictures (which are probably only interesting to me), I have food for you! Our lovely Platypus driver put out a huge spread for lunch at one of the vineyards, including a quinoa salad that was to die for. It’s really a huge departure from JT’s salad, even though it’s got quinoa and roasted peppers as the base. Platypus was nice enough to put their recipe online for those of us who loved it, so I made it when I got home last night. It is delicious, but loses points for being a lot of work. That said, it’s the first time I’ve made quinoa in the rice cooker (with veggie broth and onions thrown right in there) and that turned out awesome! I’ve also included below a recipe I’ve made a lot. I’m not sure where it came from, probably from a friend at some point. Tequila chicken. It’s super easy and fast. I’ve made it without the tequila and it’s just not as good, so make sure you include that. And don’t worry, the chicken was free range, hormone free, certified organic. Just like the Californians do.
- 1 1/4 cups quinoa
- 1 small onion coarsely chopped
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- 3 yellow and/or orange bell peppers
- Vegetable oil
- 2 medium zucchini, chopped and blanched (I threw mine in with the quinoa as it was cooling)
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice (I like a little more than the recipe calls for)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- White pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 scallions, chopped
- Wash quinoa in at least 5 changes of water, rubbing grains and letting them settle before pouring off water, until water runs clear. Drain in a large sieve. Put the quinoa, broth and onions in the rice cooker and let it do its thing.
- While the quinoa is cooking, coat peppers with vegetable oil on all sides (don’t use olive oil as it will char more quickly) and put them on a pan, under your broiler. Watch them carefully. As they start to char, turn them too make sure all sides get cooked. Pull them out of the oven and place them in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap tightly. Let them cool about 15 minutes. The steam inside the peppers should make them easier to peel by hand when they’re cool. Peel them, pull out the stem and seeds, and cut into bite-sized pieces.
- When quinoa is finished, spread it out on a baking sheet to cool. After quinoa cools completely to room temperature, whisk together oil, lime juice, soy sauce, and cumin in a large bowl and stir in quinoa, bell peppers, zucchini, cilantro, scallions, and salt and pepper to taste.
- 1/4 C. veg oil
- 1/4 C. finely chipped fresh cilantro
- 1 1/2 oz tequila
- 1 1/2 Tb ground cumin
- 1 Tb chopped garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp caynenne pepper
- 2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- Cheese (optional)
- Heat oven to 400 deg F. In a large bowl combine oil, cilantro, tequila, cumin, garlic, salt, pepper & caynenne. Add chicken and toss to coat.
- Transfer chicken to a baking sheet. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until cooked through. I always cut into one to check, but you could stick a thermometer in it.
- Remove from oven, top with cheese, broil to finish.