Saturday, October 08, 2016

Mushroom & Parmigiano Pasta Recipe #WinePW

Remember the Campbell’s soup jingle, Mm Mm good? That’s kind of how I feel about Merlot. It’s velvety tannins, plum and blackberry flavor and soft character make it easy to enjoy and very popular. It’s one of the “noble grapes” of France or c├ępage noble and is used as a blending grape but also as a single varietal. It's planted all over the world and of course its character varies depending on the region.

In France where it's a primary grape in Bordeaux Merlot tends to have more acidity, in Italy it can be lighter and more herbal, in the US it was so lush and delicious it led to a craze in the 90’s and the quality dropped as winemakers scrambled to plant it everywhere. It's still the second leading variety planted in California, just behind Cabernet Sauvignon. Fortunately today it's better than ever. I particularly like Merlot from California and Washington where the best examples combine the fruitiness you expect from a New World wine and yet the structure of an Old World wine.

When it comes to pairing, it’s actually pretty easy to find food that goes well with Merlot. I recently opened a bottle of J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot, 2014, a blend with 15% Malbec, as part of #MerlotMe. It's a big red wine, but smooth with supple tannins and plenty of plum, a hint to spice and a long finish. It was awarded 95 points and Gold-Best of Class of Region from the 2016 California State Fair Competition. It's a great value for $15.

You might think this wine would only pair well with beef, but it’s actually terrifically versatile and works with much lighter dishes than you might expect. In general, Merlot is a good wine for vegetarian dishes, especially if they have umami flavors (think eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes). I tried the wine with two dishes. It was good with roasted game hens I seasoned only with salt and pepper and some basil leaves under the skin. It was even better with a pasta dish I created with lots of mushrooms and Parmigiana-Reggiano.

Note: Choose a younger Parmigiano-Reggiano for this recipe, since it will melt bettter, preferably 24 months or less.

Mushrooms & Parmigiano Pasta
Makes 2 servings


4 ounces tagliatelle, spinach or plain
1 Tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces coarsely chopped oyster and cremini mushrooms, about 2 1/2 cups
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup broth —chicken, vegetable or mushroom
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, 2 tablespoons reserved
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped flat leaf parsley


Boil a pot of water for pasta. Add a pinch of salt and cook the tagliatelle al dente, per package instructions. Drain and set aside. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook stirring frequently until mushrooms are beginning to brown, about 3 minutes then add the broth. Cook for a few more minutes or until the liquid is almost completely evaporated.  Add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta water. Cook and toss to coat with sauce and turn off the heat. Sprinkle with most of the cheese on the pasta, and quickly toss to combine. Season to taste with pepper and garnish with parsley and remaining cheese.


Now take a look at what #MerlotMe #WinePW friends are pairing with their Merlot:
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Merlot Shows Its Versatility and Goes +1 With Cheese, Meat, and Chocolate”
David from Cooking Chat shares “Garlic Thyme Tuna Paired with a Merlot”
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “#MerlotMe Trifecta for #WinePW”
Michelle from Rockin Red Robin shares “Welcoming Fall with #MerlotMe & #WinePW”
Jennifer from Vino Travels – An Italian Wine Blog shares “#MerlotMe with Sausage Baked Ziti”
Sarah from Curious Cuisiniere shares “Exploring Merlot Wine Pairing with Bolognese Sauce”
Lori from Dracaena Wines shares “Hello, Can you #MerlotMe?”
Jill from L’Occasion shares “Evenings with Merlot
Lauren from The Swirling Dervish shares “Mercy Monday and Merlot”
Gwen from Wine Predator shares #We say MerlotMe with savory squash soup and sandwiches”
Jade from Tasting Pour shares “Chipotle Chicken Stew and Merlot”
Cindy from Grape Experiences shares “Wine & Dine: Merlot with Eggplant & Polenta Parmigiana”
Jeff from FoodWineClick! shares “A Love Affair for Merlot and the Grill”

Disclaimer: I received bottles Merlot as part of the the Merlot Me promotion in October, I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cocoa Energy Bites Recipe & Giveaway

So I was going to review the dark chocolate coconut GFB Gluten Free Bites I received in the Must Have Box I was sent by Popsugar but I’m sharing a recipe I created of my own version instead. I’ve noticed a lot of healthy products and raw foods use dates as a sweetener. Because I have a food sensitivity to dates and can’t eat them, I sometimes adapt recipes and use prunes in place of dates. 

Even if you have no issues with dates, there’s good reason to choose prunes instead. While prunes and dates are about the same in terms of iron, fiber and protein, when it comes to sugar, carbohydrates and calories, prunes are lower. Prunes are also significantly higher in antioxidants including vitamin K and vitamin A. number of studies show consumption of prunes not only helps prevent osteoporosis but actually reverses bone loss thanks to a combination of bone building calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and copper. 

I’ve always loved dried fruit, it’s high in calories so I use it as only as a treat or in recipes. To make my version I closely adapted the Date Coconut Energy Balls recipe from Ellie Krueger published in the Washington Post, substituting the dates with prunes. I also used lemon instead of orange and since the Gluten Free Bites had cocoa, I added some of that as well. 

Cocoa Energy Bites
Makes 12


8 ounces pitted prunes
1/3 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest or orange zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
Water, as needed


Combine the dates, sunflower seeds, 2 tablespoons of the coconut, cocoa powder cinnamon, orange zest and salt in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped and mixture forms a ball. You may need to add a little bit of water to get the mixture to come together, just a teaspoon or two. Place the remaining coconut in a bowl.

Roll the  mixture into 12 slightly rounded balls. One by one, place the balls in the bowl with the coconut and jiggle the bowl to coat them. Repeat until all the balls are done.



Since I’m not eating the Gluten Free Bites, I’m giving them away along with a non-edible surprise item from the Must Have box. In the comments tell me your favorite healthy and gluten-free snack and I’ll pick a winner at random on October 6, 2016. You must have a US mailing address to win and include your email in the requested field so I can contact you. 

If you’re interested in purchasing a Must Have Box use code SHOP5 to save $5.

Disclaimer: My thanks to Popsugar for sending me the Must Have box. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Americana Grill Restaurant Review

I've enjoyed some very special dinners lately, but it was an unpretentious lunch at Americana Grill that I’m most excited to tell you about. But first, a little background. It was several years ago when I first discovered Broken Record, a restaurant in the back of a dive bar in the Excelsior, a part of the city so far off the beaten track that you have to get on the freeway to get there. The kitchen was run by James Moisey and Shane LaValley. Their food seemed like pub grub on the surface but it was so much more than that. There were burgers, sandwiches, salads and some Southern things like crawfish and grits, buttery biscuits and mac and cheese. They also served a walnut pie that I miss to this day. The food was inexpensive and sometimes a little over the top, like a burger with bacon ground into the mix, but always good. 

Chef James Moisey
Chef James Moisey at Americana Grill
The two chefs went on to great success at Rickybobby in the lower Haight for three years. And then their rent went up by 50% and the restaurant closed. Could they have raised the prices? Probably. But affordability was part of the charm.

So I was excited to learn that James Moisey was cooking again, this time at Americana Grill. Frankly I never heard of the place and it’s so non-descript it is easy to miss, but it’s in a stretch of Balboa that is becoming a culinary destination with outstanding places like Marla Bakery and Restaurant up the block and Cassava across the street. When I stopped in I asked the chef what I should order, and he sheepishly said, "everything" because it was all his menu and all good, and you know what? He was right. Our party of four ordered half orders of a number of dishes just so we could try more things and there was nothing I wouldn't order again. Please keep that in mind when looking at some of the photos.

First up the Country Biscuit Plate with sausage gravy, fried eggs on a crumbly buttermilk biscuit. A comforting, satisfying dish if there ever was one. 

Next the Pork Fries, this is the dish that put Moisey on the map. pulled pork, waffle fries, house cheese sauce, Buffalo sauce and scallions. It’s been described as the American version of nachos and it’s just as addictively good at once crunchy, creamy, rich and gooey.

The Louie Salad has large juicy shrimp (not a pile of often mushy bay shrimp) over a bed of crisp iceberg lettuce and lots of fresh vegetables, cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumber, plus the traditional hard boiled egg and thousand island dressing. The salad is a hearty main dish, bursting with flavor. 

The Roasted Eggplant Lasanga has layers of mushrooms and peppers in addition to eggplant along with a bright tomato sauce and just a dollop of house ricotta and fresh basil. It's lighter than the usual lasagna but just as good if not better.

The Shrimp Fra Diavolo is another winner, served over polenta with a fiery lobster broth, parmesan and fried basil leaves. 
Bread Pudding French Toast

The piece de resistance might be the Bread Pudding French Toast with strawberries, maple syrup and whipped cream. Order this for breakfast or for dessert. It’s the most custardy French toast I’ve ever had, more bread pudding than French toast so lusciously soft and creamy. 

With only one dish over $15, the prices here are very affordable. You’ll find lots of the old favorites from Moisey's prior gigs and the service couldn’t be more accommodating and friendly. There’s an all-day menu, so come whenever you’re hungry and order whatever makes you happy, because this is happy food. 

Note: The website is not up to date, but you can find them on Facebook or check out the menu.

Americana Grill
3532 Balboa St @ 36th Ave. 
San Francisco CA

Open everyday except Tuesday from 10 am - 3 pm and 5 pm - 10 pm

Monday, September 26, 2016

Apple Welsh Rarebit Recipe

A few years ago I received a shipment of SweeTango apples courtesy of the growers and used them to make an individual apple crisp. This year, I was contacted to be a SweetTango blog ambassador, and was also hired to create a couple of extra crunchy recipes using raw apples. One of the recipes I suggested wasn’t chosen, but I was eager to make it anyway and it turned out to be a real keeper. 

The SweeTango was developed at the University of Minnesota and is cross between a sweet Honeycrisp and a tangier Zestar! apple. It’s grown in New York, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, and Nova Scotia, Canada. While it’s fine to bake SweeTango apples, they are particularly good raw. In addition to being juicy and sweet with a complex flavor that’s sweet, spicy and tangy, these apples are really known for their crunch. And there’s a reason for that. The apples have cells twice the size of most other apples. How crunchy is the SweeTango? It's acutally the Guinness Book of World record holder for “loudest crunch of an apple.” 

My recipe combines three classic flavors, apples, cheese and beer. You can use whatever blend of cheese you like although cheddar is traditional. Just make sure whichever cheeses you use are very good melting cheeses. Many recipes place the toast and cheese sauce under the broiler, but I didn’t find it necessary. The combination of the gooey cheese with the terrifically crunchy, juicy and sweet apples is what it’s all about. Since the recipe uses just a little bit of beer, I recommend drinking the rest of the beer with the dish. More tips, recipes and photos are available on the SweeTango Facebook page.

Note: A serving is one piece of toast, but in my experience, some diners may want to eat more! This dish can be served with simple green salad. 

Apple Welsh Rarebit
Makes 4 servings


4 slices French bread, lightly toasted
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup beer, I used Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, a malty brown lager
2 cups grated cheese—combination of cheddar and gruyere
1 thinly sliced apple


Put butter in a saucepan over medium heat and when it melts, stir in flour. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and bubbly. Stir in mustard, Worcestershire sauce and beer and whisk until smooth. Simmer until it begins to thicken, whisking constantly, then  turn heat to low, add the cheese and continue stirring just until smooth.

Places slices of apple on the toast then put the cheese mixture on top of the apples and serve immediately.


Disclaimer: I received the apples as part of the SweeTango blog ambassador program. I was not monetarily compensated for this blog post.