Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Danville and Napa customers: it’s now easier to try our wines!

January 22nd, 2010

We’re excited to announce our two newest retailers!

In Napa, California…

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And in the East Bay…

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Ragout of Mushrooms & Onions…a quick and tasty treat!

December 7th, 2009

Woa, that's a lot of mushrooms!

Click here to view the recipe!

The vegetarians are coming, the vegetarians are coming!

Just when I thought I had an easy meal of comfort foods planned for a Friday night get-together (roasted chicken, potatoes au gratin, apple tart), my plans were thrown askew by those four words. It’s not difficult (and certainly not unpleasant) to make a main course out of vegetables (heck, I was vegetarian for several years) but the news threw me for a momentary loop. I wanted a dish that wouldn’t have me hovering over the stove while everyone else was enjoying the cheese and wine, and I also didn’t want to spend hours in the kitchen peeling and preparing veggies beforehand.

Thumbing through one of several vegetarian cookbooks on my shelf, inspiration hit when I came across a recipe for mushroom ragout. As usual, I’ve taken the gist of it and added ingredients that I personally love, like slowly caramelized onions and a pinch of nutmeg. However, I can’t take credit for the idea of serving it over toast — I have fond memories of my mom’s Welsh rarebit, a decadently cheesy sauce served over thick slices of oven-warmed bread — so this serving suggestion struck a deep chord with me. Pick up an artisan loaf from your favorite local bakery (mine is the Cheeseboard Collective in Berkeley, CA) and enjoy the rustic simplicity of this comforting melange of flavors.

Click here to view the recipe!

Cooking with wine: a primer

November 24th, 2009

frying_pansCooking with wine doesn’t have to be complicated. Here we’ll outline some guidelines you can use when choosing a wine to cook with. We’ll dispel some myths, discuss some terminology and touch on some general rules to use when cooking with wine.

Never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink, right?

“Cooking wines” are generally considered bad because they are generally sub-par wines that have salt added. With salt added, they don’t need to be sold as government regulated “wine”. But wine is an ingredient – and just as we wouldn’t cook with soggy lettuce or of smelling meat, we don’t want to cook with a wine that tastes bad. This even applies to wine that’s gone bad in your cabinet (remember when you used wine six months ago and the remaining half-bottle got banished to the cabinet until ‘next time’?). Stale and vinegar-like wine generally doesn’t make for a quality ingredient.

And here’s the real kicker: Sometimes the wines we like to drink *most* are the least appropriate for cooking. That big, oaky and tannic Cabernet that everyone likes? When you cook with it, it will amplify those intense flavors and could throw your meal out of balance. Cooking with Chardonnay? It may not have enough flavor to really make much of a difference in your meal. These are all things to consider.

The flavor of the wine makes a difference.

Wine is complex enough to have schools, books, movies and entire people’s lives dedicated to tasting it. When using wine as an ingredient, we know that the differences from wine to wine will have some effect on the flavor in our final meal. After all, garlic and cinnamon have hugely different qualities and can change your dish’s flavor dramatically. So isn’t it natural to expect wines that taste hugely different to also have different effects on our meal’s flavor?

But if you’re like most people, there’s very little time left in the day after school, work, and family to study how this or that wine will affect your cooking.

Kitchen in action

Let’s try to break this down a little bit. We’ll start with some terms that might be helpful:

Acidity / Brightness - This refers to a wine’s vibrancy, crispness or tartness. Imagine lemon juice, which is high in citric acid (derived from citrus). Grapes have a similar acid in them called tartaric acid, and some wines have more acidity than others.

Acidity can complement, enhance or add “life” to certain foods; think White meats and seafood. In general, anything that you could could see adding a little bit of lemon juice to would also be enhanced by a high acid or bright wine.

White wines are generally brighter or more tart than reds, but red wines can also be high in acidity. But, for example, a Sauvignon Blanc would probably be a better choice for seafood, for example, because of its brightness.

Complexity –
This is a very general term that refers to how much is “going on” in the wine. The flavors you get in the wine are generally not too far off from the flavors you’ll end up getting in your final dish. If your wine just has a plain old “wine flavor”, you’re going to get “wine flavor” in your meal. However, if your wine has nice peach and pear notes, or black olive and truffle, or even fresh strawberries, you’re going to get “wine flavor” *plus* that other tasty stuff. The flavors will add overall complexity to the flavor profile of your meal.

Reduction – A reduction is a process whereby you boil off the alcohol and water in wine and reduce the overall volume. You are left with the “essence” of the wine and any flavors that you perceived before will be concentrated and amplified. This goes for both good and bad flavors. Bitterness is a tricky one because it can oftentimes be a function of the alcohol in a wine – and because the alcohol evaporates, the bitterness might very well disappear with it.

Reducing wine is super easy. Pour a measured amount in a pot or pan and bring it to boiling then reduce the heat to the point that it is steaming. By doing this slowly, you leave more flavor in the reduction because less gets “blown out” with a vigorous boil.

*Very important* Leave the lid *off* the pot or pan as you reduce! You want the water and alcohol to evaporate, not hit the lid of the pan and drip back inside. By leaving the pan off, the water and alcohol dissipates into the air.

And of course, don’t over-do it. Taste the reduction as it steams. The flavors can easily become too amplified and too concentrated! If you over-do it, add more wine and continue the reduction.

Deglazing – When you cook a piece of meat in a pan or pot, you’ll usually leave tasty bits of charred meat, and a concentrated soup of fat, oil and juices (also called the “fond” – which means “essence” in French). By pouring an acid such as wine or lemon juice over the fond, these bits can be dissolved to create a base to a wonderfully flavorful sauce.

Dry Wine –
This refers to how much residual sugar is left in the wine after fermentation. Full dry wines have very little residual sugar (or sweetness) and medium dry wines have slightly more sweetness.

Fortified or sweet wines – This refers to wines with a large amount of residual sugar or sweetness. Be careful – these wines pack lots of flavor and should be used sparingly!

Taste the reduction sauce!
Some general rules to use when cooking with wine:

Before you cook with a wine, taste it. Try to grab some descriptors. Is it acidic and bright? Fruity? What kind of fruity? Is it sweet? Dry?

Once you have an idea as to the flavor, imagine the dish you are going to cook. Will these flavors complement it? Try to get a feeling for what the wine will add to the meal.

Don’t forget, if the wine is cooked for any amount of time, the liquid will reduce and the flavors will become amplified. As such, don’t forget to take this into account when you imagine how the flavors will affect your meal.

Before using wine as an ingredient, you’ll want to simmer off the alcohol. If you are going to be cooking a sauce for a long time, the alcohol will have time to evaporate on its own. However, if you will be simmering the sauce for a short time, you may want to consider simmering the wine by itself for about five minutes before adding it to the food. You can smell the alcohol as it boils off. The “burn” in your nose as you inhale will be gone when the alcohol has evaporated.

Tips and tricks:

In “The Wine Lover’s Cookbook”, by Sid Goldstien, we found a couple of tips that might be helpful:

1. If a white wine reduction is too tart, you can add a little bit of salt to balance it. Sugar or honey will have the same effect on a red wine reduction.

2. Braising meats and vegetables in wine for long periods of time serves to tenderize the meat and also lends it an incredible flavor!

3. Use fortified or sweet wines more sparingly than dry wines.


It is our hope that this quick little primer will help you as you cook with wine. Don’t forget, cooking with wine doesn’t have to be complicated. And practice makes perfect. Get some wine and cook with it – learning as you do. Cooking with quality wine will before long be as easy as cooking with spices from your cabinet!

Pasta Improv with odds and ends

October 26th, 2009

pastaimprov3Click here to view the recipe!

Sunday lunch can sometimes seem like a challenge. I often want something more substantial than a sandwich after a morning of working in the garden but I want it quick — I’ve been hungry for an hour already! If you’re anything like me, you’ve likely got lots of odds and ends in the fridge that, with just a little inspiration, can be turned into a supremely satisfying, hot meal.

Have a look in *your* fridge… Half a bell pepper? Perfect! Leftover roast chicken? That’ll work! Add capers, olive oil, some canned tomatoes or fresh, some chopped garlic, perhaps a few other herbs from the garden (dried herbs are fine, too) and your emergency package of pasta (everyone has one of these in the cupboard, right?) and you’re good to go. Are you getting the hang of it? Be creative and use what appeals to *you*. There are no hard and fast rules, as implied by the name ‘Pasta Improv’.

Here’s the secret – what will really give your dish that something special, transforming it from a collection of ingredients to a finished entree, is the splash of ACADÉMIE’s Blend #1. A dash of wine ties the flavors together, and at the same time, gives you a piquant and toothsome sauce. Sunday lunch never had it so good!

Click here to view the recipe!

Nouveau Coq au Vin

October 20th, 2009

Bon Apetit!Click here to view the recipe!

After going to see the movie Julie and Julia a few weeks ago, I’ve been intending to pull out my copy of Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook and spend some quality time in the kitchen. With out-of-town guests visiting this past weekend, it seemed an opportune time to put togther a satisfying and celebratory meal… but after reading Julia’s version of Coq au Vin, I knew I did not have quite that much time to devote to the task. The answer? An abbreviated recipe, both delicous and expeditious, that I’ve dubbed Nouveau Coq au Vin!

The original version of this famous casserole is broken down into 6 sub-recipes and includes several additional maneuvers (such as simmering the bacon as well as the onion in water before sauteing) that I’ve edited out for expediency. I should also confess that I’ve substituted chicken breasts for a whole, cut-up frying chicken and that I am guilty of such things as crowding the pan while cooking the chicken, so that it did not brown quite as much as if I had done it in either a larger pan or in two batches. Sometimes, I believe, the cook must improvise and use the ingredients as well as the cookware at hand! It was, however, delicious nonetheless and garnered rave reviews from our dinner guests, who appreciated the chicken’s rich color and savory flavor added by ACADÉMIE’s Blend #3 as well as the deeply colored and luxurious sauce, perfect for mopping up with bread.

As Julia would say, “Bon Appetit!”

Click here to view the recipe!