Wine Resolution #2 + Truffle Grilled Cheese

photoI’m the kind of person who likes to make lists and then add check marks next to the tasks I complete. Memorial Day weekend allowed me to cross off another wine resolution: Go to a Wine Bar and have a flight of wine.

Andrew and I headed to Bottle Rock in Culver City, a place we had been meaning to try since September. Their concept is simple: order wines by the glass from a prepared list, or order any wine on the menu (at least two glasses) and they’ll open a new bottle. The rest of the bottle will be saved and it’s written on the board for other customers to try. (I know what you’re thinking, we didn’t actually have a flight, but it still counts, especially since this is the first of many wine bars we plan to try.)

We started with a glass of white (Chardonnay for me, Sauvignon Blanc for Andrew) with a cheese platter, then moved to reds for caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and burrata cheese and their claim to fame, truffle grilled cheese. Let’s just say the grilled cheese was melt-in-your-mouth amazing, so amazing, in fact, that we ordered two.

Here's  a photo of our attempt to recreate it. The white bread slathered with butter was dead-on, but the truffle goat cheese didn’t quite pull through. On our walk back from Whole Foods it occurred to me that the cheese at Bottle Rock was likely a cow’s milk cheese so it would melt like cheddar does. Using goat cheese was the first attempt at many to get it right, and although we didn’t manage to pull it off completely, it's all part of the fun on a culinary adventure. But  don't say you haven't been warned. If you go, order the grilled cheese and you’ll never look back.

Wine Resolutions #13 and #14

During the three days we spent in Santa Barbara last week, I managed to cross off two more wine resolutions. On Friday morning we stopped by C’est Cheese for a few picnic provisions, including a slice of an unbelievable goat cheese laced with truffles called “Truffle Tremor.” Mmm.


Thirty minutes later we had made our way up the coast to Melville, our first stop of four. Next came Alma Rosa, Rusack, and Sunstone. Wine country was beautiful, as always and we walked away with a box full of wine. One smelled like white nectarine, another like pumpkin, and some peppery reds perfect for the outdoor grilling that should be happening this summer.


#13: Try a Varietal You’ve Never Had From a U.S. Winery. At Rusack we tasted a 2006 Sangiovese, the grape of the Chianti region of Italy. I’ve tasted Chianti before, but I’m not sure it counts when you’re fourteen at a family Christmas party taking a small sip from your parent’s glass.


#14: Either: Have 12 Different Bottles in the House at Once or Drink Up. We came home with ten new bottles. Our wine rack only holds nine, so I’m considering this resolution successful. For the past few months, our wine rack had looked, well, sad (note the before and after shots below). Between the move, the recession, and getting settled with new jobs, buying wine just wasn’t high on the priority list. But now that life is back on track, it was definitely time to restock our very modest cellar.


Roasted Filet Mignon with Cauliflower Puree + Wine Resolutions #5 and #20

For busy holidays, we like to stay in and cook a great meal (see recent New Year’s post). This Valentine’s Day, we decided to bring the restaurant to our kitchen and serve grilled filet with French fries. (More about dessert coming soon – but I’ll give you a hint: chocolate, chocolate and chocolate.) The wine fulfilled Wine Resolutions #5 and #20: Take notes on a fine wine from beginning to end, and shatter your price limit.


We chose Sunstone’s 2005 Eros, a merlot and cabernet blend. We’ve had this wine before, at the vineyard, where they served a taste alongside chocolate. I’m going to say this shattered our price limit, but have to confess that while technically this is a $58 bottle of wine (the most we’ve spent in recent years is around $34), we found the same wine on a shelf in Cost Plus for a mere $29.99. We actually had to look at the label to be sure it was correct. But there it was, a bottle of Eros half off, and you didn’t have to twist our arm to buy it.

So, on to the wine. A smell just after opening the bottle revealed aromas of blackberry and spice, and the taste was slightly peppery. But just twenty minutes later, it smelled and tasted like a different wine. It smelled sweeter, like plum, and the pepper was milder on the palate, only hitting your taste buds at the end. It went perfectly with our filet, and during dinner we marveled at how this little experiment revealed so much about how wines develop.


Roasted Filet Mignon with Cauliflower Puree

Recipe inspired by Ariane Duarte (Top Chef) and Tyler Florence


For beef
2 filet mignon steaks
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped (for garnish)

For puree
1 head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups heavy cream
4 tbsp. butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
3 sprigs thyme


For the puree:
Place all ingredients in a medium sized pot.  Add enough water to just cover vegetables. Let everything come to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 35 minutes, until everything is soft.

Discard thyme. Put mixture into a food processor and puree until smooth. Add butter one tablespoon at a time, then cream as necessary. Continue pureeing until smooth. Season with more salt and pepper.  To keep warm, place puree into a large glass bowl over a pot of boiling water.

For the beef:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season both sides of filet with salt and pepper. In a medium sauté pan, add olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Sear each side for three minutes, then put the pan in the oven and roast until the meat is medium-rare, about 9-10 minutes.  Set meat aside to rest before slicing.

To serve, place some puree on each plate, then place sliced filet on top.  Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Wine Resolutions

Before we get too far into the new year, I must say something about resolutions. Oh, I can hear the groans. But don't worry, I have one resolution you won't be able to resist trying. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal ran a column outlining 20 new things to try this year – all with wine at the center of each task.

I’m planning to tack this list to my fridge and cross off every one before December 31, 2009. As I do, I’ll post my results throughout the year, and invite you join in. Today I triumphantly crossed out #18: Buy a new corkscrew. Turns out the one I have is less than a year old, and not worn enough to warrant finding a replacement.


For 2009, a To-Do List for Wine

Taste a flight, find a new store and lose that old corkscrew. A checklist of 20 things to try this year.


Happy new year! Here's a checklist of 20 things to do this year that will make wine more fun, whether you are just beginning your wine journey or are far along the road.

1) Try a Wine From a Different Country (4/14/09)
A country whose wines are new to you. Have you ever had a wine from Croatia? Uruguay? Georgia? Next time you see one, grab it. They're out there.

2) Go to a Wine Bar and Have a Flight of Wine (5/28/09)
If you have been to some wine bars before, try a wine bar you haven't visited.

3) Order the Cheapest Wine on a Restaurant's Wine List (9/29/09)
Really, just screw up your courage and do it. Restaurateurs know that many people won't order the cheapest wine on the list for fear of appearing miserly, which is why the second-cheapest wine on the list is often the worst deal. The cheapest wine can sometimes be a pretty good deal.

4) Open a Sparkler at Home for No Reason at All (12/27/09)
There are so many reasonably priced bubblies these days that they can be cheaper than ordinary Merlot or Chardonnay. Put a bottle in the fridge and open it for dinner. Yes, then it will seem like a special occasion, but that's the point.

5) Take Notes on a Fine Wine From Beginning to End (2/26/09)
Make a notation of the time when you open it, then drink slowly and take notes throughout. Whether it's a fine white Burgundy or a good Cabernet, the wine will change with time, air and warmth. When you go back over your notes, you might be amazed at the changes. It's like pictures of children: You know they've grown up, but it's only when you look at the old pictures that you realize just how much.

6) Have a Sauternes (12/27/09)
This -- the real thing, from France's Bordeaux region -- is the classic sweet wine. Yes, it will most likely cost you some real money, but, fortunately, they do come in half bottles. Still, Sauternes is underappreciated and therefore, in its own way, a good deal. There are few more life-affirming wines, especially with some age, and even that half bottle could last several nights, making it more cost-effective.

7) Have a Blind Tasting (12/27/09)
Maybe you want to go whole-hog and invite over a few friends and ask everyone to bring, say, a 2005 Bordeaux under $20 in a brown-paper lunch bag. But doing that at home with your significant other and just two bottles of the same kind of wine is also fun and instructive. See our column about doing this.

8) Organize Your Labels (12/27/09)
We've heard from many people over the years who have saved wine labels, but just keep them in a big pile somewhere. Get a photo album and put them in. Maybe jot a little note for the special ones about where you drank it or why you liked it. Looking at them will bring back savory memories.

9) Visit the Closest Winery to Your Home (12/29/09)
It's amazing to us how many people haven't visited the winery next-door. Now that there are commercial wineries in all 50 states, there is likely to be a winery near you. If you have visited the closest winery, drop in to the second-closest, and so on. You'll be amazed at the diversity of wines and styles in your own neck of the woods.

10) Attend a Winemaker’s Dinner at a Restaurant (12/27/09)
Keep your eyes open and you will find plenty. They are not only fun, but often can be a very good value. Sometimes wine stores sponsor these, too.

11) Have Fun With Stemware (12/27/09)
Experiment. Try a good sparkling wine in a regular wine glass. Pour the same fine wine into two different kinds or sizes of glasses. We all have our “everyday” glasses, but they can get boring if you don’t watch out. Engage all of your senses when you drink wine.

12) Find a New Wine Store (10/30/09)
Buy a bottle at a wine store where you have never shopped before. With all of the good shops these days, there’s no reason not to find a caring, patient, knowledgeable merchant. Even if you have a great merchant, every store is different, so give another store a try.

13) Try a Varietal You’ve Never Had From a U.S. Winery (4/27/09)
American wineries make all sorts of interesting wines that are hidden among the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Maybe you’ve never tried Norton, or a Melon made in the U.S. Now’s the time.

14) Either: Have 12 Different Bottles in the House at Once (4/27/09)
Even now, most Americans don’t have a single bottle of wine in the house. Buying a mixed case is cost-effective (because you will likely get a discount) and fun. And, if you are going to do this, think about getting one of those little wine coolers, which are widely available for $150 and less.

Or: Drink Up

If you already have a wine collection, mark those bottles that really need to be drunk and then actually drink them. OK, we know you won’t drink all of them, but if you drink just five of them this year, you can check this one off. (No, we’re not sure we can do this one, either, but we’ll give it a good try.)

15) Go Crazy on a Wine Pairing for Dinner Some Night (12/27/09)
Try a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with steak, a Ripasso from Italy with Southern fried chicken, a sparkling Shiraz with barbecue. Just smash outside that box and see what happens.

16) Try an Older White (12/27/09)
Many fine whites age beautifully, from white Burgundy to Riesling. Well-cared-for Muscadet can be beautiful for more than a decade. At a restaurant two weeks ago, we had a 1991 Gewürztraminer from Alsace (Domaine Zind Humbrecht “Clos Windsbuhl” Hunawihr) that was so effortlessly rich, well-balanced and satisfying that at one point we called it “the essence of wine.” If you have a merchant who offers well-tended older whites, or know of a restaurant that offers them, try one. If not, buy a good white and hide it somewhere for a while. (You can check this off if you’ve put a good white away somewhere and haven’t touched it by Dec. 31.)

17) Try a Type of Wine You Think You Don’t Like (2/14/09)
Are you sure you don’t like German wine? Have you tried today’s Rioja? If there’s any type of wine you haven’t tasted for at least two years, get a bottle. Things change, including your taste.

18) Get a New Corkscrew (1/20/09)
C’mon, we know that old corkscrew still kind of works and you’ve been through so much with it. We, too, hold on to corkscrews way too long. But give in and get a new one.

19) Serve a Dessert Wine to Guests (12/27/09)
Maybe your friends don’t think they like dessert wines and maybe you don’t, either. But try an Icewine from Canada or a Muscat from the U.S. or something else along those lines (serve with fruit, nuts or cookies) and watch the wine disappear.

20) Shatter Your Price Limit (2/26/09)
At least once this year, whether at a store or a restaurant, go above your usual limit for wine if there is a bottle that looks especially interesting to you. And the opposite applies as well: If you really believe there are no good wines under a certain price, try one.

Extra Credit
If you have never dropped us a note to say hello or ask a question, don’t be shy. Our email address is and while we can’t respond to all notes, we do our best.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W4

Peppermint Hot Chocolate


I made this as an afterthought to a recent holiday dinner, but it’s really quite a star. My husband and I took sips at the same time and immediately locked eyes, then excited "mmm's" followed in unison. It was absolutely perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I'll be making it all month long. (But I'll be honest - this is a rich after-dinner treat. For a lighter touch, use skim milk instead of whole.) Don't, however, skimp and use Cool Whip. Get real, heavy whipping cream, and you'll thank me after you take a sip.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate

Bon Appetit ~ December 2008


1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups whole milk
4 oz bittersweet (preferably 60% cocoa) chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
4 small candy canes (for garnish)


Beat 1/2 cup cream and 1 teaspoon sugar in bowl until soft peaks form. Cover; chill.

Whisk 1/2 cup cream, 2 tablespoons sugar, and milk in medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to boil. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until smooth. Whisk in extract. Divide chocolate among mugs. Top with cream and garnish with candy canes.