Shameless Promotion: A Perfect Holiday Gift!

Wine Country Chef's TableWriting a book is hard work. Both slow and harried at once, the process can feel somewhat endless – especially if balancing a totally separate, full-time job at the same time. There are moments of great meaning, when interviewing featured subjects or settling on the perfect sentence construct, or, especially, when submitting the repeatedly proofed and edited manuscript for the last time.

Seeing that book published a year later – perhaps sitting on the shelves of your local major retailer – is a very different, totally surreal experience. Is that mine? you wonder, staring dumbfounded at what seems to be a mirage. The book rubbing up against famous chefs’ own titles seems misplaced, like some well-meaning friend snuck it into the shop and onto the shelf on her own, as a loving gesture to you and all your hard work. But once you realize the book is meant to be there, placed probably rotely by the retailer’s own staff, it starts to become real. You did it. You helped make a book. It even bears your name.

I recently had this experience – am still in the midst of it, frankly – with my first book, Wine Country Chef’s Table (November 2012, Lyons Press). I feel immensely proud of its completion, delighted by its gorgeous photography from the talented Rina Jordan, and most of all, thrilled that the chefs, restaurateurs, winemakers and food artisans featured within its pages are – a least anecdotally – pleased with the way it turned out. One adorable restaurateur couple even sent me flowers. (I’ve only heard personally from a few people, so I’m still crossing my fingers that everyone is happy with it.)

Me with the bookWhat could be the best part of the publishing process is how proud my friends and family have been of this accomplishment. Day job friends sweetly took me out to a special (and delicious) lunch to celebrate (see photo), longtime friends have sent loving notes of support, sorority sisters posted notes on Facebook saying they’d just bought the book, and family members have bragged unabashedly to their friends about the news. (My parents even carted a copy of it on their trip through wine country, showing it off to the folks they met in tasting rooms and such.)

So, here’s the shameless promotion part: This book is actually a perfect holiday gift. It is like an insider’s guide to California’s popular wine country – both a travelogue and cookbook, replete with chefs’ back stories, tales of winemaking and farming, and more than 50 gorgeous recipes for you, the reader, to prepare in your own kitchen. Does your family love to cook? Friends adore wine country? Anyone you know just like pretty books? This one is for them. It’s available on Amazon or on the shelves at most major retailers (I spotted it at my local Barnes & Noble). Small bookshops might have it too (and if they don’t, feel free to request it).

If that’s not enough to entice you, here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Known the world over for its stellar wines and signature California landscapes, the Napa Valley is also a culinary star. “Like a modern-day Garden of Eden” is a phrase that comes up repeatedly when talking to chefs working in the area today, and it aptly describes the region’s incredibly fertile soil that is responsible for such a long list of wonderful products.

Home to superchef Thomas Keller’s palace of fine dining—The French Laundry—as well as ultracasual burger joint favorite, Gott’s Roadside, and everything in between, California wine country is a veritable temple of culinary experiences. The region has been featured repeatedly on foodie TV, including Bravo’s Top Chef, where finalists prepared a meal on the legendary Napa Valley Wine Train and served their specialties at a crush party. Many of the area’s most famous chefs have even had television programs of their own.

At its heart, this book is about passion—a passion for life, for good food, for delicious wines, for freshly picked or harvested ingredients, and for gorgeous landscapes. It’s about the unique culinary environment and agricultural bounty of an intensely popular part of the world. The book is a love letter to a region that many people have heard of or visited, but just a fortunate few truly know. It pays homage to the chefs, farmers, olive oil makers, and vintners who are devoted to the land and beautiful culinary products—and to sharing those products with people the world over.

Get a rare, intimate look at this famous locale by reading about the chefs and food artisans working there today and by preparing their special recipes. Whether it’s breaking artisanal bread at Della Fattoria in Petaluma, sipping a glass of Morisoli zinfandel at Elyse in Napa, or sitting down to a Michelin-starred meal at Terra in St. Helena, we will journey together through the cultural richness of California’s wine country. Get ready to taste the region through its recipes and the stories of the people that make it the incredible food and wine destination it is today.

We hope this book will give you a road map for your next trip to the region—or help you take a vicarious vacation through the stories of local chefs, winemakers, and food artisans who proudly present their work there each day. Bon appétit!

Now, don’t you want to hear from the chefs themselves? Among the featured restaurants: Thomas Keller’s casual complements to The French Laundry: Ad Hoc and Bouchon Bakery… Healdsburg’s popular Italian hotspot Scopa… the ever elegant Auberge du Soleil…the addictive burger joint, Gott’s Roadside… and the list goes on and on.

I’ll end with a recipe to whet your appetite – a warming minestrone from Calistoga’s Boskos Trattoria. With a hunk of crusty bread and glass of wine, it’s the ideal dinner on a chilly winter’s night… and I think it’d be absolutely lovely after a long day of holiday shopping. Now go forth, cook, relish the holidays – and buy the book!

Boskos Minestrone
(Serves 15; yields approximately 1 1/2 gallons of soup)

  • 1/2 cup oil (canola or a non-extra-virgin olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 pound yellow onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 bunch celery, leaves removed, stalks cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 leeks, white part only, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, chopped into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1/8 cup beef base
  • 3 quarts chicken stock or water
  • 1 cup dry (or 2 cups cooked) cannellini beans
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3/4 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/4 bunch (approximately 1 1/2 cups) fresh Swiss chard or spinach
  • 1/2 pound shell noodles, uncooked
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Start with a large stockpot over medium-high heat; add oil.

When the oil is hot, add the garlic. Once the garlic starts to brown slightly, add the diced onions, diced carrots, diced celery, sliced leeks, and diced cabbage; cook for about 5 minutes, still over medium-high heat. Add the salt, white pepper, pepper flakes, paprika, oregano, and basil during this first sauté process—adding dry seasonings early helps create layers of flavors in a dish. You may need to add more salt and pepper to reflect your taste. (You may sauté these items separately if you like, but be sure all the vegetables become translucent before adding the water or stock.)

Add tomatoes, beef base, and water or stock to the pot with the vegetables; bring entire mixture to a simmer.

Meanwhile, if using dry cannellini beans: Cook the cannellini beans in boiling, salted water with a bay leaf until beans are soft (approximately 20 minutes). Once beans are done (or if starting with cooked beans), set half aside. Puree the other half in a food mill, food processor, or blender. Add the whole, cooked beans and the pureed beans to the soup.

When the soup comes to a simmer, add the potatoes. Let the soup continue to boil for 5 minutes, then add the zucchini and chard to the pot. Cook mixture for another 5 minutes.

Add the shell noodles and cook for a final 5 minutes. Make sure the pasta and potatoes are cooked but not overcooked by removing and tasting for the right texture (al dente—tender, but still a bit firm). Adjust the salt and pepper to your liking.

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