Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wine, dine, and drink your way through December

McGrath Family Farm will be closing their roadside market for the winter. Their last day open will be December 31st; and the stand will re-open March 17th, 2010.

Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau has launched Wine, Cheese, and Chocolate Tours for those looking for a full day of delicious excess. Similar to the wine trail tours run out of Ventura (check out my story on that), the tours take place every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and depart the Welcome Center in Oxnard. The tours include stops at Heritage Square -- Rancho Ventavo Wine Cellars and La Dolce Vita Restaurant; Channel Islands Winery; Herzog Wine Cellars; and Cantera Cellars (see owner Mike Brown talking wine below) and Bella Victorian Vineyard Tasting Room in Camarillo. The cost is $75 per person.

The Cave, at Ventura Wine Company, has updated their small plates menu...including these mouth-watering new additions:
  • Duck Ragout with Pancetta, Gnocchi and Red Onion Marmalade $7
  • Grilled Chicken and Crimini Mushroom Strudel $7
  • Goat Cheese Croquette with Sweet Capacola and Lemon-honey Vinaigrette $7
  • Beef Bourguignon with County Potato Puree $8
Celebrate New Years at Cafe Fiore with one of their festive fixed price menus:
  • $55 for a three course dinner, 5-7:30pm, includes a free glass of champagne
  • $75 for four courses, 8-11pm, includes champagne, party favors, and admission to live music

Thursday, December 10, 2009

These are a few of my favorite things...

Since the dawn of time, I have been ordering the same ice cream every time I go to Baskin Robbins: Peanut Butter Chocolate. The chocolate ice cream is creamy and silky, and filled with thicker than thick swirls of chewy peanut butter (the texture is similar to that of caramel). The peanut butter brings that salty sweetness that only peanut butter owns.

But, last week, I went to Baskin Robbins, ordered the usual, and was surprised to see that, in my eyes, it had lost some of its luster. Why? Because I've found somebody new:

Yes, its Safeway Select Chocolate Moose Tracks (found at Vons stores here in Cali). It is made with a darker chocolate ice cream, and then filled (and I mean filled) with these thick fudge swirls. Now they aren't your traditional swirls, they are more like inch wide curved ribbons of dark chocolate. And, as if that wouldn't be enough, the ice cream is also generously speckled with miniature peanut butter cups that add the perfect amount of saltiness. When allowed to sit for 5-8 minutes at room temp before scooping and tasting (I know, the waiting is hard!), it tastes divine. Oh, and its one of those "light" ice creams, so you can eat even more.

In addition to chocolate and ice cream, I love me some wine. And while my story in the Reporter a few months ago exposed me to some pretty nice, high end wines, I still love a good bargain, especially when it comes to my everyday wine. And given my love for wine and my tight grocery budget, I've tasted a lot of wines in the $4 - $6 range. And this, Trader Joe's Coastal Cabernet, is my favorite. Oh, and at $3.99 its one of the cheapest. Assuming you don't open your big mouth about its cost, your company won't even know, its that good!

My last favorite is My Florist Cafe and Bakery in Ventura. Now, I went there a few times last year, and was never really wowed by their food or their service. But, earlier this week, I stopped in for some wine with friends and my very low expectations. And, I was actually wowed.

First, by their wine. Pretty much every day, they sell all their bottles at half-price. Now, if you buy a $60 bottle of wine (thats already totally marked up), its not such a deal. But, if you order one of the cheaper bottles, like the Zinfandel we chose (marked down from $38 to $19) it feels like a real deal. Second, I was totally impressed with the service. Our server was attentive, but gave us space, kept our water glasses full, and never seemed to mind that we were only having drinks. My third new happy favorite at My Florist is their Bread Pudding. It comes baked and warm in a generous bowl (the size of a cereal bowl), and is crammed with bread straight from their bakery. It was creamy and sweet, with chunks of soft and tangy lemon rind, and topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was enough for the three of us to share and still feel like we'd indulged. Note: its not shown on their online menu.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chicken by heart

I don't know about you, but isn't there something satisfying about knowing you've got a few good recipes stored in your head? You know, the kind where you can spontaneously grab the ingredients at the store, and trust that you have everything you need? There's something liberating about not having to open a cookbook and something wonderful about making a dish that uses less than 10 ingredients. This is one of those recipes. It comes from a former co-worker; and while it started out as a low fat dish, I have, of course, made some umm..changes. The dish comes together quickly and easily. After spending an hour in the oven, the chicken comes out tender, the sauce thick and spicy, and the whole thing is ready to be served over rice.

Salsa Chicken
4-6 pieces of boneless chicken (either breasts or thighs work well)
1 packet taco seasoning (low sodium works great)
1 jar salsa
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, or any combo)
*Extras: chopped green chilies, black olives, 1/2 can black beans (rinsed and drained), 1/2 can of canned corn (drained). You can use any combo of these if you have them on hand.

Spread 1/2 cup salsa on the bottom of a 13x9 pan. Coat chicken pieces in taco seasoning and lay in pan. Cover chicken with 1 cup salsa. (At this point, you can add your toppings if you choose). Cover pan with foil. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover, sprinkle with cheese, bake uncovered for another 15 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.