Recipe of the Month: Port-Poached Blue-Cheese Pears

August 31, 2013

Port-Poached Blue-Cheese Pears

Wine Varietal: Dessert Wines (Port) 

Serves 6

This recipe comes from winemaker Mike Wallace, who’s been at Hinzerling Winery—the oldest family-owned and -operated winery in the Yakima Valley (established in 1976)–from the onset. He’s especially well known and regarded for producing yummy Ports and Sherries with evocative names such as Three Muses Ruby Port, which is used in the recipe below, and Rainy Day Fine Tawny Port. Mike and wife Frankie also operate The Vintner’s Inn, Restaurant, and Wine Bar next door to the winery in Prosser. Mike suggests pairing a small glass of his Ruby Port with these jewel-colored poached pears topped with an authoritative blue-cheese cream.

4 cups water

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

6 ripe, firm pears, such as D’Anjou

2 1/2 cups Hinzerling Three Muses Ruby Port or other good-quality Ruby Port

One 3-inch cinnamon stick

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

About 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) blue-veined cheese, such as Oregon Blue, Gorgonzola, Stilton, or Roquefort, crumbled

1/2 cup light cream cheese (Neufchâtel), at room temperature

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the water and lemon juice. Peel the pears and remove the core from the bottom ends (a melon baller works well for this); leave the stems intact. Gently place the pears in the acidulated water. Combine the Port, cinnamon stick, and peppercorns in a Dutch oven or stockpot large enough to hold the pears without crowding, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Gently add the pears and acidulated water, bring back to a simmer, and cover the pot, leaving the cover slightly askew so the steam can escape. Cook the pears, turning the fruit occasionally, until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. (To test for doneness, insert a small, sharp knife into the center of one of the pears.)

2. Carefully remove the pears with a slotted spoon and transfer to a shallow baking dish. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil, and cook until reduced to about 3/4 cup, 25 to 30 minutes. Watch the pot carefully during the final minutes of cooking. Place a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl, strain the poaching liquid, and reserve. Discard the solids.

3. Pour the poaching liquid over the pears, cover, and refrigerate for 8 hours, turning the fruit once or twice as it chills.

4. Ten minutes before serving, in a food processor, pulse the blue and cream cheeses until smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Spoon the creamed cheese into a pastry bag with a small decorative tip. Divide the sauce (the poaching liquid) among six dessert plates. Cut the pears lengthwise into three or four wedges and arrange on top of the sauce. Pipe the cheese in a decorative pattern onto the pears.

Cook’s Hint: If you don’t own a pastry bag, substitute a quart-sized resealable plastic bag. Simply spoon the creamed cheese into one corner of the bag, press out the air, cut a small hole in the tip of the bag, and gently squeeze the cheese in a decorative pattern on top of the poached pears.


“Hopping” Along Yakima’s New Spirits and Hops Trail

August 26, 2013

Yakima Valley icon

A recent press release brought news that the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau has launched the Spirits and Hops Trail website to help tourists easily navigate the growing number of local craft breweries, cideries, and distilleries throughout the region.

According to the release, in the last five years, the region has welcomed three breweries, three distilleries, and the largest producer of hard artisan cider in the state. The new site provides information and online mapping capabilities for these new businesses, and many more tasting destinations throughout the Yakima Valley, including restaurants that feature locally crafted adult beverages.

The Yakima Valley is the top agricultural region in Washington State. In addition to growing 40 varieties of crops, the Valley produces 78 percent of the nation’s hops. For decades, commercial and craft breweries across the country and globe have relied on the quality hops grown in the Valley for their products.

Tourism leaders believe this project will complement the thriving wine industry of the Yakima Valley, which boasts more than 120 wineries and acres of rolling vineyards.

“Our agricultural heritage is a foundation of our visitor industry,” stated John Cooper, president and CEO of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau. “It’s only natural that we should celebrate our role in the beer and distillery industries.”

The website also contains a history of the hops industry, a blog with guest authors, and a calendar of events of interest to beer, cider,  and spirits enthusiasts.

Chowing Down in Charleston, SC

August 19, 2013

On a recent visit to Charleston, South Carolina, in service to Les Dames d’Escoffier, International, we enjoyed several memorable meals when we weren’t cooped up in conference rooms during 12 hours of intense Board meetings.

Charleston Crab House Hush Puppies

Here are the gorgeous hush puppies served up at the Charleston Crab House, which has been family-owned for the past 20 years. There are two locations, with the one we tried conveniently located right across the street from the venerable Charleston City Market.

Charleston Crab House Seafood Sign

This sign at Charleston Crab House says it all!

Charleston Crab House Garlic Crabs

We wanted to try one of the local delicacies, Garlic Crab, although our server warned us there wasn’t much meat inside.

Charleston Crab House Garlic Crabs Eaten

Should have listened to her, for the shells were almost as hard as those on a stone crab, with very little meat exhumed for a lot of effort. Glad we just got a single order since we didn’t even finish that!

Charleston Crab House Seafood Platter

MUCH better was this sampler plate of a crab cake (made of blue crab and SPICY–not at all similar to Northwest crab cakes, but equally good), fried shrimp (a rare treat for us–we chowed down on them), and King crab claws (not nearly as satisfying as Dungeness).

Charleston Crab House Waffle Fries

Waffle fries and coleslaw served as hearty sides!

Bacon Soda, Charleston, SC

We walked the entire Market area after lunch to work off a few of those Southern-fried calories. Guess the bacon craze is ubiquitous throughout the United States. Not so sure about Buffalo Wing Soda, however. 🙂

Water Park, Charleston, SC

When we visited in mid-July, it was one of the hottest weekends on record on the East Coast. Here are some smart local kids cooling off in a fountain near the sprawling Waterfront Park.

Husk PIckled Shrimp Salad

For Spencer’s and my big night out alone (before the meetings started) we chose Husk, the newest offering from James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and the Neighborhood Dining Group. Here’s the refreshing Pickled Shrimp with Arugula and Cantaloupe, Shaved Fennel, HUSK Ricotta, and Watermelon Vinaigrette that I enjoyed.

Husk Corn Soup

And Spencer’s Chilled Sweet Corn Soup with Virginia Blue Crab, Salad of Summer Courgettes, Fire-Roasted Fennel and Corn, and Crème Fraîche–talk about LOTS of cream.

Husk Grouper Entrée

This is the lovely NC Flounder with VA Blue Crab, Chanterelles and Wood-Fired Peaches, Fennel, and House-Made Vinegar.

Husk Peach Cobbler

And what would a summertime visit to the South be without a bite or three of Fresh Peach Cobbler with White Chocolate Ice Cream and Bourbon Butterscotch?!?!

Husk Dessert Menu

Here’s a photo of the dessert card for a little more vicarious pleasure.

How Will Climate Change Affect Northwest Grape-Growing?

August 12, 2013

North Willamette Wine Trail

A University of Maryland news release really caught my eye with the title, “Climate Changes Will Produce Wine Winners and Losers.”

It went on to say that, in the not too distant future, your favorite French wine may not come from its namesake region or even from France!

Apparently, climate change is altering growing conditions in wine-producing regions and in the coming decades will change the wines produced there, in some cases shifting to new areas the growth of grape varieties long associated with regions further south, says leading climate scientist and wine expert Antonio Busalacchi of the University of Maryland.

“Climate change will produce winners and losers among wine-growing regions, and for every region it will result in changes to the alcohol, acid, sugar, tannins, and color in wine,” says Busalacchi, who directs the UMD Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center and chairs the World Climate Research Programme’s Joint Scientific Committee and the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

Busalacchi, and research assistant Eric Hackert have analyzed climate-change impacts on 24 of the world’s major wine-producing regions, providing snapshots of what conditions will be like at the middle and end of this century. Busalacchi notes that several Champagne houses already are looking at land in Sussex and Kent in southern England as potential sites for new vineyards because as climate warms the region is becoming more hospitable to quality grape growing. The soil type in the region, as seen in the white cliffs of Dover, is similar to the chalky substrate of Champagne, and the cost of land is 30 times less than in France.

“Vineyards in higher latitudes, at higher altitudesm or surrounded by ocean will benefit from climate change, with more consistent growing seasons and a greater number of favorable growing days,” he says. “These include the Rhine in Germany, U.S. states Oregon and Washington, the Mendoza Province of Argentina, and New Zealand.” says Busalacchi, who comes from a family of restaurateurs, is an advanced sommelier, and operates a wine-and-vineyard consulting firm.

On the other hand, Bordeaux and some other regions will suffer compressed growing seasons that yield unbalanced, low-acid wines that lack complexity. South Africa and South Australia likely will see declines in wine production due to severe droughts, according to Busalacchi. More generally, extreme events such as heat waves that shut down photosynthesis and hail storms that can ruin a chateau’s annual production in a matter of minutes will become more commonplace.

In both warm and cooler regions, one result will be the same; wines will lose their traditional character.

“Taken to an extreme, a wine from the Left Bank of Bordeaux may move away from the classic aromas of cedar cigar box, black currants and green pepper and more toward the full, rich, spicy-peppery profile of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the Southern Rhone,” says Busalacchi. “Given that most grapevines produce fruit for 25 to 50 years, grape growers and wine makers must consider the long term when determining what to plant, where to plant, and how to manage their vineyards.”

Wine Tasting in British Columbia and Boeuf Bourguignon

August 5, 2013

Cherry Point Vineyards grapes

Planning a trip to British Columbia this summer? Need an excuse to plan a trip to our neighbor to the north?

Then how about making plans to attend the first-ever Campbell Valley Wine Festival, which highlights the best of the Fraser Valley wineries located amongst the rolling hills of South Langley’s Campbell Valley.

Saturday, August 10, is the day to explore! Visit Backyard Vineyards, Domaine de Chaberton Estate Winery, Township 7 Vineyards, and Winery and Vista D’Oro Farms and Winery. From 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., each winery will offer wine samples, snacks, live entertainment, and the chance to win a case of wine.

About the featured wineries: 


Backyard Vineyards is your choice for local wines. With grapes harvested in both the Fraser and the Okanagan Valleys, Backyard offers the very best of BC VQA wines. Sparkling wines to brighten up even the grayest of days, varietal wines from cheeky to sexy and a Nosey Neighbour peeking over the fence, there is something for every day and price range at Backyard Vineyards. Located at 3033 232nd Street, Langley, BC T. 604-539-9463


A quick tasting or an afternoon filled with fabulous food, wine tasting, and a tour of the vineyards. Domaine de Chaberton, one of B.C.’s largest estate wineries and the Fraser Valley’s oldest winery and vineyard, cordially invites you to come and experience a tranquil atmosphere. The 55-acre property, situated off of 216th and 16th in Langley, offers daily tours and free wine tastings. Pack a lunch or picnic and join us on one of our many sunny days for a glass of wine in our licensed picnic area or dine in our Zagat Rated “Excellent” Bacchus Bistro. Located at 1064 – 216 Street, Langley, BC T. 604 530 1736


Founded in 2001, Township 7 has two B.C. wineries, one situated in the scenic Fraser Valley and the other on the picturesque Naramata Bench in Canada’s premier wine region, the Okanagan Valley. Our Metro Vancouver winery is located in the beautiful south Langley countryside in a quaint building reminiscent of the many riding stables in the neighbourhood. Named after this historic community of south Langley, its original name in the late 1800s was “Township 7”- the cottage on our property is an original building from the 1930s. Located at 21152 16th Ave. (at 212th St.),
Langley, BC T. 604-532-1766


Dedicated to providing an ultimate agritourism experience, Vista D’oro Farms & Winery’s orchard and vineyard provide an assorted bounty, all of which can be found in the Farmgate Shop & Tasting Room in some form – whether it’s our flagship D’oro – fortified walnut Wine, our Orchard Pear & Pinot Noir Preserve, or simple pickled cherries on our charcuterie boards. Full picnic provisions are available to enjoy on our deck or under the walnut tree. Located at 346-208th Street, Langley, BC T. 604-514-3539

And as your reward for reading his far, here’s an added bonus!

I featured Domaine de Chaberton in my seventh book, “Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining: The People, Places, Food, and Drink of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia“. Here’s the winery’s recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon.