Butternut Squash Quesadillas

Ooey, gooey, melty, yummy, they’re calling your name! Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

It’s time, ladies and germs, for another respite from vino… off on a culinary excursion! Whet your appetites, it’s gonna be really good! 🙂

I love to cook, and I love the final, tasty fruits of my efforts even more. Apart from learning basics like spaghetti and scrambled eggs from my mom, I learned how to cook real meals using recipes. Rachael Ray and her pink cookbook
get huge props for helping me beef up my skills to master chef status, especially when I lived on my own before getting married. I still tend to prefer using recipes when making meals, but as I gain more confidence, and the realization that not all recipes make perfect sense, I bravely make my own modifications and start trusting my own burgeoning culinary instincts… which is super important for every cook.

I’m maturing as a cook because lately, more than in previous years, I am now making up my own recipes. This is a huge step for a girl who is a cookbook maven (they are piled by my couch all the time for leisurely perusing and inspiration) and who has stuck to recipes much like a religious dedication to algebraic equations. I didn’t veer far from cookbooks, partly because I wanted to train myself by learning to follow a recipe verbatim and educating myself on process and terminology. But now I’m taking creative risks in the kitchen, and this is helping not only my cooking, but my whole outlook on life. Every time I cook, even though I’m using the same ingredients, it’s a new experience and new result every time. That’s the art of cooking.

One of the best ways to let your creative juices flow and have fun in the kitchen is to invent your own recipe. Not out of thin air, mind you, out of the inspiration you’ve gleaned from any fantastic eateries you have frequented. It only makes sense to borrow from the best and riff on them in your home kitchen. Most restaurants have their menus posted on their websites in PDF format, so you can refer back to the ingredients, or you can jot them down/take a picture with your phone when you’re dining there.

One such recipe I vowed to recreate at home and did — successfully, and even upped the nutrient quotient! — is butternut squash quesadillas from The Matador. Just uttering the phrase “butternut squash” puts me in a very happy place, so much so that I will order whatever item that is on the menu that has been blessedly paired with the saintly squash. It’s one of my favorite foods, obviously.

And this has become a new favorite recipe — made in a cinch, loaded with fiber and nutrients, and heartily filling. I just added the black beans and kale. You can find precut butternut squash at Trader Joe’s and if you would rather save time than money, this is well worth it. Of course, it’s not hard to prep an actual squash, but again, this requires planning ahead.

Purchase the quantities you need… this recipe paints in broad brushstrokes.

Butternut Squash Quesadillas
Tortillas
Sweet Onions
Kale
Can of black beans (try to make your own if you can, or scope out low sodium beans)
Cooked butternut squash chunks, perhaps a 12 oz. bag from Trader Joe’s
Goat cheese
Shredded pepperjack cheese

Slice or dice the onions (your call) and caramelize in olive oil (high heat first, then lower heat to saute). Add pieces of kale and saute. Add the cooked squash chunks and the rinsed black beans and warm through with the other ingredients. Move your filling to a separate dish. Take two flour tortillas; on one spread some of the filling and then crumble over some goat cheese and pepperjack cheese to your taste. Top with the second tortilla to make a frickin’ rad quesadilla, plop in a medium warm skillet to melt the cheese and heat through the middle, then flip to finish off the cooking.

Buen provecho, mis amigos!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Oregon, You’ve Been Upstaged!

Anything you can do I can do better… can Washington rival Oregon at making excellent Pinot Noir? Photo courtesy of http://www.nwsportsbeat.com.

Fact: Oregon’s Willamette Valley region is an ideal climate for growing world-class Pinot Noir: it is cool and at the same latitude as Burgundy, France, where Pinot Noir has been cultivated for ages. Fact: Washington’s AVAs (winegrowing regions) such as Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla, etc. tend to favor bold, earthy reds, such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Different vines flourish in different climes, and this is the magic of biology and terroir! Like East Coast versus West Coast swing or rap, both are distinct art forms in their own right; both calculatingly sizing up their opponent, abiding side by side, careful not to step on each other’s toes or get cacked by a hater. No puns intended, of course.

So what happens when a Washington Pinot Noir sidles up to an Oregon Pinot Noir (gasp!)? When an ambitious “newbie” contender enters the competitive ring of primo Pinot Noir? Does it even stand a chance? Can the shepherd’s stone even graze, let alone slay, a giant?

Chateau Faire Le Pont Milbrandt Vineyards Pinot Noir (90% Pinot Noir, 10%
Syrah) is a Washington Pinot Noir that upsets the apple cart… or the grape bin,
choose your fruit metaphor. We purchased this wine this past summer 2011 while visiting Leavenworth and then dilly-dallying into Wenatchee (a juicy wine destination you must visit!). Chateau Faire Le Pont is one of my favorite wineries because every wine you try is pure awesomeness brimming with wow factor. Though stepping onto long-hallowed “exclusive” Oregon turf, this winery proves it can pull off a remarkably delicious Pinot Noir made from Washington grapes that can compete with the best of them.

After having tasted a number of Oregon Pinots now, I have to admit I like this
Washingtonian better than many of its Oregonian counterparts, perhaps due to
the generous 10% Syrah that gives it a bit more tartness and dimension. See my previous post about AVAs for more deets on the Wahluke Slope and Milbrandt Vineyards, where these stellar grapes hail from.

This Pinot will not disappoint and will surprise many Oregon Pinot fans. It
could not have been pulled off without the talented winemakers of Chateau Faire
Le Pont. From the back label: “… our 2007 Pinot Noir was created in a more
graceful, enjoyable medium-to-full-bodied style. Refreshing and extremely well
balanced, rose petal and violet aromas intertwine seamlessly with raspberries,
strawberries, chocolate covered cherries and delicate tannins throughout the
smooth, lingering finish.”

Take a sip, sit back and experience psychedelic visions of chocolate covered
fruits and flower petals swirling and waltzing around in your head! (Red wine
is so much safer than LSD).

Oregon, you’ve been upstaged!

To be continued….

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ode to An Old Soul: Vintage Tastes in Vino

Chardonnay, a true golden oldie.

Virgin Chardonnay from Naked Winery: Because Winemakers Just Wanna Have Fun!

Just because something is old doesn’t necessarily make it a classic. Beringer White Zinfandel, one of the top-selling wines in the US, might be an old, familiar favorite, but in my personal opinion it’s not a classic, just a convenient go-to wine. While some styles of wine might not be trendy at the moment, it doesn’t mean they’re not good. Here at The Rambling Vine, I want to celebrate the grand flavors that have saturated my palate and broadened my perspective on a particular varietal. I also like to pay tribute to wines that sealed the deal for friends and family members.

My husband’s absolute favorite chardonnay happens to be made in a style that is currently not as popular as it might have been a couple decades ago: oaked. This is not surprising. He is an old soul, preferring classic rock bands like Jethro Tull, Rush, and Queen to more contemporary music (when we were dating, I had to educate him on the true bands of our youth, like Soundgarden, Weezer, Spice Girls, wait, nevermind). But he knows a good thing when he experiences it, and when he first sipped this wine, I could tell this was the best Chardonnay he’d ever had!

Today’s chardonnay drinkers generally favor the kind that has fermented in stainless steel casks, which give the wine a completely different, lighter character (some of which are good). So if you’re on the other end of the spectrum and prefer buttery, rich, hefty white wines, you’ll want to try this!

Naked Winery’s Library 2007 Virgin Chardonnay ($35 per bottle) is heavily oaked (it spends 17 months fermenting in new oak) and very tasty. The oak is rewarding to this wine. It is “a velvety and youthful wine” that possesses an “extremely tantalizing bouquet. Its soft tannins, creamy butterscotch and vanilla flavors will delight and excite you. It ends with a memorable sweetness. Enjoy strong flavors of pear, papaya and vanilla. Spicy Thai dishes will be just right with this wine.” Smooth, rich, thick, complex; a standout wine, it is not to be missed.

Another reason we really like this wine is the winery: Naked Winery. If you’re out and about gallivanting through Oregon, stop by Hood River and linger in the Naked Winery tasting room. Try everything they offer! But be warned, we tried close to 12 different wines, so don’t overdo it; use that spit bucket so you don’t do anything you would be ashamed of. This place makes awesome wines and they have FUN while doing it. Who else would paraphrase Madonna on the back of their bottle? “Enjoy this Virgin like it was the very first time.” The only thing they take absolutely seriously is their winemaking craft. After they create a great product, they are excited to share it with you and answer all your questions. Each wine name and description oozes sexual innuendo (they even have Orgasmic! Wine – to be reviewed later). They have been criticized for this by some in certain snooty wine circles, who obviously don’t have a sense of humor. Pshaw, let’s just support them all the more! Down with wine snobbery and puffery!

They also vehemently support the use of wine to aid in la romanza.

When the mood strikes and all the stars align to enjoy a particularly special bottle of wine, indulge in this exquisite, classic Chardonnay! Our life is made up of a series of delicious moments, might as well have a rich one.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.