Wednesday, July 23, 2014


THERE'S STILL TIME to get a great big taste of Livermore Valley's awesome terroir at the annual Taste Our Terroir event that kicks off on Thursday. Tickets for the Thursday night tasting are sold out, but this year's event includes a lineup of smaller events that continue Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Among the events still open is an afternoon of wine and music with Clark Smith from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday at Wente Vineyards ($50), a single-vineyard Cab comparison and cheese tasting from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at Steven Kent Winery ($45), a cooking demo from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday with My Nguyen at Las Positas Vineyards ($60), and grapes, olives and food at Retzlaff Estate from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday ($60.) For more information or tickets, go to

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


WHEN IT COMES to flavorings, nothing beats vanilla. Nothing. And when it comes to vanilla, the best is always worth the price. This year, chefs and foodies are pointing to a new favorite source for big vanilla flavor -- Heilala Vanilla Syrup.This summer, the syrup was a finalist in the Outstanding Dessert or Dessert Topping category at the Fancy Food Show in New York.
Made from vanilla beans grown on plantations in New Zealand and Tonga, the syrup is creamy and floral, with the long finish you get with really fine Madagascar vanilla. It packs a huge, authentic vanilla punch, withand has just enough sugar to draw out the true flavors of the vanilla.
The syrup can be used in place of maple syrup or honey in everything from cold drinks to cocoa to cookies. The company's website suggests using it to finish pork, marinate scallops or punch up flavor in a dressing. I am sure that chefs can make those ideas work, but I think I will use mine in drinks, to sweeten cream or to finish a bowl of berries and yogurt. An 8.4-ounce bottle is $14.95. Find it at Whole Foods.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Gift sets are also available; as are "Mystery Jars."
JAM IS EASY to make. But it's not so easy to make great jam: Jam that's perfectly set, packed with fruit and has fruit as the most forward flavor -- instead of sugar. Yes, it can be done. But if it's not going to happen in your kitchen this strawberry season, you might want to check out a jar of Department of Sweet Diversions Strawberry Grand Marnier Liqueur Jam.
Now, I can't exactly taste the Grand Marnier in this -- a good thing since I don't really want that on my toast in the morning -- but it's terrific jam. it's made in small batches by a small Los Angeles company. The company uses nothing processed and no ingredient that comes from more than 12 miles away. The company also has a rather developed sense of humor about it's detective-style packaging and theme. Those who source the fruit and make the jam include Agent Copperpot and Chester Pinkerton. And the packaging department warns that the jam is best by 7:15 a.m. Oct. 31, 2014. A 6-ounce jar is $12 online. The company also works with pears, blood oranges, tomatoes, plums and apples.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014



IF YOU READ THIS blog or my Taste-Off column that runs twice a month in The San Jose Mercury-News, you know that I don't like everything. Actually, I don't like a whole lot of things. I think that's why I get so excited when I taste something I really like.
Luvo. Funny name, good food. I had a chance to try three of this company's frozen offerngs; two breakfast-type dishes and one dinner-style. I was surprised at how fresh and real these three dishes tasted -- straight out of the microwave or toaster.
First, I tried a really fun breakfast-style pizza made with
apples, apricots and ricotta. I happened to have one of those nifty toaster bags, so I slid the frozen bread inside and toasted it up. Good. Nutritious, tasty and different for a breakfast food. The oatmeal was also really good, especially since I didn't have to suffer to get the steel-cut oats completely cooked.
Last, the Chicken Chile Verde had tender bites of chicken, lots of herbs and tasty roasted peppers. I added salt and pepper -- but of course. Luvo, formerly known as Lyfekitchen, can be foud at a host of local markets, including Fresh and Easy, Safeway in Fremont and Raley's stores.The company has also just landed a contract for providing snacks on Delta Airlines. Ifyou have time, you might want to check out their blog for tips on healthy living -- and some really great food shots.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


I LOVE PIZZA any which way, but when I can have it my way, it becomes a perfect food.
Having pizza my way used to mean making it myself. But last week, I had a chance to check out Blaze Pizza, the new build-your-own pizza  restaurant in Fremont. The chain, which has such high-profile supporters as LeBron James and Maria Shriver, prides itself on using high-quality, fresh ingredients. My kind of place.
Enough of the PR.
After ordering a handful of their pizzas, here's my personal take: For $8, it's a really fun place to get a personalized pizza that tastes great. The crust gets a B+. It's crispy and thin, but doesn't have quite the same density and chewiness of a long-rise dough. That said, it's better than most. The list of ingredients is impressive - and you get to pick what you want as you watch them build your pizza. More of this, less of that... there's no one to blame if you end up with a pizza you don't like!
First tip: Stay away from the signature pizzas, however, as the one I hadwas a lot stingy on the toppings. Second tip: Don't be shy about what you want. When you ask for an ingredient and they add the tiniest amount, tell them you want more, more, more. Say it 3 or 4 times if you must. Remember, their goal is to save money. Your goal is to get the pizza you really, really want.
My favorite pizza started with extra-spicy red sauce, was topped with bacon, sausage, four kinds of cheese and a drizzle of pesto. I loved it. Blaze is located at Pacific Commons, near Men' Wearhouse and The Habit.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


NOT SURE IF you will be able to find these at your local store right now, but be on the lookout for boxes of some of the freshest, most inventive tamales I've ever had. They're made by CedarLane Natural Foods, the people who earned top marks in my San Jose Mercury Taste-Off column on the topic of gluten-free freezer meals last October.
The company just launched these gluten-free, vegetarian tamales that feature a melange of ingredients encased in slightly sweet masa that's gets an extra corn punch thanks to kernels of fresh corn.
These tamales are seriously as good as fresh-made, but so much more fun. Check out the flavors: Chile & Cheese, Roasted Vegetable, Spinach & Feta and Sweet Corn. 
They come individually wrapped, two to a box. They have just 200 calories each, which means you can go crazy and have two for a giant meal and not pack extra pounds around the middle.
I'd show you what the tamale looks like on a plate. But I ate it. So here's a picture of the box you need to look for. Trust me, you will like these. They're about $4 per box.