26 October 2017

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country - Allegretto Vineyard Resort

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country - Allegretto Vineyard Resort / www.delightfulrepast.com
Cello Ristorante & Bar at dawn 

The very first morning I sense autumn in the air sets off a longing to visit wine country. Since all 50 states have some acreage in vineyard cultivation, that could be anywhere.
I first narrowed it down to California's Central Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area), which is home to hundreds of wineries and covers a vast area, then narrowed it down to a sub-region with more than 200 wineries, the Paso Robles AVA.

The Paso Robles AVA has been further subdivided into 11 AVAs that those of you interested in wine will want to look into. Not interested in wine? Stay tuned--there's more to the area than its wine.

Paso Robles is midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, about a 3 1/2- to 4-hour drive, depending on your chosen route, from both SFO (San Francisco International Airport) and LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). And you can fly into the nearby (40 minutes) San Luis Obispo airport from Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver. Don't like to fly? Amtrak stops in Paso Robles.

Next step, choosing a place to stay. There are a number of good possibilities, but one seemed most likely to fill the bill for this particular leg of our journey, which was to be a relaxing Midweek Break.

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country - Allegretto Vineyard Resort / www.delightfulrepast.com
With relaxation as the ultimate goal, we needed a place that had it all--wonderful room,* pool,** spa, food, wine--a "one-stop shop" where one can park the car and forget it for a few days, finding all one's needs met onsite for nonstop relaxation. The place? Allegretto Vineyard Resort, the sort of place you can settle into and decide not to go out at all.

* Our room was spacious (425 square feet), well-appointed and pristine.

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country - Allegretto Vineyard Resort / www.delightfulrepast.com
Serious swimmers like Mr Delightful appreciate the size and regular shape of the pool, while dry-hair bobbers like me are more inclined to appreciate things like thick terry cloth covers on the loungers and big, fluffy pool towels. And I'm a cabana girl!
** Another thing we appreciated about the pool is that there was no music. Once in a while we encounter a resort with music at the pool, and that is a definite no-no for us. We love music, but not necessarily someone else's choice and not at the pool! If any hotel guests want music at the pool, let them use their headphones. We preferred hearing the birds chirp!

And there's plenty to see and do, even if you have no interest in wine. We would have enjoyed the Pioneer Museum, but it's only open Thursday through Sunday. And there's horseback riding, zip line tours, a water park, craft breweries and distilleries (we prefer wine), all sorts of things we didn't manage to drag ourselves out for. The charming downtown is walkable and so fun!
As my regular readers have probably gathered, I am very particular about where I stay; and the way I can find flaws would make me the ideal person for any hotelier to hire to have me point out the error of his ways. The hotel we chose, Allegretto Vineyard Resort, disappointed me in that regard--I had nothing to complain about!
The Mediterranean-inspired Allegretto has a laid-back vibe, something I call refined rusticity. If you like the convenience of free valet parking, they have that. If you prefer to park it yourself, as we do, you can do that too. If you want help with your luggage, they have that. If you travel light, as we do, assistance isn't forced upon you.

This property is a labor of love for its owner-creator whose personal collection of art and artifacts spanning multiple centuries and cultures is seen throughout the resort, inside and out. The focal point of the Piazza Magica is a fountain with a natural sandstone formation at its center.

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country - Allegretto Vineyard Resort / www.delightfulrepast.com

Besides the acres of vineyards and olive trees, the gardens make for beautiful views everywhere you look.

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country - Allegretto Vineyard Resort / www.delightfulrepast.com
This garden path on the left side of the hotel leads to the little Abbaye de Lerins, barely visible through the fog. I only got to enjoy the brief early-morning fog because I got up early to watch the sunrise over the vineyard. 

We never dined on the patio, but I couldn't help noticing the whimsical patio heaters that look like giant lamps. Cute and tasteful!

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country - Allegretto Vineyard Resort / www.delightfulrepast.com
The restaurant, Cello Ristorante & Bar, headed up by executive chef Justin Picard, is about fresh ingredients and artisan cookery. I loved meeting him and touring his kitchen and garden. Fine food in a beautiful setting, but you're just as welcome in jeans and boots as in your finery. I don't know about you, but we're not interested in hauling our dress clothes on vacation.
Though I could have tea in my room any time (someone had thoughtfully replaced all the Keurig coffee with assorted teas; and I had brought along, as always, my tea travel kit), I was thrilled to be able to get a proper cup of tea in the restaurant.

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country / www.delightfulrepast.com
When I ordered tea for breakfast, the coffee mug was taken away and replaced by a cup and saucer. And the matching (beautiful rustic pottery) teapot had a decent capacity (probably about 25 ounces). The organic tea bags were the proper "pyramid" sort with plenty of room for the leaves to unfurl. If you're not a tea drinker, you may not appreciate how truly rare this is in the US!
There are lots of great places to eat in Paso Robles, including Thomas Hill Organics (which we loved), but more times than not we found ourselves "at home" at Cello. One evening we enjoyed a bar meal and had the pleasure of watching Travis the bartender mixing drinks, some of his own invention, and mixing with the customers. Sooo fun!
The wine tasting was exceptional. John, the director of wine hospitality, doesn't just know the Allegretto Vineyard wines, he knows all about wine and the wine industry. I was so engrossed that I forgot to take pictures, so I was "forced" to open a bottle of wine at home to stage this photo!

Travel Review - Paso Robles Wine Country - Allegretto Vineyard Resort / www.delightfulrepast.com
Disclosure: Though parts of this trip were comped or discounted, I assure you that does not alter my opinions or influence my review. I always tell my readers exactly what I think.

19 October 2017

Arbor Teas Giveaway - Organic Tea and Stainless Steel Infuser

Arbor Teas Giveaway - Organic Tea and Stainless Steel Infuser / www.delightfulrepast.com

I recently had a chance to try Arbor Teas for the first time, and I was impressed. Arbor Teas offers one of the internet's largest selections of loose leaf organic teas and tisanes. Their entire catalogue is certified organic and two-thirds are Fair Trade Certified.

This is a small, family-owned company in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Go Blue!) with Carbonfree® business practices. Their facility is powered by Michigan sunshine (solar panels). I always compost my tea leaves, and even Arbor Teas packaging and labels are backyard compostable.

They offer all varieties of tea (black, green, white, oolong and pu-erh), as well as lots of herbal tisanes. I, of course, tried black teas only. The first one I tried, Nilgiri, I made as cold-brew iced tea. It was fabulous. I wish I had taken a photo of it for you so you could see the color and clarity.

Call me obsessive, but those two qualities, along with flavor, are especially important to me in iced teas. In case you want to try it, I used a 0.25-ounce/7-gram sample in 3 cups of room temperature water in a small pitcher in the refrigerator for 9 hours.

I tried the other teas my favorite way--hot--and enjoyed them all. As you can see from the photos, the tea leaves expand a lot while brewing, so you need a roomy infuser to allow them to unfurl properly.

Arbor Teas Giveaway - Organic Loose Leaf Tea and Stainless Steel Infuser / www.delightfulrepast.com

Arbor Teas Tea and Infuser Giveaway

The winner of the Arbor Teas giveaway will be sent his/her choice of tea (English Breakfast, Earl Grey or Nilgiri) and the stainless steel tea infuser in his/her choice of trim color (black, blue or green). It works in some teapots as well as in mugs.

Arbor Teas Giveaway - Organic Tea and Stainless Steel Infuser / www.delightfulrepast.com

This giveaway is open to US* residents 18 years of age or older. Leave a comment below (one entry per person); tell me which of the three teas you'd like to try and which infuser trim color you prefer. Please include your email address in the body of your comment. Must enter by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday October 25.

* If you are outside the US but would like to have this sent to someone in the US (you would have to send them a gift card separately on your own), go ahead and enter! 

Winner will be chosen by random drawing and be announced here in the comments before noon Eastern time on Thursday October 26. If I don't hear back from the winner of the random drawing by noon Eastern time Sunday October 29, another drawing will be held and a new winner selected from the original entrants (those who commented before the giveaway deadline).

Disclosure: Arbor Teas provided product for review purposes and for the giveaway. The views expressed here are entirely my own. I always tell my readers what I really think! 
Coronation Chicken Tea Sandwiches / www.delightfulrepast.com

12 October 2017

Blackberry Crumble Bars

Blackberry Crumble Bars - Like Pie, Only Quicker and Easier / www.delightfulrepast.com

Blackberry crumble bars came about when I decided my craving for blackberries was greater than my determination to save my stash of summer berries I'd frozen for winter.

If you don't have such a stash, you can buy two 10-ounce bags of frozen blackberries for this recipe. And don't thaw them; use them frozen.

If you're gluten-free, just replace the flour with a combination of 1 cup sorghum flour, 3/4 cup potato starch, 3/4 cup tapioca flour and 1 teaspoon xanthan gum.

Gluten-free flour blends require more liquid than wheat flour, so you'll need to add a bit of iced water after stirring in the eggs. Add the water just a spoonful at a time so that you don't overdo it.

Cut into 2-inch squares, these crispy-crusted bars don't require a fork and are perfect for afternoon tea. Cut into larger portions, they stand in quite nicely for pie.

My Southern grandmother often made Blackberry Cobbler, another way I enjoy blackberries. What's your favorite black(or other)berry dessert? 

Blackberry Crumble Bars - Like Pie, Only Quicker and Easier / www.delightfulrepast.com
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Blackberry Crumble Bars

(Makes 24 2-inch squares)

The Crust and Crumble Layers

2 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (12.5 ounces/354 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces/99 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces/) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 large eggs

The Blackberry Filling

1/3* to 2/3 cup (2.33 ounces/66 grams to 4.67 ounces/132 grams) sugar
2 tablespoons tapioca flour or non-GMO cornstarch
Pinch of salt
20 ounces (567 grams/about 5 cups) fresh or frozen blackberries
1 or 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

* We like tart rather than sweet so use 1/3 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.

1 Preheat oven to 375F/190C/Gas5. Grease or spray with cooking spray a 13x9x1-inch quarter-sheet pan. If you don't have a quarter-sheet pan (and you really should!), you may use a 13x9x2-inch pan. Also, you might want to line the pan with baking parchment, leaving enough paper overhanging the ends to use later for lifting the bake out of the pan for cutting. Grease or spray the paper as well.

2 In medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter until mixture is like coarse cornmeal with some 1/4-inch chunks remaining. Stir in the beaten eggs to form a dough that clumps together.

3 Pour half the crumble into the prepared pan and press it into a crust just on the bottom; you may need to use a bit more of the reserved crumble. Bake the crust for 15 minutes. Keep the reserved crumble in the refrigerator until needed.

4 In small bowl, stir together sugar, tapioca flour and salt. Spread blackberries over baked crust. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over berries, then sprinkle on lemon juice. Sprinkle clumps of crumble topping over the berries. Bake until crumble topping is golden and berries are bubbling, which took about 1 hour with my very large frozen berries and small amount of sugar.

Note: The baking time will be shorter for fresh berries, thawed berries or smaller berries and likely shorter with the larger amount of sugar. So check on it at 30 minutes and see what's going on in there.

5 Cool in pan on wire rack until completely cool before lifting out the bake on parchment. Or just serve from the pan. 

Blackberry Crumble Bars - Like Pie, Only Quicker and Easier / www.delightfulrepast.com

05 October 2017

Apple Pie - Autumn Classic

Apple Pie - Autumn Classic - with All-Butter Pastry - and lots of tips / www.delightfulrepast.com

Apple pie is among those things I posted in the first months of blogging before I had many (any?) readers, so it has had few comments or Pins. So I'm bringing it out again, hoping it will now get the attention it deserves!

Apple pie has always been one of my favorite desserts. My earliest food memory is of being in the kitchen watching my Southern grandmother make one when I was not yet three.

I was fascinated that she could peel the apples in one continuous spiral, something I still cannot do. She served her apple pie with vanilla ice cream and a cup of coffee. 

Tea was the beverage of choice of my English grandmother, and her apple pies were more likely to have a side of custard sauce or whipped cream. But I don't recall ever seeing her follow that other (unappealing to me) English tradition of Cheshire or Cheddar cheese with apple pie.

"Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." ~ Jane Austen

Peach pie is my number one favorite. But when peach season ends, that's it for me until next summer. Buying only in-season produce grown as close to home as possible gives us the pleasure of anticipation and supports local farmers.

And both apples and peaches are on the Top 12 list of fruits and vegetables most important to buy organic because of having the highest levels of pesticide residue in the conventionally grown.

Apple Pie - An Autumn Classic - with All-Butter Pastry - lots of tips for the perfect pie / www.delightfulrepast.com
And this illustrates why you should let the pie cool for three hours before cutting. When you cut the pie too soon, the juices run out; cooling prevents this problem.

I like to combine two apples with different qualities in a pie. A good combination of two that are readily available (in the US, anyway) is Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. But I made this one with all Braeburn.

If you are fortunate enough to have an apple tree or live in an area where you can buy heritage apples, go for it. Look for varieties that are good "pie apples." I like Bramley and Cox's Orange Pippin, but haven't tried them in a pie yet.

You might also want to check out my Rustic Apple Tart - Sour Cream Pastry.

What are your favorite pie apples? And do you like the pie cooked until the apples are tender but still holding their shape, as I do, or until the apples are cooked down?

Apple Pie - Autumn Classic - with all-butter crust / www.delightfulrepast.com
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Apple Pie

(Makes one 9-inch pie, 8 servings)

Pastry* for double-crust pie
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds (567 to 680 grams) Granny Smith apples (3 cups peeled and thinly sliced)
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds (567 to 680 grams) Golden Delicious apples (3 cups peeled and thinly sliced)
2 or 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup (4.67 ounces/132 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons (0.9375 ounce/27 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

* Check out the following pastry recipes: Pastry Tutorial - Food Processor or Pastry Tutorial - By Hand. If you're gluten-free, just double my Gluten-Free Pastry recipe and thicken the pie filling with tapioca flour rather than wheat flour.

1 Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil (I usually have a used piece of one or the other I'd like to get one more use out of). Spray a 9-inch glass pie plate with cooking spray and line with pastry; cover with parchment and place in the refrigerator. Roll out pastry for top crust on parchment; place on a baking sheet, cover with parchment and place in the refrigerator.

2 Peel and quarter apples, cut away cores and cut (the short way) 1/4-inch-thick slices into a large bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure). Add lemon juice and toss gently. You can use all Granny Smiths, but I think the combination of the crisp, juicy, tart Granny Smith with the sweeter Golden Delicious adds a certain complexity to the pie and allows you to use less sugar.

Note: Don't get carried away with the apples as some are wont to do. I even got a little carried away and used 7 cups, when 6 cups is exactly right for my standard 9-inch Pyrex pie plate, which is the perfect pie plate.

3 In small bowl, combine sugar, flour, spices and salt; add to apples and mix well. Pour into pastry-lined pie plate, dot with little pieces of butter and put top crust in place; seal and crimp edge; prick top with fork, marking eight wedges, to vent. Place on lined baking sheet to catch any drips from the pie. Pop the pie in the freezer for 15 minutes while preheating the oven.

4 Move your oven racks so that you can place your pie on the lowest. Preheat oven to 425F/220C/Gas7.

Note: I don't always do it, but this time I brushed the top with a little cream and sprinkled on a bit of sugar mixed with cinnamon.

5 Bake for 20 minutes. Lower temperature to 350F/180C/Gas4 and bake for an additional 40 minutes, when the apples will be tender but still holding their shape. Cool on wire rack for 3 hours before serving; the pie needs that time to solidify so that all the juices don't run out when the pie is cut.

Note: To warm individual slices of pie, preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas4. Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment and bake for about 10 minutes.