Even though Erik Olsen is the winemaker at mammoth Clos du Bois Winery in Sonoma County ― one of the leading producers of Chardonnay in the United States (about a million cases of it) ― the value of wine for him lies in good times with family, friends, and great food.
"Dad, look, I can do a backflip!" demands 5-year-old Alexandra Tett. Her friend Caroline Olsen, age 6, is an avid witness, while their brothers, Porter and Christian (3 and 4, respectively), are more interested in sucking unlucky insects into their new bug viewer.
With the kids absorbed in water matters, their parents attend to oyster and Pinot Grigio detail. Erik and his wife, Deborah, have joined their friends David and Carolyn Tett at their home in the hills overlooking Dry Creek Valley in Healdsburg, California, for the afternoon. "I'm always the guy at the barbecue," explains Erik. Today he's grilling a tri-tip roast marinated in Shiraz; bell peppers dunked in the same sauce are sizzling alongside.
Parts of this spread cater to more sophisticated palates―those oysters on the half-shell, for instance, with a rice vinegar, cilantro, shallot, and jalapeño sauce. Others are designed for the kids: an appetizer platter of melons, mangoes, snap peas, and cucumber for dipping into yogurt mixed with honey and lime. A retro macaroni salad in a tangy, old-fashioned boiled dressing goes both ways.
When the tart crowned with peaches and blueberries comes out, Alexandra misapplies a cliché, but nails the point: "It looks so good I could eat it!"
PREP AND COOK TIME: About 35 minutes, plus at least 2 hours to marinate
MAKES: 8 to 10 servings
NOTES: Brush some of the marinade on bell peppers and onions; grill them next to the meat for about 15 minutes. (Stop brushing on marinade at least 5 minutes before veggies are done, so heat can kill any bacteria from meat.)
WINE: A fruity Shiraz or Syrah (the same grape) with a hint of sweet pipe-tobacco smoke.
3/4 cup Shiraz (Syrah) wine
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 beef tri-tip (about 21/2 lb.), fat trimmed, rinsed and patted dry
1. In a gallon-size zip-lock plastic bag, combine Shiraz, soy sauce, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire, mustard, and garlic. Add tri-tip and seal bag. Chill at least 2 hours or up to 1 day, turning occasionally.
2. Lightly oil a barbecue grill over a solid bed of medium coals or medium heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 4 to 5 seconds). Lift tri-tip from marinade and lay on hot grill; discard marinade. Close lid on gas grill. Cook tri-tip, turning every 5 minutes, until rare in center of thickest part (still pink; cut to test), 125° to 130° on a thermometer, about 25 minutes, or until as done as you like.
3. Let meat rest 5 minutes, then cut across the grain into thin, slanting slices.
Per serving: 151 cal., 38% (57 cal.) from fat; 21 g protein; 6.3 g fat (1.9 g sat.); 0.8 g carbo (0 g fiber); 342 mg sodium; 59 mg chol.
PREP AND COOK TIME: About 25 minutes
MAKES: 2 quarts; 8 to 10 servings
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
8 slices bacon (8 oz.), chopped
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
12 ounces dried macaroni (2 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
Salt and pepper
1. In a bowl, combine sugar and flour.
2. In a 2- to 3-quart pan over medium-high heat, stir bacon often until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Discard all but 3 tablespoons fat from pan.
3. Add sugar-flour mixture to drippings in pan over medium-high heat. Stir for 1 minute, then add 1 1/2 cups water and the vinegar. Stir until mixture is boiling, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. In a 5- to 6-quart pan over high heat, cook macaroni in boiling water, stirring occasionally, until just tender to bite, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and return to pan. Stir vinegar mixture into macaroni. Let cool.
5. Just before serving, stir bacon, celery, and green onions into macaroni. Season generously with salt and pepper. For a looser texture, stir in about 1/2 cup water. Pour into a serving bowl.
Per serving: 231 cal., 26% (61 cal.) from fat; 6.7 g protein; 6.8 g fat (2.1 g sat.); 36 g carbo (1.1 g fiber); 132 mg sodium; 8.2 mg chol.
PREP AND COOK TIME: About 50 minutes, plus 45 minutes to cool
MAKES: 8 to 10 servings
WINE: An earthy-floral dessert wine such as a late-harvest Gewürztraminer.
1/2 cup pecan halves
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg yolk
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced peeled firm-ripe white or yellow peaches or thinly sliced nectarines
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced fresh mint leaves (optional)
1/2 cup blueberries, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons apricot jam
1. Spread pecans in a 10-inch tart pan with removable rim and bake in a 350° oven until golden in the center (break one to check), 8 to 12 minutes. Let cool.
2. In a food processor, whirl nuts, flour, brown sugar, and butter until fine crumbs form. Add vanilla and egg yolk; whirl until mixture comes together in a ball.
3. Press dough evenly over bottom and up sides of tart pan. Bake in a 350° oven until deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool.
4. In a bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese, sour cream, and powdered sugar until smooth. In another bowl, mix peaches with lemon juice.
5. Spread cream cheese mixture over bottom of pastry. Sprinkle mint on top, if using. Overlap peach slices in circles over cheese. Scatter blueberries over peaches.
6. Put jam in a 1-cup glass measure and cook, uncovered, in a microwave oven at full power (100%) until melted, 30 to 45 seconds. Brush over fruit.
7. Serve, or chill uncovered up to 1 hour. Remove pan rim and cut tart into wedges.
Per serving: 329 cal., 60% (198 cal.) from fat; 5.2 g protein; 22 g fat (11 g sat.); 31 g carbo (3.2 g fiber); 150 mg sodium; 70 mg chol.
Farmers' Market Salad
PREP TIME: About 20 minutes
MAKES: 8 to 10 servings
In a salad bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard, and 1 teaspoon minced shallot. Add 4 quarts rinsed and crisped salad greens; 2 cups red flame grapes, cut in half; 1 cup toasted walnut halves; and 1 cup crumbled blue cheese (3 oz.) such as Point Reyes. Mix gently to coat, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Per serving: 222 cal., 81% (180 cal.) from fat; 3.7 g protein; 20 g fat (3.8 g sat.); 9.1 g carbo (1.3 g fiber); 144 mg sodium; 6.4 mg chol.