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I take a cooking class

Yountville, California: You know it's going to be a great day when the continental breakfast at your hotel serves pastries from the down-the-street Bouchon Bakery. Can you even imagine? I wanted to curl up and die in the bread basket.

Today our tour was to start with a walk in the hills below Mt. St. Helena. This was barely a stroll, but we did see quail, vineyards and tons of poison oak.

That was fun - when is the next wine tasting?

I am a bit concerned that my "walking tour" of wine country is consisting of walking from restaurant to wine tasting to food shop... but I trudged on... the trooper that I am. Our next stop was to the Chateau Montelena Winery for a tasting. It is a very beautiful historic property - in use since the late 1800's - and became famous in 1976 when their chardonnay beat out famous French vineyards in a blind taste test. It was a bit early (even for me) so I only tried their estate 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon which retails for $125 per bottle. Wine - it's not just for breakfast any more. The Cab was divine.

Chateau Montelena Winery

Our group had a private tasting, led by the quite funny Ed. He said he doesn't cellar his wine too long as he doesn't want his wife's next husband to drink all his wine. We had a lively discussion about cellaring, cork v twist-top, and the climate and soil of Napa Valley. Ed told us the history of the vineyard and we had a stroll around the property.

Interesting Ed

Koi pond at Chateau Montelena

Now it was time for the main portion of our day - a cooking demonstration and class (and luncheon) at Casa Lana Cooking School. Casa Lana is a small bed and breakfast with a professional kitchen and chef in residence. Lana teaches private lessons in her kitchen - mostly to tour groups just like ours.

We were divided up into groups to prepare the three dishes for our luncheon:

Mixed Greens with Polenta-Gorgonzola Croutons
Mixed greens tossed in a light mustard vinaigrette;
garnished with grilled polenta croutons topped with gorgonzola dolce

Balsamic Wine Glazed Lamb
Lamb tenderloin marinated with rosemary, mustard and wine.
Grilled and glazed with Balsamic Wine Glaze

Creamy Risotto with Asiago and Roasted Asparagus
Arborio rice cooked with stock until al dente and finished with Asiago cheese.
Garnished with grilled asparagus

Lemon Glazed Almond Cake
with sautéed berries

Deb (on my team) looks over the lamb and risotto recipes

The lamb tenderloin (with herbs, lemon zest and garlic), ready for the grill

Lillian & Peter make a cake (Deb looks on)

I will not say I gleaned a lot of information or cooking techniques from the class today -  I certainly have marinated and grilled lamb before, grilled asparagus, made a vinaigrette, polenta, risotto and a cake. Still, it was good to watch a professional go through the steps and see how it "supposed" to be done. The only thing strange about the class is that it took longer for six people to make the meal than it would have taken an experienced cook to make the meal alone. I gained respect for our chef, Lana, as I would have gone absolutely totally freaking stark raving mashuga mad having that many people in my kitchen touching my stuff. That said, we really put together a delicious and pretty luncheon.

The polenta croutons were divine

Lamb tenderloin with risotto and grilled asparagus

Cake made with almond meal and fresh berries

After lunch - served with yummy wines of course - Lana gave us a tour of her garden - herbs, vegetables, stone fruit trees, figs and flowers. It was a very great way to spend the day. After our cooking class we went into St. Helena. We did some shopping and then met up at Taylor's Automatic Refresher before heading back to the hotel. 

Everyone was on their own for dinner tonight, but as far as I know no one had dinner. Everyone was too full from luncheon. Peter gave some of us a slide show from their National Geographic trip to Antarctica this January. The penguin photos were so good and so close-up. He said the penguins came right up to you, like they were as interested in you as you were in them! It was fascinating as he is a top-notch photographer and every photo could have been in National Geographic magazine! Lucky to have seen these photos.

Our tour guide, Marty, has another big day planned for us tomorrow. I understand there is some food and wine involved.

Pedometer: (I swear I signed up for the "Napa Walking Tour") only 9157 steps; 3.89 miles.

Until my next update, I remain, your shallot-mincing correspondent.