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How Colleen Develops New Recipes

In addition to her myriad other responsibilities, Colleen acts as our in-house chef. She prepares hors d’oeuvres for special occasions at the winery and may provide her culinary artistry when we have an event or open house. She loves to create new recipes at home and then bring them to the winery so we can taste them before she posts them on our website. We asked her a few questions about the creative process that goes into developing a new recipe and what the considerations are if she wants to post it on our website.

Q: Colleen, how did you get into cooking?
A: I think a lot of it came from my grandmother-she was a wonderful cook! I used to help her harvest and can fresh fruits and vegetables from her garden. And she taught me how to bake. We’d bake pies, cookies and coffee cakes together. Those are great memories.

As I grew up, I found that I really like the process of cleaning, preparing, and chopping different ingredients–it’s so relaxing to me. Then in college, I started reading cooking magazines and cookbooks. The passion grew from there.

A: A lot of it is inspired by the seasons-you know, what’s freshest–and I love to celebrate the different holidays throughout the year with special menus, like steaming lobster on Valentine’s Day, or roasting spring lamb for Easter-and then maybe put a new twist on it. I read a lot of cookbooks and magazines for ideas. My husband’s mother and aunt are great cooks and always have some great tips to share. Sometimes I dream about trying a new dish and I wake up composing it in my mind. I keep a note pad handy so I can put these ideas in writing before I forget.

Q: What are the most important considerations in your mind in actually developing a recipe for the database?
A: Aside from the fact that it needs to be absolutely delicious there are four main considerations.

  1. I know people don’t have a lot of time, so I’m very aware of how long it takes for the prep time and cooking time. Up to 2 hours of active time is all I want to spend on a meal right now.
  2. I think about how many pots and pans are on the burners at once and are going to need cleaning when I’m finished. We’re all busy, so I like to be practical.
  3. If I’m getting frazzled as I cook, with a lot of pots going and having to stir something in a pot and watch something that’s in the oven at the same time, I figure it’s just getting too complicated. Cooking is supposed to be relaxing and fun!
  4. The ingredients need to be readily available at the grocery store, and I focus on really do-able, home-cooked meals, that aren’t too chic or fussy.

Q: What’s your favorite part of creating a recipe?
A: Tasting it in my mind before I cook it. When this happens, I know it will be good and that’s really exciting to me. I like it when I try something new or a creative twist on an old favorite and my family says it turned out great. I love the challenge of pairing different dishes with wine too.

Q: When you cook with wine how do you know which one to use in the recipe?
A: I go by the basic flavors of the sauce or how the food is prepared, balanced with the fruit, acid, or tannin qualities of the wine. If I want to brighten the flavors then I use a white wine with a good acid like our Sauvignon Blanc or our Chardonnay. To add deeper, more concentrated flavors in beef, I use a Cabernet or red wine blend and braise the meat.

Q: How do you know what wine goes with the recipe, whether it has wine in it or not?
A: That’s a big subject, but most of the time I work from the base recipe and figure out what wine would drink the best with the dish, then I try to integrate the wine into the dish if possible (click here for Wine and Food Pairing article).

For example, our Chardonnay has a lemony finish and it goes so well with lemon-based flavors. It’s perfect for chicken & fish with lemon cream sauces. One of my favorite combinations is Chicken Crepes with Tarragon and Lemon Cream Sauce with the Goosecross Chardonnay.

Mushrooms and Pinot Noir or Syrah is great because they have earthiness in common. Some things just work, like Merlot and lamb. Spicy Zinfandel is great with ribs, burgers, pizza, red sauce pastas.

Q: I understand that you test every single recipe before we put it up on the website.
A: Yes, I test all the recipes at home first. I need to confirm that the recipe is sound and that I haven’t left anything out. You know how sometimes you get a recipe from a website or a cooking show and as you’re cooking you realize there must be an ingredient missing? That’s so frustrating! I don’t want that to happen to anyone who uses one of my recipes. And then I taste the recipe with the wine to be sure the wine complements the food.

Q: Tell us about the cross-referencing on the recipe database.
A: I wanted to make it easy and convenient for people to find a recipe by the food type, wine type, or wine varietals. I also wanted people to be able to search by the particular name of a recipe and have a Goosecross wine that was already matched to the recipe. My goal is to save people time and to have something they could rely on and be proud to serve to their friends and family.

Q: I know you have a very active family life. How does all of this fit in with that?
A: Well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? To me, there’s no point in cooking unless I have someone to share it with. And the thing I love about having wine with the meal is that it keeps everyone at the table longer-we all really start conversing. Nothing makes me happier than seeing people I care about really enjoying something I’ve made for them. That, a glass of wine and some great music to cook by-what else do you need?

All recipes are published with the permission of Colleen Topper.

I think that says it all! Click here to explore Colleen’s recipe collection.