Barbie Butz is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email her at barbiewb@hotmail.com.

I love using local foods and products, especially now when our local businesses need a boost. When we lived in Santa Barbara, our boat club members would meet for barbecue dinners at Hidden Valley Ranch located up the San Marcos Pass. We all fell in love with the salad dressing and begged to get the recipe or at least buy some to take home. However, I think the owner knew exactly what he had in mind and look at Hidden Valley Dressing now, more than 50 years later.

Several years ago, I was introduced to a seasoning labeled Bren’s Original Blend. I began to use it on and in just about everything, including Bloody Marys (as suggested on the label.) I liked the idea that Bren Randolf, the “blender” (my nickname for him), lives in Atascadero.

One day I was in the Chamber working with Josh Cross, President/CEO, on some Atascadero Lakeside Wine Festival material when Bren Randolph showed up. We got to talking about his seasoning blends, and I told him I was hooked on the Original Blend. Both Bren and Josh encouraged me to try some of his other blends that are available and can be ordered on the website at BrensBlends.com. The Chamber has a gift corner, and you’ll find a display of Bren’s Blends there, among other great gift items.

Imagine my surprise when Josh called to say that someone dropped off a package for me there at the Chamber. You guessed it. Bren left an assortment of his blends for me to try. What a nice gift. Thank you, Bren.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

The assortment included Spicy Blend, Smokey Blend, Savory Blend, South West Blend, and Poultry Blend. I understand that he has also added a Lemon Pepper Blend to the list. The spice blends are gluten-free, sugar-free, and contain no MSG.

I’m anxious to weed out those old spices in my cupboard and replace them with my new collection!

The recipe that follows is just as it is written in my 2001 edition of Sunset’s Recipe Annual. However, don’t be afraid to substitute some of Bren’s Original Blend for the spices. Be creative and enjoy the process by making it your own.

Merlot Pot Roast

Ingredients:
1 fat-trimmed boned beef chuck roast (3 to 3½ lb.)
Fresh-ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled
3 medium onions, chopped
2/3 cup chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
1 cup Merlot or other dry red wine
1/3 cup canned tomato paste
1½ tablespoons cornstarch

Directions:
Rinse beef, pat dry, sprinkle with fresh-ground pepper. Melt butter in large skillet over high heat. Brown beef well on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Cut carrots in chunks. Combine carrots, onion, celery, garlic, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaf in large slow-cooker. Place beef on vegetables; add drippings. In a small bowl, mix wine and tomato paste; pour over meat and vegetables. Cover. Cook 8 to 9 hours on low, or 5 to 6 hours on high. Turn meat over halfway through cooking. Remove beef, skim fat from liquid in cooker. Blend cornstarch with 1½ tablespoons water; pour into cooker and stir often until sauce is bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Arrange vegetables around beef and spoon sauce on the meat.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

Cheers.