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A Meal Fit for Foodie Friends

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I spent this past weekend with some friends at a beautiful property in Calistoga, drinking (too much) wine, playing Boys vs. Girls celebrity, and eating delicious homemade food. We split up the meals over the weekend, and I was in charge of dinner on Saturday night. With one vegetarian, two marathoners, a culinary school grad, and three slightly drunk men – all of whom are foodies – I had quite the meal to prepare. Fortunately, I was able to come up with something that pleased everyone!

Luckily, the sun came out for us all weekend.

Luckily, the sun came out for us all weekend.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms 

  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 TB dried oregano
  • 1 TB Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 portobello mushrooms

Combine first 6 ingredients and whisk together until combined. Pour over mushrooms in a sealed container or ziploc bag and refrigerate for 2 hours. Grill over medium-high heat for 4 minutes on each side. 

Grilled Dijon Peppercorn Flank Steak (serves 8)

  • 2/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup Soy Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons coarsely crushed black peppercorns
  • 3-4 lbs flank steak

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Coat the steaks with the marinade, then transfer to a sealed ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature one hour before grilling. Grill over high heat for 5 minutes on each side. Let sit for 15 minutes, then slice against the grain and transfer to a serving platter.


Rosemary Potatoes (serves 8)

  • 6 medium yellow potatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 TB chopped rosemary
  • 1 TB chopped thyme
  • kosher salt and ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Toss potatoes with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Spread in a single, even layer on a baking sheet (you will need two sheets) and bake for 25 minutes, tossing half way through.


Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad (serves 8)

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 TB chopped shallots
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus 1/2 tsp
  • 2 large bunches of kale, chopped
  • 8 oz shaved Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino
  • 2 avocados, diced

Whisk together lemon juice, mustard, shallots, garlic, pepper and salt. Let sit for about an hour to let the flavors meld together. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp olive oil in a nonstick pan over a medium-low flame. Add almonds and sauté until toasted, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and wrap in tin foil to keep warm. Add the remaining oil to the lemon-Dijon mixture and whisk until combined into a smooth dressing. In a large salad bowl, combine kale, Brussels sprouts, almonds, Pecorino and avocados. Toss with dressing and serve.


These dishes went great together, and the overall meal had a very clean, warm feel to it. After a toast with sparkling Rosé (naturally), we served a 2006 Napa Cab and a 2008 Super Tuscan blend. Both were big, powerful wines that paired well with the herbaceous flavors. And best of all, I made all my hungry friends very happy!


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I was supposed to have dinner with Blondie last night (and meet her new puppy!) but the poor girl came down with the flu – which reminds me, I need to get my flu shot. I had already purchased the ingredients for our planned stuffed mushroom meal, so I decided to put them to use.

Ricotta, Spinach and Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms (serves 2)

  • 2 portobello mushrooms
  • cooking spray
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped poblano pepper
  • 1 small hot Italian sausage link, casing removed
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup part skim or fat free ricotta
  • 1/4 cup shredded parmigiano-reggiano
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 2 tsp bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking pan with tin foil and coat lightly with cooking spray. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and spoon out the gills to create more room for stuffing. Place mushrooms cap side down on the baking pan.


In a medium skillet, sauté garlic, onion and pepper for 2 minutes, then add sausage and continue to sauté until sausage is browned – about 5 minutes. Add spinach and sauté for 1 minute, or until wilted.



In a medium bowl combine ricotta and Parmigiano; add salt and pepper. Add spinach and sausage mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Divide the mixture into the mushrooms and top with scallions and bread crumbs. Bake for 25 minutes.



I stuck to water tonight because I’m trying to hydrate before a wine-filled weekend with my family, but if I was boozing I would pair these shrooms with a medium-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir, Chianti or Malbec. This was my first time making stuffed mushrooms, but I think they turned out pretty well! I went the cheesy, spicy Italian route with this batch, but the possibilities are endless. I think next time I’ll try for a Greek theme: lamb, tomatoes, feta, and spinach… mmm!

Ramen at Home

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Miriam and I had a cooking date last night; between our travel schedules, it’s been a couple of weeks since we had some foodie QT. Since we’ve both been agonizing over the fact that there is nowhere within 45 miles of Napa to get a bowl of ramen (not the boxed kind), we decided to do something about it. And it turned out fantastically, so much so that we created a new hashtag for our culinary sensations: #MirilanaCooks.

Miso Chicken Ramen (serves 2)

  • 2 TB vegetable oil
  • 2 chicken thighs with skin and bone
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 oz (2 bundles) of Japanese dry ramen noodles
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 32 fl oz Trader Joe’s miso ginger broth
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 TB low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 TB fish sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 chopped cup scallions
  • 2 eggs
  • pea shoots

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Generously sprinkle both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat vegetable oil over a medium-high flame in an oven safe skillet. Once hot, add chicken thighs, skin side down, and sear for about 8 minutes, or until browned. Turn the chicken thighs so that the skin is facing up, then transfer to the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, and slice the thighs into smaller pieces.


Meanwhile, heat sesame oil in a large non-stick pan over a medium flame. Add mushrooms and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large pot, heat miso broth and chicken broth. Add mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, and ginger and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes so the flavors can meld.


Set a pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add ramen noodles and cook for 4 minutes. Using tongs, transfer ramen noodles to the pot of broth, reserving the boiling water. Add scallions to the broth and stir to combine.

Carefully place eggs into the pot of water used to cook the ramen, and bring back to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat, cover and cook for 6 minutes. Remove the eggs from the pot and transfer to a bowl of cold water to let cool, then peel the shells.

Ladle hefty portions of the ramen and broth into deep bowls, then top with chicken, pea shoots, and an egg, slicing the egg in half so that the yolk seeps into the ramen. Serve with chopsticks (or a fork if you’re like Miriam) and a large spoon.


Now that I know how easy and fast it is to make delicious ramen at home, I will be doing it a lot more often! The broth was surprisingly flavorful for having such few components, and I can thank Miriam’s addition of the miso ginger broth for that. And of course, my beloved fish sauce.

I Can’t Even Pizza

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There really is no pizza like NY pizza. That’s not to say that I like NY pizza the best, but it does mean that I won’t tolerate establishments outside the state that claim to have “New York style pizza.” I literally can’t even.

I had my semi-annual fix of New York pizza last week when I was back East for my cousin’s wedding. I got a slice of fresh tomato and garlic from Sunrise Pizza, my hometown favorite and a spot I frequented in my formative years – so much so that the owner still recognizes me when I stop in twice a year. The rest of the year, I’m eating the kind of pizza that I like best: California flatbread. You know, the sauceless pizza-looking thing with the leafy greens and veggies and occasionally some fancy meat.


Butternut Squash & Kale Flatbread (serves 2)

  • 1 cup butternut squash, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1/2 a medium squash)
  • 1 TB olive oil, plus 2 tsp
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pizza crust
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 2 cups chopped Tuscan kale
  • 4 oz cubed pancetta (sold at TJ’s)
  • 1 TB Crème fraîche
  • 2 oz Manchego cheese (a few thin slices)
  • 3 fresh sage leaves, torn

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss squash with 1 TB olive oil, salt and pepper and lay out on a baking sheet in one even layer. Bake for 20 minutes. When there are 5 minutes left, place the pizza crust on top of a sheet of parchment paper and place in the oven to lightly toast.


Meanwhile, heat 2 tsp olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add shallots and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, then add kale and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Increase the heat to medium-high and add pancetta to the pan. Saute until crisp – about 4 minutes – then remove from pan and set aside.


Remove squash and pizza from the oven, and increase heat to 450 degrees. Spread the Crème fraîche onto the crust, leaving about an inch of dough on the edge. Top with sautéed kale, shallots and garlic, then add butternut squash and pancetta. Finally, finish with Manchego and sage. Cook for 15 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes, then slice.



I was thinking about this recipe all day, obsessing over every component and how to place them to make it the perfect autumnal flatbread. One of my best friends – currently a New Yorker, and who shall be known as Paco from this point forth – called just as I had pulled the pie out of the oven. When I told him what I had made, he grunted and said “you’re such a Californian”, to which I said, “I can’t even call it pizza.”

The obsessing paid off because the pizza was insanely delicious if I do say so myself. It was the perfect combo of sweet and salty and crunchy and creamy. I was worried the Crème fraîche would totally backfire on me, but it softened the base of the flatbread without making it soggy from the weight of the other ingredients. I loved how the kale and sage leaves crisped up to be chip-like while the squash was soft and gooey. And the hint of Manchego added just the right amount of nuttiness. Perfection.


I paired this flatbread with the 2010 St. Clair Brown Chardonnay that I got in my most recent wine club pick up. Choose a full-bodied white with a good balance of nuttiness and tropical fruit, such as Pine Ridge Dijon Clones, or if looking to go the French route try a Chablis or White Burgundy.

The Ricotta Gnocchi Project

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Last week I hosted my monthly Cookbook Club meeting, which focused on Canal House Cooking, Volume 7. I love the simplicity of The Canal House books, and I particularly love this volume because it focuses on my favorite cuisine: Italian. I was determined to make a pasta from this book, and settled on the Gnocchi Verdi because I thought it would be easier than making hand-rolled pasta (not so… but I’ll get to that). I sent the group a wide selection of recipes and declared I would be making the gnocchi; we quickly determined the rest of the menu would consist of minestrone soup, shrimp risotto, sausage and apple stuffing, prosciutto wrapped figs, and ricotta cheesecake.


Prosciutto-wrapped figs with balsamic reduction

I started preparing the gnocchi a couple days in advance, beginning with the homemade ricotta that goes into the dough mix. I was nervous to make my own ricotta, but it seemed pretty straightforward so I went for it. After securing a double boiler, candy thermometer, and a skimmer (How did I not have a skimmer before now? It’s my new favorite kitchen tool!), I turned on Game 4 of the World Series (yay Giants!) and got to work.

Whole Milk Ricotta (makes 1.5 cups)

  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt


Make a double boiler out of two large pots, with enough water in the bottom pot to come at least halfway up the sides of the top pot. Pour the milk into the top pot and heat over a medium-high flame until the temperature reaches 190 on a thermometer*. Add salt, yogurt and lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds to mix everything together. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 minutes, maintaining at 190 degrees. Do not stir, as it will disrupt the ricotta curds. Once done cooking, use a skimmer to carefully lift all the ricotta curds out of the whey and transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for about 1 hour, then transfer to a covered container and use within 4 days.

*The recipe said it would take about 15 minutes to reach this temperature, but it took me more like 45 and it was still not entirely 190 degrees. Eventually I just gave up and continued with the rest of the process, and it gradually reached 190 after I added the other ingredients. 



Gnocchi Verdi (serves 6)

  • 2 lbs fresh spinach, cooked, squeezed dry and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup finally minced basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 1 TB melted butter
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 TB flour, sifted

Sage Butter

  • 8-12 TB butter
  • 8-10 sage leaves
  • Parmigiano-reggiano

Mix together the spinach, basil, ricotta, butter, Parmesan-reggiano and eggs with a rubber spatula in a large bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, then sift the flour through a sieve or fine-mesh strainer into the spinach mixture. Mix it just enough to incorporate the flour. The dough will be soft, sticky and slightly moist. Refrigerate in a covered container overnight.



About 2 hours before you’re ready to cook the gnocchi, form into cone shapes by hand (make sure your hands are constantly wet to avoid the dough sticking to you) and lay onto a lightly floured baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and freeze for 1.5 hours.

Make the sage butter about 20 minutes before serving. Melt the butter with the sage leaves in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, turn off heat, cover and keep warm until serving.

When ready to cook, fill a deep, wide pan with water to a depth of about 3 inches. Season with salt, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Adjust the heat to keep the water barely simmering. Using a spoon, place the partially frozen gnoccho into the water, sliding it off the spoon. Cook 6-10 at a time. When they float to the surface, cook them for about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel covered plate to drain for a minute, then place onto serving platter. Once all gnocchi are done and on the platter, pour the sage butter over the pasta and season with salt, pepper and a shower of Parmigiano-reggiano.




The gnocchi were well-received, which I was very happy about because they were quite a labor of love! I DEFINITELY recommend test-cooking a few gnocchi before getting into the whole batch; that way you have an idea of how hot the water should be, and how long to cook them. The first few I made fell apart in the pan, ether because the water was boiling too hard or because they weren’t formed well enough – or both. I started to panic and thought I would have to give up all together, until Miriam suggested freezing them. Since the dough was so soft and moist, freezing the gnocchi firmed them up they stayed more in tact when cooking. Thank goodness!

I had quite a bit of leftover gnocchi, and wasn’t quite sure how to reheat them. During some alcohol-influenced late night cooking on Halloween night, I decided to pan fry the gnocchi on a dry nonstick pan. That tasted magical. Or maybe I was just buzzed? Nope, pretty sure it was magical.

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

But the best use of the leftovers was the morning after Halloween when I incorporated some gnocchi into the egg mixture for my frittata. Usually I add ricotta to my frittatas, but since I didn’t have any actual ricotta the spinach gnocchi was the PERFECT substitution to my bacon-mushroom-pepper concoction. So perfect that I would consider making Gnocchi Verdi again just to have a batch around for morning frittatas. Though, I suppose I could just continue to make my own ricotta for that purpose!

Spicy Lamb & Sweet, Sweet Zinfandel

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I spotted a non-holiday recipe in the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit last week that made my mouth water: Lamb Patties with Nutty Garlic Sauce. First of all, I love anything with lamb, and especially on a pita. Secondly, I already had on hand nearly all of the ingredients in the recipe, making it the perfect quick weeknight meal for me and my new foodie friend, who shall be known as KJ from this point forth. Best of all, it was healthy and delicious!


Spiced Lamb Patties with Nutty Garlic Sauce (serves 4)

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup almond butter
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, dividedcabbage salad
  • tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • cooking spray
  • ½ small head of red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup thinly sliced English cucumber
  • radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 4 pita breads
  • Fresh mint for serving

To prepare nutty garlic sauce, chop garlic in a mini food processor. Add almond butter and 2 TB lemon juice and process to combine, then add 2 TB oil in a slow, steady stream while the motor is running. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine lamb, onion, parsley, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper and 1 TB oil. Mix with your hands, then form into small slider-sized patties. Heat a large non-stick pan over a medium-high flame and coat with cooking spray. Cook patties for 4 minutes per side, then transfer a wire-rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet (or a paper-towel covered plate) to drain excess oil; let rest for 5 minutes.

lamb meatballs

Meanwhile, combine cabbage, cucumber, radish, feta, 2 TB lemon juice, paprika, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add 1 TB oil then toss to combine.

Serve lamb patties on pita bread, then top with cabbage salad, sauce and fresh mint.


At my request, KJ brought over a bottle of Zin – specifically the 2012 Ridge Ponzo Zinfandel. I tasted this wine only a few days earlier when we visited the Ridge tasting room in Lytton Springs, so although it’s a relatively young wine I was sure that it is drinking well now. Not only did it taste delicious but it went perfectly with the spicy lamb dish. With flavors of blackberry and spiced vanilla on the nose, the palate highlighted notes of pomegranate and dark cherry, with a long, smooth finish. These elements provided the perfect fruity balance to the nuttiness of the meal, and complemented the sweetness of the cabbage salad.

St. Clair Brown Winery

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I have been meaning to post about my favorite neighborhood spot, St. Clair Brown Winery, for a long time. To be honest, I think I was putting it off because I’m afraid of the place getting over-crowded. But I can’t hold back my love any longer; people must know about this local winery and test kitchen. If you’re anything like me, you will join the membership after your second or third visit – which will most likely be in the span of one week.

My first visit to St. Clair Brown took place before I even moved to Downtown Napa. I was taking measurements at my now apartment with Whitey, and we ventured three blocks down the street for some lunch and wine. I had heard about St Clair Brown from another friend a few days prior, so I was more than excited when I realized it was a mere five minute walk from my apartment. We feasted on a delicious lunch of farro salad, hummus, Burrata with strawberries, and of course, Rosé. I was hooked.


Owners Laina Brown and Elaine St. Clair have built an extensive garden in front of the property, leading back to a patio adorned with umbrellas and strings of small lights, then opens up into the greenhouse-like kitchen with windows for walls. The inviting space can seat up to 30 on the patio, and another 8 or so inside. On a hot day the umbrellas are a welcome accessory, but at sunset the sky fills with pink clouds and makes a beautiful backdrop to the twinkling lights. But it’s the garden that plays the biggest role in this winery and test kitchen.

photo 2


The garden features seasonal and year-round greens, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. The majority of the menu is vegetarian and is sourced from the garden, and you can even pick which greens are used in your order, such as the farro salad – one of my favorite items on the menu (for obvious reasons). The rest of the menu components are purchased from local purveyors and combined with items from the garden to give it a true farm-to-fork feeling.


farro salad

I’ve ordered the hummus nearly every time that I’ve visited, and I now have a hard time eating any other kind of hummus. They blend peanuts into it to give it a nutty flavor, and top it with a layer of lemon-infused olive oil, then serve it with a Model Bakery sliced baguette. Chef Norma Whitt has also created a seasonal Burrata dish (so far I’ve seen it served with fresh strawberries, tomatoes, or orange and fennel), as well as a pork rillette with apricot chutney. Naturally, the menu features seasonal produce, so I have been enjoying bowls of their gazpacho the past few weeks but I am excited to see the debut of autumnal dishes in the coming month.


And let’s not forget about the most important part of St. Clair Brown: the wines. Winemaker Elaine St. Clair has strong relationships with several independent growers throughout the valley, so she is able to source small, high-quality vineyard lots from Oak Knoll, Coombsville and other areas of Napa Valley. The portfolio includes Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rosé, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a sweet Muscat. My favorites are the Rosé (which is currently sold out), the Syrah and the Chardonnay. Admitedly, I wasn’t a fan of the Chardonnay when I first tasted it but it’s since grown on me and become one of my go-to selections.

The wine and food at St. Clair Brown is unique and delicious, but it’s the friendly staff that really makes the experience special. They make you feel like you are in your backyard, enjoying a home cooked meal with a glass of your favorite wine. And now that I am a club member, I can take advantage of my perks (free glass of wine, 10% discount on all menu items) every time I visit, and especially on Tuesday’s Locals Night when all glasses of wine are half off.

Sunset at St Clair Brown

This space is a preview of what is to come. Elaine and Laina are working to open a full service restaurant, brewery and winery across the street in their warehouse space in the next couple of years. In the meantime, if you find yourself in the area and you’re looking for a lunch-wine tasting combo, this is your spot. It won’t break the bank, it’s down to earth with healthy, fresh food that will fill you up without giving you that after-lunch wine-induced sleepiness. And if you’re a local, be sure to check them out on Tuesday night. You will probably see me there.


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