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Literary Foodies & Kofta B’siniyah

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My new Napa friend, who shall be known as Betty from this point forth, invited me to join her book club last week. Not just any book club; a cookbook club called Literary Foodies! Every month Betty and her friends pick a cookbook from which everyone will make a dish and bring to a potluck – along with some wine, of course. This past week, Betty hosted a dinner centered around Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, a book that celebrates the dishes and culture of their home city, and offers up a variety of recipes for vegetable, seafood, and meat dishes (unlike Ottolenghi’s other vegetable-only book that I own, Plenty – also excellent).

Betty's seafood stew

Betty’s seafood stew

Betty made a tasty shellfish and tomato stew, which she prepared days in advance, adding the seafood just before dinner. She also whipped up wheat berries with swiss chard, and a fresh heirloom tomato salad. Another girl made a chimichurri-inspired roasted eggplant dip, while two other ladies brought roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs and crispy tomato and onion couscous. For my dish, I selected Kofta B’siniyah – lamb meatballs – with my own tahini sauce. Not only were they super easy to make, but they were positively delicious!

Tahini Sauce (makes 1 1/2 cup)

  • 1 cup tahini (I love al wadi tahini and buy it by the six-pack)
  • juice of 2 small lemons
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3/4 cup water, or more

In a food processor fit with a steel blade, process tahini, lemon juice, salt and paprika. Add water in a slow steady steam until you reach desired consistency. It should be relatively thin, but still stick to a spoon.

Jerusalem’s Kofta B’siniyah (serves 6-10)

  • 14 oz ground lamb
  • 14 oz ground veal
  • 2/3 cup white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped, plus extra whole ones to toast and garnish
  • 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to serve
  • 1 large medium-hot red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp ground allspice
  • ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • safflower oil

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and mix with your hands. Form into long, torpedo-like balls and place onto a platter or baking pan. Arrange on a plate and chill, covered, until you are ready to cook them, for up to one day.

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Heat 1 TB safflower oil in a nonstick pan over a medium-high flame. Add the meatballs, and cook in batches for about six minutes, turning every 90 seconds so all sides are browned. Scrape excess meat from pan before cooking next batch, and add more oil as needed. Your meatballs should be medium, but you can finish them in the oven at 400 degrees for a couple minutes if you want them well-done (mine were cooked plenty just on the stovetop).

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Spread tahini sauce on a serving dish, and top with toasted pine nuts, a sprinkle of smoked paprika, and chopped parsley. Arrange meatballs and drizzle with more tahini sauce. Serve the remaining tahini sauce on the side, along with toasted pita bread.

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The meatballs are so yummy, and you can taste every single ingredient – especially the baking spices. I thought they would be overpowering, but they add a layer of subtle sweetness that brings harmony to every bite.

I am hoping to host the next Literary Foodies meeting at my apartment! Any cookbook suggestions? I’m thinking The Canal House

Sunday Sauce and First Time Canning

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Last week my friend posted a photo of some tomatoes that she had roasted, inspired by Alice Waters, and in turn inspired me to make my own batch of roasted tomato sauce this past weekend. After reading about some methods that other food bloggers had practiced, I decided to keep the tomatoes whole, the temperature low, and the roasting time long. The rest of it would be up to the quality of the tomatoes!

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On Saturday I picked up four pounds of heirloom and shady lady tomatoes from the Napa Farmers Market. I also had some vine ripened tomatoes from TJ’s, as well as some yellow cherries. Then I got some Ball Jars – and a bunch of other fantastic kitchen stuff – from Shackford’s, my newest Napa obsession. Think Sur La Table meets Ace’s Hardware, but with a warm mom-and-pop feel and small business vibe (the girl who rang me up hand wrote the bill and used an accounting calculator). And finally, after some quick Googling, I figured out how to can the proper way when making an acidic sauce. Then Sunday came, and I got to work first thing in the morning.

Roasted Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil (makes 9 cups, or three 24-oz jars)heirlooms

  • 4 lbs of tomatoes (use one variety, or combine several)
  • 2 heads of garlic, peeled
  • 20-30 fresh basil leaves
  • 3-4 cups olive oil
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper

If canning or preserving infused olive oil, you will need:

  • 3 mason jars fitted with a sealing lid
  • A large pot (at least 3 quarts)
  • sturdy tongs
  • a clean dish towel
  • a measuring cup with a spout
  • a sieve or fine strainer

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Remove the cores from all the larger tomatoes – cherries can stay as they are. In two deep 9×13 baking dishes, arrange tomatoes core side down, then tuck in basil and garlic between the tomatoes. Liberally add salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes if you want to heat it up a bit. Pour olive oil all over the tomatoes, so that it comes up the larger tomatoes about 1/4 of the way. Submerge the basil into the oil so that it doesn’t burn. Place in the oven and cook for 6 hours.

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Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Peel off the skins of the tomatoes and discard; they should come off pretty easy with just a tug. Place peeled tomatoes in a large mixing bowl, then stir to break down the tomatoes and combine into a sauce-like substance. I reserved a jar of my sauce to eat right away, and preserved the two other jars.

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I also reserved the oil that the tomatoes roasted in, and plan to use it on almost everything! Once the oil cools, set a strainer over a spouted measuring cup and pour the oil into it. The oil will rise to the top of the measuring cup, leaving the tomato juice substance on the bottom. Slowly pour the oil into the bottle, leaving the juice in the cup then discarding. Repeat until all the oil is transferred to the bottle.

As for the canning, it’s really pretty easy but it’s important to follow steps to insure you won’t be poisoning yourself and contracting botulism! When the tomatoes have about 45 minutes left to roast, fill a large pot with water (enough to cover the jars by two inches) and set to boil. In a smaller sauce pan, boil water to sterilize the lids and rings for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them rest in the water until use. Put a clean towel on the bottom of the larger pot to protect the glass from breaking. Once boiling, carefully use tongs to add the jars, filling them with water as you slowly lower them into the pot. The towel will be moving around, but just use the jar to steady it on the bottom of the pan. Boil for ten minutes, then remove the jars with the tongs and set on a clean towel to dry. Keep the water in the pot, as you will use it later to seal the jars.

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Add sauce to the sterilized jars and tightly seal. Bring the large pot of water back to a boil, and place filled jars into the pot, with two inches of water above the lids, boiling for 5-10 minutes. Remove from pot and set on a dry towel to cool. If sealed properly, the lids will not flex up and down when the center is pressed. Try to lift lids off with your fingertips. If the lid cannot be lifted off, the lid has a good seal. If a lid does not seal within 24 hours, the product can be immediately reprocessed or refrigerated. Store in a cool, dry, dark place up to 1 year – if you can wait that long!

tomato sauce

I used my reserved sauce to put over some spaghetti for myself and a friend. I topped it with some extra sauce, chopped fresh basil, shaved Grana Padano Parmesan cheese, and extra red pepper flakes. Delicious! We both had seconds. I think this sauce would also go great on toasted baguette slices, on a pizza, over grilled Italian sausage, or any other way you like it. I can’t wait to open up another jar in the next couple of months. And I think I’ll try salsa next. Stay tuned!

Classy Tacos

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Post-earthquake drama, my apartment is cleaned up and the photos are back on the walls; it’s finally starting to feel normal again! And thanks to my Mema and Panini Girl, I have some new (used) plates, wine glasses and platters to fill my previously empty cabinets. I celebrated by hosting a couple of girlfriends over for fancy tacos last night. I tweaked a previous recipe for corn salad, made some avocado crema, and cooked up some chorizo – delicious!

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Chorizo Tacos (makes 6-8 tacos)

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lb chorizo sausage, casings removed
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced green chili (canned)

In a large skillet, heat 1 tsp olive oil. Add onions and shallots and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add chorizo and break up with a wooden spoon; sauté until beginning to brown. Add green chilies, and continue to sauté until sausage begins to crisp – about 10 minutes.

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Avocado Crema

  • 1 large ripe avocado
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 TB half & half
  • juice from 1 medium lime
  • 1 tsp agave
  • 1 tsp Sriracha chili sauce, available in most larger grocers in the Asian section.
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a large food processor fit with a steel blade, process avocado and Greek yogurt until smooth – about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and process for another 2 minutes, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula, until creamy. Transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate until use. It will last about 3 days in the fridge and can also be used as a dressing for salad!

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Spicy Corn Salad

  • 1 ear white corn
  • 1 ear yellow corn
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced green chili (canned)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TB chopped cilantro

Boil a large pot of water, then add corn and cook for 4 minutes. Let cool, then remove kernels from the ear and add to a medium mixing bowl with all other ingredients. Combine, then taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. This can be made one day in advance and refrigerated until use.

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Serve with:

  • corn tortillas, toasted on the stove
  • shaved manchego
  • diced avocado
  • sliced chili pepper
  • salsa verde
  • sliced red cabbage
  • lime wedges
  • cilantro, finely chopped
  • cherry tomatoes, halved


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These tacos are refined, yet spicy and hearty. I love the varying textures, and the kick from the corn salad. Also – shaved Manchego on tacos is life changing. I will never go back to shredded Mexican blend. And the leftovers made for a great salad the next day!


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As many of you have heard by now, there was a 6.1 earthquake that rocked Napa County this past Sunday morning at 3:30am. Lucky for me (and not so lucky for her), Annie P. was staying with me at my apartment in Napa that night, and we woke up from the noise and violent tremors clutching each other, screaming and cursing. We couldn’t even hear the sound of all my dishes and glassware breaking, or my dresser falling to the floor next to my bed – just the sound of my entire building shaking. It was the most terrifying experience I have ever had, and will probably be one of the most memorable moments of my lifetime.

After 20 seconds of shaking, Annie P. and I were both able to find our phones and a flashlight relatively quickly. Then she heard the sound of water pouring out from somewhere. I opened my bedroom door to this sight:


This was actually taken in the daytime, once I could get proper photos.


As the tears came, I heard one of my neighbors yelling outside, “is everyone okay?”. I told her “we’re not hurt, but my apartment is a disaster.” Then my upstairs neighbor came out of his apartment, and told me that his water heater had broke and he needed to turn the water off. So that’s where the leaking was coming from. Water came into my kitchen and mixed with the spilled wine, seeping into the back of my bedroom and bathroom. As Annie P. and I worked quickly to move things from the floor and protect them from water, my neighbors finally found a way to turn the water off.

After surveying the damage in the dark, we realized there was nothing we could do until daylight, so we gathered with my neighbors outside. First we were all attempting to call our parents and loved ones, but Annie P. had the only working phone so she graciously let us use hers. One of my neighbors got out some water for us to drink, and turned on his car radio so we could listen to the coverage. Before we knew it, 5:30am rolled around and a 3.6 aftershock hit, which didn’t do any more damage but it certainly scared the sh*t out of us. The sky began to lighten, and Annie P. and I decided to sleep for a few hours before waking up to search for coffee and clean what we could. I do not know what I would have done without her. I was paralyzed.

Damage at Carpe Diem, a downtown restaurant

Damage at Carpe Diem, a downtown restaurant

Trying to be a sober driver, this guy left his car parked downtown on Saturday night. It's actually a rental car.

Trying to be a sober driver, this guy left his car parked downtown on Saturday night. It’s actually a rental car.

As news broke of other damaged properties and wineries, I realized a) there was a lot worse damage than my own, and b) how lucky everyone was that the earthquake occurred at 3:30am so that nobody was in any of the properties with severe destruction. Unbelievably, the winery I work for wasn’t damaged at all – not a broken bottle or barrel in sight. But Napa Valley Register estimates 1 billion dollars worth of damage to Napa County, with much of it coming from the wine industry, whether in barrels, tanks, bottles or structures. Fortunately for some, harvest is nearly upon us so a lot of the wine had already been bottled and moved to other facilities.

One of my favorite wineries, Trefethen, was one of the wineries that had very little wine inside their winemaking facility. But they had structural damage that split parts of the building, making it impossible to enter. They are hopeful – as am I – that they will be able to reconstruct the property without losing too much of the original structure. Silver Oak’s library cellar was basically a pile of wine bottles, some broken and some in tact, but nonetheless shook up. I keep receiving emails from wineries with updates on their damage, but every email starts with how grateful they are for the fact that nobody was hurt. I am still amazed by this, and although the damage to my “stuff” has certainly been an inconvenience, I understand how lucky I am to come out unscathed.

It turns out I only lost about 12 bottles out of 120+, half of which are unfortunately irreplaceable. But I have a load of survivor bottles, and every time I open one I will remember what my new home and I went through, and how we came together, and survived.


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As you may have heard, “amazeballs” was recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, along with “hangry”, “douchebagery” and my personal favorite, “totes”. I’ve been using the word amazeballs since I was a wee sorority girl, so I’m all for this addition of popular slang; especially when I can use such a word to describe a meal!

Last week Panini Girl posted a recipe for eggplant meatballs that she picked up from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, which I will soon be getting a copy of. Panini Girl knows her stuff when it comes to Italian food, and as she writes in her post, she is very picky about meatballs. So I knew that if she liked it as much as she said she did, then the recipe had to be attempted by yours truly! And when I saw some beautiful, huge eggplants at the Sonoma Farmer’s market on Tuesday, I knew the cooking Gods were telling me something.


Beautiful eggplant from the Sonoma Farmers Market

Setting up for my first dinner party!

Setting up for my first dinner party!

This past Friday presented the perfect opportunity when I hosted my very first Napa dinner party. In attendance were two coworkers, a vegetarian friend and her meat-eating boyfriend, and my upstairs neighbor. I knew it was a risky move to make something I had never made before that also required quite a bit of prep, but I was determined! I doubled the recipe because there were six of us, and I also made some farro, green beans, and a Greek salad. Needless to say, there was a bit too much food. But better to overserve than underserve!

Eggplant Meatballs aka Amazeballs (serves 8-10)

  • 2 large purple, shiny eggplants
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 x 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn, plus 2 TB fresh minced basil
  • 5 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 4 oz shredded Parmesan
  • 2 TB minced parsley
  • 1 cup flour for coating, or more as needed
  • vegetable oil, for frying

Preheat the oven to 350. Poke the eggplants all over with a fork, then place on a rimmed baking sheet and cook for one 60-75 minutes, or until inside is completely tender. Let cool for a few minutes.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it's ready.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, in a large pot (big enough to fit tomato sauce and all the meatballs) heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add 3 cloves of garlic and crush with a wooden spoon, then sauté for about two minutes. Add onion and red pepper flakes and sauté for another two minutes, until onions begin to soften. Add tomatoes and their juice, salt and Italian seasoning and heat until the sauce begins to bubble. Then lower heat to medium-low and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

tomato sauce

Peel eggplant and discard skins. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix eggplant, bread crumbs, eggs, the rest of the garlic (minced), Parmesan, parsley, minced basil, salt and pepper. Form the mixture into golfball-sized balls and coat each in a thin layer of flour, then set onto a platter covered with wax paper.

Pour oil into a large, cast-iron skillet so that it’s about 1 inch deep. Heat over a medium-high flame, then test heat by adding a small piece of the eggplant mixture. If it sizzles, then the oil is hot enough. Using tongs, add half of the eggplant balls into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until browned and crispy. Then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or plate lined with paper towel, and cook the next batch of eggplant balls.


fried amazeballs

Warm sauce over a medium flame, and add torn basil leaves. If too thick, add a bit of water and continue to cook. Once the sauce has reached a desired consistency, add the meatballs and cook for about 10 minutes over a medium-low flame. Transfer to a large serving bowl and serve with a side of farro, pasta, or toasty bread – or just eat as is!

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These eggplant balls were a HUGE hit, even with the carnivores! The consistency was perfect, and they actually tasted a little bit like meat. They were very hearty and flavorful, and were just as good the next day. We had a wide selection of wine at the meal because several of us had brought bottles of mostly full Cabernet that were left over from various work tastings (one of the many industry perks). I also served a Seghesio Barbera that one of my coworkers brought, which paired nicely with the Italian flavors in the amazeballs.

Special thanks to Panini Girl for sharing this recipe with her readers, and an even bigger thanks to my friends who joined me for my first Napa Dinner Party! There will be many more to come :)

Tuesdays with Kelsey

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Tuesday is officially my favorite day of the week. St. Clair Brown, a new wine kitchen that is just a five minute walk away, hosts a Locals Night on Tuesdays where they offer half off all glasses of wine. And if you’re a member – like me – then you get an additional 10% off everything you order, plus one FREE glass of wine! My bill last Tuesday was only $20 for three glasses of wine and an order of hummus, including an on-the-house sampling of some reds that I had not yet tried. It was actually my third time there in a week… obsessed much? Yes.

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This Tuesday I ventured out of my neighborhood and took a short drive to Sonoma Plaza with my new coworker, who shall be known as Kitty from this point forth. On Tuesdays the town of Sonoma hosts a farmer’s market in the historical plaza on the square, which is also the only city park in California to allow open containers until dusk. Add some live music and you have the perfect al fresco dinner!



Kitty and I perused some of the farm stands before setting up blanket in the park. I was in awe of the colorful displays of bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and enormous eggplant! After picking up a bounty of fresh produce (along with the yellow tomatoes and squash that Kitty gave me from her garden), we checked out some of the hot food stands. We didn’t get too far before stopping at a Thai stand to pick up some tofu pad thai and fresh tofu spring rolls. The spring rolls were wrapped in Chinese pancakes (the kind you get with moo shu pork), which I loved! The pad thai could have been a little spicier, but I loved the earthy components from the roasted peppers and baked tofu.

pad thai


Next up: coconut lemongrass soup from Chai’s Gourmet. The soup was savory yet sweet, and not too creamy – with big chunks of kabocha squash. Kitty spotted Harvey’s Mini Donut Truck and put an order in for key lime donuts: mini donut holes with sweet key lime glaze and graham cracker crumbs. I had four! And I don’t even like donuts!

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We enjoyed all of these delicious bites with a bottle of 2012 Archery Summit Premier Cuvée Pinot Noir, a wine from the collection at my new company (and coincidentally, a favorite winery of mine). The Pinot is incredibly versatile, and actually paired pretty well with the pad thai and spring rolls. As for the donuts, I would have paired those with a creamy Chardonnay. They also had a maple bacon donut, which would go perfectly with Syrah! I see a donut-wine-pairing post in my future…

Tomato and Basil Forever

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It’s been a whirlwind week for me! Between packing up my apartment in San Francisco, moving into my new apartment in Napa, unpacking, furniture shopping, more unpacking, and exploring my new neighborhood, I barely had time to go grocery shopping until yesterday. Though, I did have a chance on Saturday to pick up some beautiful produce at the Napa Farmer’s Market: heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumber, basil, and lemons. These simple ingredients were the perfect inspiration for my first two home cooked meals in my new apartment!

Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, Basil Salad

  • 2-3 ripe heirloom tomatoes in various colors, sliced
  • 1/2 lemon cucumber, sliced
  • 3 oz fresh Burrata (I recommend Di Stefano)
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper


Arrange the tomato and cucumber slices on a platter, alternating between colors. Top with Burrata and basil, then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Seared Scallops with Tomato Water, Lemon and Basil

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • kosher salt
  • 6 sea scallops
  • 1 TB safflower oil, or vegetable oil
  • 3 basil leaves, torn
  • squeeze of half a lemon


Start by making the tomato water. Place tomatoes in a small colander or mesh sieve over a bowl and salt generously. Let sit for 45 minutes, stirring and mashing occasionally. Then heat a nonstick pan over a medium-high flame. Once hot, add oil and heat for about a minute. Carefully add scallops and cook for 2 minutes, then flip and cook for another minute and a half. Transfer to a plate with a paper towel to get rid of excess oil, then place into a shallow bowl. Pour tomato water into the bowl, and top with basil and a squeeze of lemon. This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit, based on the ingredients I had on hand. I also didn’t have a sieve so I used a colander, which allowed more tomato seeds to seep through to the bowl – I didn’t mind, but some people may not like the texture.

Yellow and Red Tomatoes with Burrata and Farro

  • 1/3 cup cooked farro
  • 3-4 small yellow and red tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 oz Burrata
  • 4 basil leaves, julienned
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Prepare farro as directed. Place farro on a plate, then top with tomatoes, Burrata, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper.


Grilled Lemon Basil Chicken

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 TB Gewürztraminer vinegar, or any good white wine vinegar
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • olive oil spray

In a small bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients. Pour marinade over chicken and seal in an air-tight bag or container, then refrigerate overnight. When ready to cook, remove chicken from container and drip off excess marinade. Heat a gas grill or grill pan over a medium-high flame and spray generously with olive oil. Cook chicken for 5-6 minutes on each side, then check for doneness by slicing into the thickest part. If still pink, continue to cook for a few more minutes. Serve alongside tomatoes with Burrata and farro.

All of these dishes are fresh and light, and use many of the same ingredients. So as long as you don’t get sick of tomato, basil and Burrata (who would??), these easy meals are delicious, relatively inexpensive options when cooking for one. I suggest pairing with a dry Rose, Chenin Blanc, or my favorite summer cocktail: Campari and soda!


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