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Fresh Leftover Pizza

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It’s beginning to be my favorite food time of the year, filled with persimmons, pomegranate, squash and apples. I officially welcomed fall when I made a big pot of chili last Sunday, despite the fact that it was a hot Indian summer night (and I followed up my two bowls of chili with a walk to a gelato shop). Quite fittingly, today was cold and rainy and I said goodbye to summer by finishing the last of my home-canned heirloom tomato sauce. I also had to get rid of some hot and sweet peppers that had been in my fridge for a while, and I remembered that I had some mozzarella cheese leftover from when I made lasagna. So of course, it had to be a pizza night.


Saucy Pizza with Hot Peppers and Sausage 

  • 1 pizza crustpeppers
  • 1 cup homemade tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 1/3 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4-5 small peppers, sweet and spicy
  • 2 TB shaved parmesan
  • dried oregano
  • fresh basil

My neighbor (who shall be known as Jimmy from this point forth) introduced me to TJ’s par-baked organic pizza crusts, which are an okay substitution for my sorely missed Giorgio’s rolled-out doughs. They come with two per package, and can be found in the freezer-section of TJ’s near the other pizzas. These are perfect for a night when you just need to throw some leftovers on a pizza, which is exactly what I did!

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and place a baking sheet in the oven to get hot. Meanwhile, brown sausage in a nonstick skillet for about 8 minutes. Drain the oil, wipe out the pan with a paper towel, then coat with a thin layer of cooking spray. Add onions and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, then add peppers and continue to sauté over a medium flame for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.



Remove baking pan from oven and cover with parchment paper, then place dough on top of paper. Top pizza dough with tomato sauce, then mozzarella and Gruyère. Add onions and peppers, then sausage, and top with shaved parmesan and a sprinkle of dried oregano. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove and let cool for 3-5 minutes before cutting. Top with fresh basil and enjoy!



Between the sausage and the hot peppers, this pizza was pretty damn spicy! It called for a fruity yet powerful Zinfandel, like the 2011 Seghesio Old Vine or the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs – both from vines that are 90-100 years old in Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. These wines exhibit red fruit with spicy pepper and sweet, firm tannins, and stand up well to spicy, Italian food.


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Every time I hear the word “jambalaya” I think of Newman and the Soup Nazi and I giggle a little. So when Miriam called me at work last week to tell me that she was craving Jambalaya, I suggested we whip up a batch at my place to kick off the weekend – after responding with the Newman voice, of course. So Miriam came over on Friday and we got to cooking a big pot of Jambalaya, influenced by a campsite recipe I found on It’s actually a very easy dish to make, provided that you have a large pot and someone to help you with prep.


One pot Jambalaya


Jambalaya (serves 6)

Mema's salt-free Cajun seasoning - this made the dish!

Mema’s salt-free Cajun seasoning – this made the dish!1  1  1  

  • 2 TB vegetable oil
  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 sweet red peppers (or 1 red bell pepper), chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, some halved, some whole
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 2 TB Creole seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¾ pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 2 TB parsley, finely chopped

In a large, deep skillet, heat vegetable oil over a medium-high flame. Add chicken and andouille, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add onion, peppers, celery and garlic and continue to sauté until vegetables are softened. Add tomato paste and stir for two minutes.

Miriam as a stellar sous chef.

Miriam as a stellar sous chef.


Deglaze the pan with the wine, scrapping up the browned bits on the bottom. Add the tomatoes; we improvised here and used some whole Sun Gold tomatoes and small heirlooms chopped into eighths.

Add rice, Cajun seasoning, and bay leaves and stir to combine. I used my Mema’s salt-free homemade Cajun seasoning that she gave me last year. You can also buy Cajun seasoning at most large grocery stores.

Rice, cajun seasoning and bay leaves.

Rice, cajun seasoning and bay leaves.

Using wine to deglaze the pan.

Using wine to deglaze the pan.

Finally, add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes, or until rice has absorbed almost all the liquid. Add the shrimp and cover the pot, cooking for 7-8 minutes or until shrimp are pink. Serve in shallow bowls and top with parsley.


IMG_9258My friend and colleague – who shall be known as Coco from this point forth – brought a Syrah from a winemaking friend in Paso Robles, while Kitty shared a 2011 Morrito Pinot Noir from Chamisal Vineyards in Edna Valley. Both wines paired excellently with the spicy, smokey Jambalaya, but I preferred the Pinot Noir because it added some lightness to the meal. If you’re in the mood for white, this dish would also pair well with a Viognier or Albarino – something light and crisp to combat the heat.

We had a lot of leftovers to spread around. I ate mine for breakfast the next day with a fried egg on top. Yum!

Guilt-Free Full Flavor Lasagna

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I looooooove pasta. So. Much. But I know it’s not something I can eat all the time, so I love finding tasty, healthy substitutes. Which is why I was thrilled when I stumbled upon Skinnytaste’s Zucchini Lasagna! I love this recipe because it makes use of my mandoline, it calls for beef (which you rarely see in “skinny” recipes), and it’s way easier than most lasagnas. And best of all, it has great flavor. The original recipe made 8 servings, but since I was just cooking for myself I halved it, and I also added some sweet Italian peppers and extra seasoning.

photo 4

Zucchini Lasagna (serves 4)

  • 1/2 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 sweet Italian peppers (or 1/2 red bell pepper), diced
  • 1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 basil leaves, julienned
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 large zucchini
  • cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 TB grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup shredded low moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese

Heat a large, deep pan fit with a lid over a medium-high flame. Add ground beef and cook until browned, about 7 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside, then wipe down the pan with a paper towel.

Heat olive oil in the same pan, then add onions and pepper and sauté until soft, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and saute for another minute. Then add beef, crushed tomatoes and basil and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid then continue to simmer for 10 more minutes.

photo 1

Meanwhile, slice zucchini lengthwise with a mandoline. The pieces should be about 1/8 inch thick and you should have 12-15 slices when done. Lay on top of a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 15 minutes, then pat dry with a paper towel. While you wait, mix ricotta, parmesan, half of the egg, and Italian seasoning in a small bowl.

Heat a grill pan over a medium-high flame and coat with cooking spray. Grill zucchini slices in batches, for 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.

photo 2

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In an 8×8 pyrex baking dish, spread half of the beef mixture over the bottom. Top with slices of zucchini, then spread a layer of the ricotta mixture on top and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella. Add another layer of zucchini slices, then the rest of the beef, ricotta, and mozzarella.

Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove cover and cook for another 20 minutes, broiling for the last 5 minutes to brown the cheese. Let cook for 10 minutes before slicing.

photo 3

This guilt-free lasagna totally satisfied my cure for pasta, but didn’t leave me feeling too stuffed. The ricotta blend is surprisingly light, and the zucchini actually has a similar texture to pasta when grilled and baked. I was so excited to have leftovers for lunch for the next two days! And I will definitely be making the full portion of this for my next Italian dinner party.

Grilled Swordfish

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My good friend and former coworker, who shall be known as Blondie from this point forth, is taking her WSET test this week and she’s been a little stressed with studying and hasn’t had any time to make a meal. So I happily offered to visit her house in Vallejo and cook dinner for her and her boyfriend, who will be known as Tarzan from this point forth. Blondie is a vegetarian (not by choice) and a little picky when it comes to fish, but I took a risk and picked up some fresh swordfish from Osprey Seafood. Blondie had never tasted swordfish before, but Tarzan agreed with me that she would probably like it. Turns out, “like” is a bit of an understatement. Upon her first bite, she exclaimed “THIS EXISTED AND I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW IT??” She then proceeded to talk about how much she loved the swordfish for the next ten minutes. Success!

photo 2

Grilled Swordfish 

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • fresh swordfish steaks (1 piece per person)

In a small bowl, whisk together first 6 ingredients. Marinate swordfish and refrigerate for 2 hours before cooking. Preheat outdoor grill for medium heat. Grill for 5 minutes on each side, basting with excess marinade.

long beans

I also made a kale salad and sautéed some long beans with garlic and sliced sweet Italian peppers (both from the Napa Farmer’s Market), for about 10 minutes over a medium flame in a cast-iron pan. The crunchy, sweet beans paired perfectly with the savory, tender swordfish steaks. After a full day of “studying” (aka tasting wine), Blondie requested that there by no wine and she picked up a six-pack of Hell or High Watermelon to enjoy with our delicious meal – our favorite beer!

My First Press

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I recently reconnected with an old San Francisco friend (who shall be known as Earthwind from this point forth), who relocated to Napa last year. His parents and grandparents both grew up in Napa, and his paternal grandfather was one of the city’s first planners. Earthwind’s father, Bruce, also happens to be a home winemaker, and I was fortunate enough to join the family for the pressing of the grapes this past weekend!

photo 3

Time to get our hands dirty!

Pressing is only one small part of making wine; the process where juice is extracted from grapes. This can be done with the aid of a mechanical wine press, by hand, or even by feet in the old days. Today most wineries send the grapes through a crusher/destemmer, which removes the individual grape berries from the stems and breaks the skins, releasing some juice, prior to being pressed. Bruce had filled six industrial garbage cans (which he refers to a primary fermentation vessels) with crushed Merlot grapes, grown in a small vineyard between Oak Knoll District and Stag’s Leap District. This amount of grapes produces about 1 ¼ barrel, or 36 cases of Dundee’s Cellar Merlot, named after Earthwind’s childhood dog.

This is a standard basket press.

This is a standard basket press.

Bruce uses a basket press to hand-press the grapes. You fill the basket up to the top with the grapes, using your fists to press down as you go to make more room. The basket is set on top of a metal plate with a spout, lined up to pour into a rubber container. On top of the basket is a crank, which is supported by wooden blocks. As you crank and the grapes get pressed, the juice drips off into the container. You then transfer the juice into another bucket with a strainer over it to catch any extra skins or stems. Then it is finally transferred to the barrel with a funnel where it goes through the aging process.

Filling the basket with grapes.

Filling the basket with grapes.

Pressing down the grapes to make room for more.

Pressing down the grapes to make room for more.

Transferring the juice to the barrel.

Transferring the juice to the barrel.

Meanwhile, the pressed grapes need to be emptied from the basket and disposed of (or, you can make grappa). The basket is built to split in half, with bindings on the outside, so that you can just remove the bindings and take out the “grape cake.”  All the skin residue needs to be removed before putting in the next batch of grapes, and you repeat the cycle until all of the grapes are pressed. After the whole process is done, you wash and scrub all of the containers and basket pieces to decontaminate them from any wine residue so they can be used again next year.

The grape cake!

The grape cake!

More grape cake pieces.

More grape cake pieces.

The hand cranking itself is pretty labor-intensive, and requires several people: one or two to hold the basket in place (carefully so you don’t get pinched), and another one or two to pull the crank back and forth until it clicks. I first tried cranking on my own, which was a bit of a core workout! The next couple times I did it was with a partner, which is much easier and faster.

My first try at pressing

My first try at pressing with Earthwind’s brother

Also on hand were Earthwind’s brother, his brother’s girlfriend, a 6’11” coworker, and a neighbor from across the street. We all tasted the juice as it poured out of the basket, and it was pretty good! I noted some flavors of raspberry on the nose, and red plum on the palate. I can’t wait to taste the final 2013 vintage after it’s bottled in a year, and I’ll gladly go back to help with the final process.

Tasting the juice

Tasting the juice

The company was great, and I had so much fun learning about pressing and getting my hands red. My “payment” for the day’s work was a taco lunch and two bottles of the 2012 Dundee’s Cellar. I’ll gladly work for food and wine any day.

Spicy Rice Noodles with Shrimp

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This week I received an email from Epicurious highlighting an Asian rice noodle dish with fresh, julienned veggies. I decided to test the recipe out on my pescetarian friend, with a few small changes. It was a big hit, and we finished the entire bowl of noodles while engrossed in ABC Thursday night television, i.e. Shondaland.

Rice Noodles with Shrimp (serves 2)

  • 4 TB tamari or soy sauce, divided
  • 4 TB rice vinegar, divided
  • 1 TB, plus 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1 TB honey
  • 1 tsp Sriracha
  • 1/2 lb uncooked, peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 1/2 cup peeled, seeded, julienned cucumber
  • 1/2 cup peeled, julienned carrots
  • 1/2 cup julienned radishes
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • pinch of salt
  • 12 oz rice noodles*
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

*Rice noodles can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store. My favorite brand is Poolee Rice Stick Noodles.


In a small bowl, combine 2 TB tamari, 2 TB rice vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil, and white pepper. Add shrimp to marinade and refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour.

In another small bowl, combine 2 TB tamari, 1 TB rice vinegar, 1 TB sesame oil, honey and Sriracha. Set aside.

I used my julienne peeler to prepare the carrots, cucumber and radishes. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend making a purchase. It’s also great for zucchini noodles. OXO sells one for only $10 with a grip handle, but I prefer my stainless steel piece because it’s easier to clean.

bottle-shot-2013-Chenin-Blanc-ViognierCombine the vegetables in a large bowl, then add 1 TB of rice vinegar and a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and let sit for 15 minutes.

Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add rice noodles and cook for two minutes. Drain, then rinse with cold water to cool. Add noodles to vegetables, and toss in the tamari mixture.

Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick pan over medium-high flame. Add marinated shrimp and cook for two minutes on each side. Add shrimp to the bowl of noodles and top with cilantro. Serve cool or warm.

We enjoyed our meal with some Domain Serene “r” Rose, which provided as a sweet yet zesty balance to the spicy umami flavors in the noodles. This meal would also pair well with Chenin Blanc-Viognier from Pine Ridge, a vibrant and refreshing white blend that always makes a great companion to Asian food. It may be officially fall, but we’re still drinking summer wines here in Napa!

Literary Foodies & Kofta B’siniyah

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My new Napa friend, who shall be known as Miriam 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 Miriam 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, Miriam 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

Miriam 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.

photo 1

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).

photo 2

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.

photo 4

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

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