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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!

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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!

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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 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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