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My San Franfavorites

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This Wednesday, I’ll be packing up my apartment in San Francisco (including 150+ bottles of wine) and moving to the town of Napa. I could not be more excited! I’m going to be doing marketing for Crimson Wine Group, a company that owns and operates six luxury wine brands, including Pine Ridge, Seghesio, Archery Summit and Chamisal. It’s a great company with lots of opportunities for growth, and I am so happy to be a part of it.

Although it’s a little bittersweet leaving behind my beloved San Francisco, I know this is the right move for me. Everyone keeps asking me, “are you going to miss living in SF?” I’m not really going to miss the city as a whole, but there are certainly several things that I am sad to leave behind:

The farm stand on Geary and 4th. It has the cheapest, cleanest, freshest vegetables in the whole city and you can get a weeks worth of produce there for under $10.

B Star Bar. This is my favorite neighborhood restaurant. I could literally eat there four times a week and not get sick of it because the menu is so diverse. Some highlights are tea leaf salad, ochazuke, b sprouts, and miso cod.

The Kabuki. The best place to see a movie in San Francisco. Not only can you bring wine into the theatre with you (purchased from the bar, though I have been known to sneak in a bottle and some plastic glasses), but they also have a great selection of food and gourmet treats. They also play home to the SF International Film Festival every year.

Dim Sum. My favorite hangover cure… crispy shrimp balls, shanghai dumplings, pork buns, garlic noodles! I recently tried Golden River in the Richmond District and was in awe of how cheap it was, coupled with how friendly the service was. I also love Yank Sing, but it’s a bit expensive and always crowded.

The beach. My favorite beach in the city is Baker Beach, and there is a not-so-secret spot in Seacliff at the end of 25th Ave where you can park and walk down the hill to the ocean. Though, there are hardly enough days in the year with weather warm enough to enjoy the SF beaches!

The Ferry BuildingNot only is this one of the most beautiful buildings in Downtown San Francisco, but it has some great little eateries and specialty shops that are perfect for a lunch hour. I particularly love the spring rolls at Out The Door, and the cheese samples at Cowgirl Creamery. On Saturdays they have a great farmers market, and on Wednesdays there is a bevy of food stands outside serving up tasty lunches. My favorite is the ramen bowl from Hapa Ramen!

My amazing friends. I have made the most incredible group of friends in this city over the last seven years. College friends that have transplanted here, people from my old softball team, a group of wine lovers, several different groups of ex-coworkers, the Tuesday Haight Club alumni, and many other people that I am lucky to call my friends. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everyone, and set time aside to see each person, but I know that they will always be my friends no matter how much time or space we spend apart from each other. And I’ll only be an hour away, so I’m sure I’ll have a lot of visitors :)

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

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Last week I splurged and bought the $17.99 frozen Wild Argentinian Red Shrimp from Trader Joe’s. They don’t always carry them at my local Trader Joe’s, so I usually pick a bag up if I can spot them. I suppose it’s a high price tag for TJ’s, but a pound of frozen shrimp goes a long way when you’re cooking for one. I usually use 4 shrimp for one meal since they’re so big, or double it up if I plan on having leftovers. To defrost, place how ever many shrimp in a sealed ziploc bag and put in a large bowl of warm water for about 30 minutes, or until no longer frozen. Then cook and use in a salad, stir fry, as an entree, or in a pasta.

Last night I was in the mood for something tomatoey, so I decided to make Shrimp Fra Diavolo. In place of canned crush tomatoes, I picked up a pint of assorted cherry tomatoes at my local farm stand, along with some fresh basil. The rest of the ingredients were on hand, and I even got to use a mini bottle of Limoncello that I had been saving for some sort of Italian occasion!

tomatoes

Shrimp Fra Diavolo (serves 2)limoncello

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/2 lb jumbo shrimp (about 8), peeled and deveined
  • 6 oz dried linguine
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup Limoncello
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 10 basil leaves, julienned
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Parmesan, for serving

Set a medium-sized pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add linguine and cook for 8 minutes. Strain and run a bit of cold water over the pasta to keep from sticking. Set aside in strainer.

pasta

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high flame. Generously season shrimp with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, sear shrimp for two minutes on each side. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, then transfer shrimp to a plate.

shrimp

Add Limoncello and wine, then stir in tomatoes. Add lemon juice and Italian seasoning and sauté for 3 minutes. Crush the tomatoes using a slotted spoon, and cook for another 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper if needed.

fra diavolo

Add shrimp back into the pan and toss to coat with sauce, then add pasta and toss to combine. Top with basil and serve with grated parmesan.

photo-7

I enjoyed this meal with the white wine that I used to make the sauce, Navarro Vineyards 2012 Mendocino Chardonnay. It’s light and bright with subtle oak flavors and hints of citrus; very adaptable in regards to pairing with food. I was very pleased with this pick since I didn’t have a lot to choose from – most of my wines are packed up for my impending move to Napa… but that’s another story.

A Night to Remember at Zuni Cafe

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Everyone is always asking me, “What is your favorite restaurant in San Francisco?” You’d think that with the abundance of fine dining options in this city, this would be a hard question to answer. But for me it’s easy. Hands down, Zuni Café is my favorite SF restaurant and always will be. It was the location of my first dining experience in San Francisco when I came to interview for my first job nearly seven years ago. Zuni was also the location of my last meal on the eve of my knee surgery in 2010. And one time, I even powered through an entire meal at Zuni with my parents, while I was fighting a 24 hour stomach bug, which I claimed was from drinking bad wine.

The bar at Zuni features artisan cocktails, and the talented mixologists will make you anything that tickles your fancy.

The Zuni bar features artisan cocktails, and the talented mixologists will work to make you anything that tickles your tastebuds.

A few weeks ago when I was telling a friend that it was my favorite restaurant in the city, another friend chimed in and said, “oh my God, the chicken is out of this world amazing.” I coyly admitted that in the six times I had been to Zuni, I had never once ordered the famed chicken. I always wanted to, but then I would see something else on the menu that would catch my appetite and I wouldn’t want to wait the full hour to eat my entree. My friend was shocked, and I vowed to her that I would go to Zuni and order the chicken this month – and I made a reservation on the spot with my handy Opentable app.

The time finally came last night. My anticipation for this chicken was making me crazy, and I began to worry that I was building it up so much that I would end up being somehow disappointed. Wrong. Zuni did not disappoint. In fact, they exceeded my already sky-high expectations and it was without a doubt the best meal I have had at Zuni since living in seven years, and one of the top five best meals of my life.

I was joined at dinner by three close girl friends. One who had been to Zuni even more times than me, but had never had the chicken; one who had been to Zuni a couple times but had never had the chicken; and one who had never even been to Zuni at all but had heard about the chicken. We agreed in advance that we would share the chicken as our entree, and order several other small dishes to enjoy before the arrival of the bird. We selected a few oysters, the Piccolo fritto, Montauk scallop ceviche, ricotta gnocchi, and Caesar salad – served in that order. It was the perfect amount of food to share, and still leave us hungry for the star of the meal. A particular standout was the gnocchi, which melted in my mouth and had an unimaginable lightness to it.

Piccolo fritto: deep-fried Monterey Bay squid, onions and lemon with aioli

Piccolo fritto: deep-fried Monterey Bay squid, onions and lemon with aioli

Montauk scallop ceviche with avocado, radishes, Padron peppers, and tortilla chips

Montauk scallop ceviche with avocado, radishes, Padron peppers, and tortilla chips

Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, shallots and tarragon

Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, shallots and tarragon

The chicken was outstanding. Crispy and salty on the outside, and juicy and tender on the inside – just as it should be. It’s a huge portion and although they suggest sharing for two, you can easily share with four people. I tasted every part of the bird – leg, breast, and thigh – and each one was delicious and unique. The salad was light and flavorful, with generous portions of toasted crunchy bread and perfectly seasoned greens. It was so good, that I found myself urging our neighbors to order the chicken when I overheard them trying to make a decision. I’m not usually one to boast about chicken – let alone order it at restaurants – but it’s truly the best chicken of my lifetime!

The Chicken: roasted in the brick oven, over a warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dried currants, and pine nuts.

The Chicken: roasted in the brick oven, over a warm bread salad with scallions, garlic, dried currants, and pine nuts.

I also brought two bottles of wine in an effort to keep the bill at a reasonable amount (Zuni has an extensive and very expensive wine list, but only charges $20 per bottle for corkage): a Red Car 2012 Vivio Vineyard Roussanne and a JAQK Cellars 2006 Soldiers of Fortune Shiraz. The aged Shiraz – which is more like a Rhone-style Syrah – went perfectly with the chicken, highlighting the smokiness in the meat and the herbs in the bread salad.

A little Roussanne to start off the meal.

A little Roussanne to start off the meal.

The first vintage of JAQK Cellars Soldiers of Fortune Syrah - my favorite from the winery.

The first vintage of JAQK Cellars Soldiers of Fortune Syrah – my favorite from the winery.

We finished off the meal with some butterscotch pot de creme and Challerhocker cheese with nectarine and almonds, and I couldn’t resist ordering a glass of Fonseca NV Bin 27 Port. I only tried a bite of the cheese because I was too obsessed with the pot de creme to even put my fork down. I’m not huge on desserts, but I know when the time is right to engage my sweet tooth, and this was certainly it.

Butterscotch pot de creme with bourbon whipped cream and hazelnut praline.

Butterscotch pot de creme with bourbon whipped cream and hazelnut praline.

Challerhocker cheese with nectarine slices and dry roasted almonds.

Challerhocker cheese with nectarine slices and dry roasted almonds.

As you can see, the food was outstanding and presented with the utmost attention, while still maintaining a somewhat rustic feel. Our server was watchful (and pretty easy on the eyes), but not overly attentive. Our bill came in at just over $200, which was more affordable than I expected – probably thanks to the corkage.

Zuni is a MUST for any foodie, whether an SF local or visitor to this culinary city. And if you are a visitor and you’re only able to go once, do yourself a favor and order the chicken. It’s a shame I took so long to do it myself, but it was certainly worth the wait.

Perfect Veggie Stir Fry

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It’s funny how the smallest things inspire an entire meal. I had some leftover brown rice from Sunday’s meal: slow cooked chicken and salsa (it’s literally boneless chicken breast, a jar of yummy salsa, and chicken broth slow cooked for 8 hours on low) over rice. I thought, I could freeze the rice but it’s really not enough and I’ll probably forget about it. Then, stir fry came to mind.

I usually stick to a certain recipe when it comes to stir fry, and just substitute various vegetables and greens. It seems like a lot of ingredients, but most of them might be in your pantry. It also seems like a lot of prep, but once you’re cooking it only takes about 5 minutes to be enjoying a delicious meal!

tofu stir fry

Tofu Stir Fry with Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushrooms (serves 2-3)

  • 14 oz firm tofu
  • 1 lb baby bok choy (about 8 bunches), ends trimmed so all leaves are loose
  • 1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 20 green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 10 Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 scallions, chopped with white and green part
  • 1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 TB soy sauce
  • 1 TB dry sherry
  • 1/2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) broth
  • 1 TB safflower oil (corn oil, grape seed oil or vegetable oil can be substituted)
  • 1 TB dark sesame oil
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice

Slice the tofu into dominos and place them on a paper towel to drain the moisture. Put another paper towel sheet on top and set aside until ready to use.

Boil a medium pot of water. Once boiling, add green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water for 2 minutes. Drain again, and transfer to a large bowl. Add the scallions, bell pepper, and mushrooms to the bowl and set aside. Place the bok choy in a separate large bowl.

Meanwhile, combine the garlic and serrano pepper in a small dish. Then combine the sugar, salt and white pepper into another small dish. Whisk together the soy sauce, dry sherry, fish sauce, cornstarch and broth in a small bowl. Make sure all dishes are within arms reach of the stove.

Place your wok or large pan over high heat. Once the pan is hot add the safflower oil. Swirl the oil around the pan and add the tofu. Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes until it’s browned on both sides. Add the garlic and serrano pepper and sauté for 30 seconds.

stir fry

Add the bell pepper, green beans, scallions and mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until mushrooms are softened. Add the dish of white pepper, sugar and salt, and the large bowl of bok choy and sauté for 1 minute, until bok choy begins to wilt. Add the sesame oil and sauce and sauté for 1 minute, then add cooked brown rice and continue to sauté until sauce is absorbed – about 1 minute. Serve, and enjoy!

I like this recipe because it uses white pepper, and has a great, simple sauce that brings everything together. The flavor is spicy and fresh, savory and slightly earthy. I also love the combination of crunchy vegetables and soft mushrooms and tofu. It’s really the ideal stir fry.

Quandary

I paired this meal with 2013 Trefethen Quandary, a blend of Estate Chardonnay, Viognier and Riesling. The wine has a slight effervescence, with notes of grapefruit, lemon, and honeysuckle on the palate. Sweet enough to cut through the spice in the dish, but dry enough to be enjoyed long after the meal is finished.

2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be attending the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara in just a few short days! This year the conference is being held in Santa Barbara County, which I am very excited about. Although I have not yet been to Santa Barbara for wine tasting, I have become increasingly interested in wines from this region so I can’t wait to get to the source and learn more about the terroir.

WBC14.800

Santa Barbara County is most well-known for it’s Pinot Noir, but there are several other varietals that thrive in this climate, including Chardonnay and Riesling. There will be many opportunities to taste the wines of Santa Barbara during the conference, from partners like Sanford Winery and Bridlewood Estate Winery. I also plan to do my own pre-conference tasting on Thursday afternoon, when I will visit Babcock, Foley, Gainey, Dragonette and Alma Rosa – or as many as time (and tolerance) allows. Any other suggestions?

wine-country-map

But this conference isn’t just about Santa Barbara wines – there is so much more! There are breakout groups for blogging technique, search engine optimization, wine certification, tasting like the pros, and other tips to improve your blog. We will also sample wines from Portugal and Greece, as well as other blends from around the world.

I’m eager to learn more about the business of wine blogging, but I am also very excited to meet a community of bloggers. There are many veterans of the conference – and also a lot of newbies like myself – from all around the world! I’m lucky that I live so close because it’s only a 4.5 hour drive down the 101, but some people are traveling all the way from New York, France and London.

I can’t wait!

Sirloin on the Stove

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It’s not often that I cook steak for myself. For some reason, the idea of cooking steak always seemed so daunting to me because I don’t have an outdoor grill at my apartment. Growing up, my dad would grill steak about once a week on his gas grill, so naturally I thought it was the only way to be done. Wrong! Turns out, a cast iron or stainless steel skillet does just the trick.

I usually opt for skirt steak or flank steak, since they’re pretty lean. But the cuts are huge and I end up with so many leftovers if I am just cooking for two. So in an effort to save some money and keep the leftovers at a minimum, I selected a 1.5 lb sirloin during my most recent trip to the butcher. Pan searing steak is actually pretty simple, as long as it’s well-seasoned and you follow a few important steps.

steak dinner

What You Need:

  • 1.5 lb cut of Sirloin Steak
  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB unsalted butter
  • cast iron or stainless steel skillet
  • other optional seasoning for rub: minced garlic, cumin, coriander, onion powder
I used a stainless steel pan.

I used a stainless steel pan.

Important Steps:

  1. Remove your steak from the fridge about 1 hour before cooking.
  2. Rinse the steak with room temperature water, then pat dry with paper towel.
  3. Season GENEROUSLY. If making a rub, combine all spices and garlic with olive oil and coat each side of the steak. Do this when you take it out of the fridge, while it’s coming to room temperature. If you’re not making a rub, you can simply season each side with kosher salt and ground pepper.
  4. Heat a cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat and wait about a minute. If your steak is dry (no rub) add olive oil and butter to the pan. If you’re using a rub, just add a little bit of butter.
  5. Once butter/olive oil is sizzling, place steak in the pan and cook for 5 minutes. Then flip and cook for another five minutes. This will give you a medium-rare steak.
  6. Remove the steak from the pan and transfer to a wooden cutting board with ridges. Loosely cover the steak with aluminum foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Slice the steak into thin strips, against the grain.
  8. If some strips of steak are too rare, you can put them in the microwave for about 45 seconds.

resting steak

sliced steak

photo 1I like to keep the sides simple: roasted asparagus, boiled sweet corn, sautéed mushrooms, or a salad. Cabernet Sauvignon makes a great pairing to a hearty steak. I figured since I chose a simple steak I could elevate the meal with some special wine, so I selected a 2007 Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and decanted it about 30 minutes before serving. Blended with 22% Merlot and 1% Cab Franc, the wine is a nice mix of mountain and valley floor fruit from a near perfect growing season. The wine was full bodied and rich, with a softness from the addition of Merlot. Layers of currant, blackberry, vanilla and cedar created a smooth finish and complimented the juicy red meat.

So there you have it; no more excuses for not cooking steak on a more regular basis. Still, I hope to get a charcoal grill for my next apartment!

Summer Soup: Green Minestrone with Arugula-Mint Pesto

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Well, last weekend I was definitely “burning the candle at both ends”, as my father likes to put it. Whether it was the countless glasses of wine and gin fizz, the lack of sleep due to early morning bacon-filled breakfasts, or the late night karaoke at my cousin’s wedding – I managed to return back to San Francisco with a nasty cold. The only thing I want to consume when I’m sick is orange juice spritzers and soup. But with the warm summer weather, it’s hard to imagine enjoying a big bowl of soup. Fortunately, this gave me the perfect opportunity to concoct a summer soup that I have been eyeing from Bon Appetit!

soup

Green Minestrone (serves 2-4)

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, choppedall the onions
  • 1/2 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 small carrots, peeled
  • 1 cup fresh shelled fava beans (about 1 lb pods)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fregula or Israeli couscous
  • 1/4 cup arugula-mint pesto
  • 2 small pearl onions, thinly sliced
  • shaved Parmesan (for serving)

Arugula Mint Pesto (makes about 1 cup)

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 TB pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • 3 cups pre-washed arugula
  • 1 cup mint leaves
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, or more to taste
  • salt and pepper

Start with the fava beans because they take about 20 minutes to prepare. Begin by boiling a medium pot of water. Meanwhile, slice each pod down the seam and remove the beans. Once the water is boiling, add the beans and cook for exactly one minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of ice water. Once cooled, shell the beans and dry them off with a paper towel. Place in a small bowl and set aside.

soup

In a large pot, heat olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add leek, fennel, onion and celery and sauté until softened – about five minutes. Add the chicken broth and increase heat to bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Set another small pot of water on the oven to boil. Once boiling, add fregula and cook until al dente – about 10 minutes.

photo 2

Use a peeler to slice thin strips of the carrot into the same bowl as the fava beans. The recipe suggests using a mandoline to slice length-wise, but that seemed awkward and potentially dangerous to me so I thought the peeler would make a fine substitute.

Meanwhile, prepare the pesto. In a food processor fit with a steel blade, process garlic cloves first. Then add pine nuts and pecans and process to combine. Add arugula, mint and basil and process to combine, scraping down the sides as needed. With motor running, add olive oil in a slow, steady drip. Season with salt and pepper to taste, adjusting if needed. Transfer to a small sealed container, reserving 1/4 cup for soup. Freeze the rest to use at a later date, over pasta or on a caprese salad!

Add the fava beans and carrots to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Cook over low heat for five minutes, then add fregula to the pot. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Serve in large shallow bowls and top with a spoonful of pesto, slices of pearl onions, and a bit of shaved Parmesan. The recipe calls for a simple mix of parsley and shallots for the pesto, but I found that the combination of arugula and mint really added an extra level of flavor to the soup, elevating it to a truly green summery soup.

soup

This hit the spot for my cold, and it didn’t feel too heavy or overly-hot. In fact, Annie P. had a small cup and said, “it tastes really healthy!” This will definitely be a go-to for me for those spring and summer months when the “party hardy cold” gets me down.

 

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