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The Battle of Bacon Inferno

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I’m rarely scared by anything that involves cooking, but I was pushed to my limits this week when I just barely escaped setting my arm on fire.

As you dear readers know, I often borrow recipes from Bon Appetit. So when I received the June issue with grilled bacon on the cover, I set my sights on it. And then when my Cooking Club elected to center our next meeting around a grilling theme in lieu of pulling recipes from a selected cookbook, I immediately stated that I would be making grilled bacon. As the days passed leading up to our meeting, I read over BA’s directions on how to avoid “Bacon Inferno” several times and I felt pretty confident that I wouldn’t be setting anything (or anyone) on fire. Fortunately for me, my confidence has the ability to transform into calmness when things go south.

Sweet and Spicy Bacon Kebabs with Scallion-Ginger Relish (makes 10)

  • cooking spray (for grill)
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons sambal oelek or red chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 10 slices thick-cut bacon 
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 serrano chile, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated peeled ginger
  • ½ teaspoon light brown sugar
  • Kosher salt

Special Equipment

  • Ten 8–12-inch-long metal skewers
  • Grilling tongs
  • Grilling mitten

When picking bacon for grilling, be sure to get thick-cut slices or ask your butcher to slice it ¼-inch thick for you. Naturally, I ordered my bacon from Fatted Calf and picked it up the afternoon of the grill fest. Their bacon is particularly fatty, which made me slightly nervous (more fat = more potential for inferno), but it’s the best quality bacon I’ve ever had so I knew it would turn out great regardless. When preparing the bacon skewers, be sure to thread the bacon through the skewers like an accordion, piercing through the meatiest part in each slice.

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You can make the glaze up to a week in advance. In a small bowl combine honey, chili paste, rice vinegar and Sriracha. Transfer to a sealed container and store in the refrigerator until use. To make the relish, combine scallions, serrano chile, lime juice, sesame oil, ginger and brown sugar in a small bowl. Season to taste with Kosher salt, seal and keep at room temperature.

Now, from someone who nearly ruined it all, my tips on how to grill bacon successfully, in order of importance:

Place it over indirect heat. I can not stress this enough. My cooking club cohort and hostess of the evening (who shall be known as Ragazza from this point forth) has a charcoal grill, which is preferred. You can also do this on a gas grill, but be sure to keep one side of it unlit. Initially we had the coals *mostly* banked on one side of the grill, with a few stragglers on the other side. I figured it would be fine like this and I began to lay down the first batch of bacon skewers.

Do not do it this way.

This is the INCORRECT way to arrange your coals and place your bacon. You will also burn the poor onions.

Turn it frequently, about every 45 seconds to a minute. One gal (who shall be known as Almond from this point forth) came out to chat with me while I was flipping the bacon skewers, and I could sense her shared nervousness about the fat drippings onto the coals. I was using tongs that were shorter than I would have liked and when I saw the flames starting to emerge in some of the coals, I asked if she could go grab me an oven mitt (which I may have to replace now). Thank you, Almond for your speedy assistance! As the flames roared up, I swiftly removed the bacon skewers from the grill while simultaneously telling Ragazza that we needed to adjust the coals for the next batch. She responded with, “you’re so calm, Kelsey.” Only on the outside.

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This is the CORRECT way to arrange your coals, with a fresh batch of onions on the side.

Patience is key. For the second batch, Ragazza helped me move some of the coals over to one side of the grill, so we were completely coal-free on the other side. I arrange my bacon skewers over the space and turned them every minute or so, moving them around the left side of the grill to get more or less heat as needed. This method definitely took longer (about 15-20 minutes) but I was VERY pleased to see that there was no inferno, and even more pleased with the results.IMG_6117

Glaze, glaze, glaze. In my first batch, I had been in such a rush to remove the bacon and keep it from burning that I didn’t have time to glaze it. So I added the glaze to the bacon off-grill (still on skewers) and cooked it for a few minutes over the new, coal-free space, turning every 30 seconds. This works better than simply glazing already-grilled bacon because you want it to caramelize a bit and work itself into the fat. Since I had plenty of time with my second batch of bacon, I really focused on the glaze and made sure to give each slice two layers per side, turning frequently so it didn’t get too crispy.

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Share it with people that you really, really like. After all, you are risking your arm hair. I kept the bacon on the skewers for serving, and generously topped it with the scallion relish. There were only five of us so each person got to have two pieces, but we all agreed that we would have ate more if it was there (because, bacon). Ragazza noted that it resembled a really nice pork belly, which I agreed with. In fact, I think you could do this with cubes a pork belly and have a similar – if not better – result. Almond thought that I should put the glaze on everything; I think I will utilize the leftover glaze and relish with some scrambled eggs or broiled salmon.

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Prior to grilling my bacon, I charred a few ears of corn to go into a salad of tomato, basil, onion, thyme and lime juice. The rest of the ladies in my group also contributed beautiful and innovative grilled vegetables to the event: lettuces and squash blossoms with Caesar dressing, cheese and bacon stuffed jalapeños, spring onions with life changing Romesco sauce (the contents of which were all grilled, except the almonds)… we were surprised yet pleased to see so many vegetables on the plate in a grilling-themed meal, and agreed that the bacon was the perfect meaty addition. Almond finished off the evening with a grilled Angel Food Cake with fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream, which was the perfect sweet reward to battling a bacon inferno.

Local Innovation at The Bewildered Pig

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Last week I traveled to Mendocino with Canuck for an early birthday celebration! He let me do the majority of the planning – including two breweries (no, I don’t just drink wine) – but did suggest a dinner spot in Philo for our first night of the trip: The Bewildered Pig. I trust Canuck’s picks, especially when it comes to food, and after checking out their menu and hearing that his friend from culinary school is the sous chef, I got pretty excited about this place.

The Bewildered Pig is the brainchild of Chef Janelle Weaver and her partner, Daniel. After spending several years as an executive chef at a prestigious Napa winery, Janelle ventured out on her own culinary endeavor with the goal to create an unpretentious restaurant with a large focus on farm to fork, sourcing everything locally (their pigs come from down the street) and from their own gardens. The dishes are elegant yet casual, refined yet rustic, sophisticated yet simple; dualities that I learned Janelle possesses herself after chatting with her throughout the course of the night.

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The wine list is a combination of selections from Anderson Valley and Sonoma County and an extensive list of Old World favorites. Keeping with the local theme, I selected the 2014 Balo “Suitcase 828” Estate Pinot Noir. The wine was more feminine on the nose, with aromas of white flowers, bright red fruit and an element of freshness. But the palate was bold and earthy, reflecting more of a masculine tone. One of the things I love most about Pinot Noir (especially Pinots from Anderson Valley) is how androgynous it can be, which makes it a versatile wine for food pairings. Sure enough, it paired perfectly with nearly everything that we ate.

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We started off the evening with a delectable amuse-bouche from the kitchen: Penny Royal Laychee Crostini with a Pea & Fava Pistou. (Side note: Penny Royal is a local farm and creamery that offers tours and tastings Thursday through Monday in their new shop on Hwy 128. They make a variety of cheeses that are also available at one of my favorite Philo wineries, Navarro Vineyards.) Our delicious cheesy bite was followed by a house made Mendocino County Heritage Pork country pâté with Dijon mustard and shallot chutney – the perfect combination of salty, sweet and spicy.

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On to the vegetables. Canuck selected “Celebration of Carrots” and I chose an assortment of seasoned radishes with salt and butter. The radishes were simple yet so satisfying, and it felt good to eat some raw vegetables after an afternoon of beer tasting (be sure to stop in Anderson Valley Brewery on your way into Philo). The carrot plate was indeed a celebration and quite possibly the best vegetable dish I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. The plate is composed of a seven different uses and varieties of carrots: confit tiny Thumbelina and French, pickled rainbow, housemade carrot crackers, fried carrot fronds, carrot top pesto and garlic aioli. I talked about this dish to anyone who would listen for several days. I’m still holding out hope that Canuck will find a way to recreate it…

And as if those were not enough starters, we picked two more to share: smoked local black cod potato salad, and Gulf prawns with garlic lemon aioli and what Janelle and her team affectionately call “fluff,” an array of herbs, flowers and stuff. The cod is local (Princess Seafood out of Fort Bragg) and smoked by Angelo’s in Sonoma. It’s served with heirloom potatoes, confited in olive oil, and fresh shaved Petit Teton horseradish, bloomed mustard seeds, whipped crème fraîche, herbs, watercress… and probably a few other amazing things that I am missing. Not only was it beautifully presented (like all of the evening’s dishes), but the combination of flavors was beautiful to eat.

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Last but not least, we each ordered the Lamb Duo (despite the fact that Canuck usually prefers not to order the same thing as his dining partner). It was written on the menu with all of my favorite Spring things so it was impossible to resist. In hindsight, we agreed that it easily could have been shared considering the amount of food we had leading up to our entrées, but we still managed to finish the majority of our dishes. The Lamb Duo was composed of lamb loin and confit cap, sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi, fresh tarragon, chives, lemon zest, fava beans, asparagus, fava leaf and garlic puree, served with a lamb anise hyssop reduction. I never imagined that all of these things could exist so cohesively on one plate, but it was near perfection.

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If you don’t already have enough reasons to visit Anderson Valley – the plethora of unique and inexpensive wineries, fishing along the Redwood lined highway, bountiful farms and orchards, whimsical seaside villages, adorable inns and a brewery in a town with their own made up language – add this dining experience to the list. The Bewildered Pig is truly a destination restaurant, worth every mile traveled, and I intend to make it a regular pilgrimage. In fact, I can’t wait to go back and see what other seasonal items they have on their fantastic menu.

Big thanks to Janelle, Izzy and the entire team for such a memorable evening!

Asparagus Affection

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I was recently feasting on an asparagus and pea shoot salad with Canuck as I proclaimed, “I really think Spring is my favorite food season. I will be so sad when it’s over.” He quickly reminded me of the existence of tomatoes, and then I felt better. Still, I will deeply miss the abundance of perfect asparagus that I have been enjoying nearly every day for the past several weeks. Some of my favorite recent renditions of asparagus include: a delicious Fatted Calf sandwich with prosciutto, ricotta and lemon oil; fired up over a charcoal grill with sea salt and cracked pepper; blanched and served with a simple lemon aioli; and shaved with Parmigiano, Meyer lemon, poached egg and crispy lonza (thanks Oenotri for offering some fresh veggies on your brunch menu).

But my favorite asparagus-themed meal that I have come across this Spring is (of course) a Bon Appetit recipe that my mother turned me onto. I’ve had it once at the hands of my mother and have now made it twice for friends with a couple slight tweaks that I think improve on the recipe.

A sight to behold

A sight to behold

Pasta with Peas, Asparagus, Escarole and Speck (serves 6 to 8)

  • 2 TB unsalted butter
  • 2 TB extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzlingIMG_5533
  • ½ lb spring onions; white parts cut into ¼-inch-thick slices, pale green parts cut into ½-inch-thick slices
  • 2 TB minced shallot
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 ½ pounds thick asparagus, cut crosswise into ¾-inch pieces
  • 2 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 2 pounds peas in pods) or 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 pound campanelle or gemelli pasta (I prefer the locally made Baia pasta)
  • 1 head of escarole, cored, leaves cut into ¾-inch-wide slices
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano plus additional for serving
  • ½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced speck, cut crosswise into ½-inch-wide strips

The original recipe calls for butter lettuce, but I think escarole has more flavor and texture. It also calls for prosciutto – which is delicious and I encourage you to use it if you can’t find speck – but speck offers a bit of smokiness to the dish that compliments the flavors nicely (credit to Space Cadet for the suggestion).

Delicious speck from Fatted Calf

Delicious speck from Fatted Calf

I've used fresh shelled and frozen peas for this recipe and the difference is minimal

I’ve used fresh shelled and frozen peas for this recipe and the difference is minimal

Melt the butter with 2 TB of oil in heavy large skillet or pot over medium heat. Add onions and shallot and sprinkle with coarse salt and cracked pepper. Sauté until tender (do not brown), about 8 minutes. Add wine; increase heat to medium-high and simmer until liquid is reduced to glaze, about 3 minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer; set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook asparagus until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus. After 2 minutes add the peas and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Using a skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer asparagus and peas to large bowl of ice water. Drain vegetables and set aside.
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Return water in pot to boil. Cook pasta until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, reheat onion mixture. Add drained asparagus and peas and stir until heated through. Then add pasta, 1 cup Pecorino Romano, escarole and parsley. Toss to combine, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by the ¼ cup if dry. Once the pasta has reached your desired consistency, add the speck and taste for seasoning, adjusting if needed.

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Transfer pasta to large shallow bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Serve, passing more cheese alongside. This dish pairs nicely with a medium-bodied red blend, a Provençal style Rosé, or a coastal Chardonnay.

All The Dumplings

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I love dumplings. Like, a lot. And since moving to Napa, my dumpling intake has severely suffered. Last month Canuck and I drove an hour in the rain to Dublin to get dim sum from Koi Palace, and that tied me over for a bit. But then something amazing happened last week: Canuck taught me how to make my own dumplings! And they were much easier to than I realized, so I will definitely be repeating the process. Granted, he spent half a day collecting all the ingredients from various Asian markets in a 30 mile radius (because, of course, there aren’t any in Napa), which is more time than it takes to drive to Dublin, stuff your face with dim sum, and drive back. But it just somehow tastes a little better when you make them with your own hands.

Reid's collection of dumpling wrappers

Canuck’s collection of dumpling wrappers

We made three different kinds: Gyoza (Japanese pork and shrimp pot stickers), Siu Mai (open-faced pork and mushroom dumplings) and shrimp and chive dumplings. Canuck selected the recipes for Gyoza and Siu Mai from the Asian Dumplings cookbook and the shrimp and chive dumplings from Lucky Peach presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes. I recommend purchasing at least one of these books if you’re into Asian cooking, but I’ve outlined the recipes below for your convenience.

Gyoza (makes 32 dumplings)

  • 2 cups lightly packed, finely chopped napa cabbage, cut from whole leaves
  • ½ tsp plus ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced and crushed into a paste
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 TB chopped scallions
  • 6 oz ground pork, fattier kind preferred, coarsely chopped to loosen
  • ⅓ lb medium shrimp, shelled, deveined and chopped
  • scant ¼ tsp sugar
  • generous ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 ½ TB Japanese soy sauce or light soy sauce
  • 1 TB sake
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 32 round pot sticker wrappers

To make the filling, in a large bowl, toss the cabbage with ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes to draw excess moisture from the cabbage. Drain in a fine-mesh strainer, then rinse with water and drain again. To remove more moisture, squeeze the cabbage in your hands over the sink, or put into a cotton (not terry cloth) kitchen towel and wrung out the moisture over the sink. You should have about ½ cup firmly packed cabbage. Transfer the cabbage to a bowl and add the garlic, ginger, scallions, pork and shrimp. In a separate small bowl combine the sugar, pepper, soy sauce, sake and sesame oil, then add to the pork and shrimp mixture. Stir and lightly mash the ingredients so that they start coming together. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

Gyoza filling

Gyoza filling

Siu Mai (makes 30 dumplings)

  • ⅔ lb ground pork, fattier kind preferred, coarsely chopped to loosen
  • 4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed and chopped making ½ cup (we actually used porcini)
  • generous ¼ cup finely diced water chestnuts (fresh preferred)
  • 3 TB finely chopped scallions
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • 1 TB cornstarch
  • 1 TB light soy sauce
  • 1 TB rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 ½ tsp sesame oil
  • 1 large egg white, beaten
  • 30 square dumpling wrappers
  • 30 peas, for garnish

To make the filling, combine the pork, mushrooms, water chestnuts and scallions in a mixing bowl. Use a fork or spatula to stir and lightly mash the ingredients together so they begin to blend. Put the salt, sugar, white pepper, cornstarch, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and egg white into a small bowl and stir to combine well. Pour over the meat mixture and stir, fold and mash everything together until thoroughly combined. Cover the filling with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

Shrimp and Chive Dumplings (makes 40 dumplings)

  • 1 lb shelled, deveined shrimp, minced
  • 1 cup very finely chopped chives
  • 1 TB fresh minced ginger
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 TB soy sauce
  • 1 TB rice wine
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 40 round dumpling wrappers

To make the filling, combine shrimp, chives, ginger, egg, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, white pepper and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

Traditional Dipping Sauce (makes 1/2 cup)

  • 3 TB soy sauce
  • 1 TB rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 TB water
  • couple drops of sesame oil
  • 1 tsp gochujang (optional if you want it spicy)

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside until ready to eat the dumplings.

Now that all the fillings are made, you are ready to wrap the dumplings! It certainly helps to have two sets of hands during this part, so invite someone you really like over to help. Start with whichever filling you made first; in our case, the Gyoza. Set out out two large cutting boards, two small dishes of water, two tablespoons, the filling, pot sticker wrappers and a wax paper lined baking tray. Lay a wrapper on the cutting board and line a wetted finger around the edge. Put a small spoonful of the filling into the center of the wrapper, then fold the wrapper in half to make a moon shape. Make sure to seal the edges together so that there is no air coming through. (If you can’t close it properly, there is probably too much filling and you should throw out the wrapper and start over.) Lay the dumpling on the baking tray and repeat the process until all the filling is gone. Pull the amount of dumplings you want to eat (3-4 per person) and freeze the rest for about an hour. Once they are frozen, you can transfer them to freezer bags and they won’t stick together. The shrimp and chive filling can be wrapped the same way, but use dumpling wrappers which are slightly thicker.

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As for the Siu Mai, practice makes perfect! These dumplings are open faced and require a bit more finessing. It took me a few – okay, ten – rounds to get it right, but the “wrong” ones weren’t so terrible. In any case, place a square wrapper in palm of your hand and add a spoonful of the filling into the center. Lightly wet each corner with a dab of water and pinch it into itself, pushing the filling into the center and creating a sort of bundle. Then wrap each pinched corner over the side of the wrapper, overlapping onto each other, until you form a box. Top with a pea and set onto the wax paper lined baking tray. Pull out however many you want to eat, and freeze the rest for about an hour before placing into freezer bags.

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The “wrong” way

The "right" way

The “right” way

Now, you can finally cook the dumplings! For the Siu Mai, place a fitted steaming basket over a pot of boiling water. Line the bottom of the steaming basket with large leaves of napa cabbage, then place 6 dumplings on top of the cabbage (this is so they don’t stick to the bottom; you can discard the cabbage when you’re done). Cover and steam for 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove and serve immediately with dipping sauce.

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The other two types of dumplings can be cooked in the same method (but separately): heat two tablespoons of canola oil in a large frying pan. Once hot, carefully place dumplings in the pan flat side down and fry one side. Once it’s browned, add 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover immediately, steaming for about 2 minutes or until the water evaporates. Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

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All in all, the prep took about 3 hours and we didn’t eat until 10pm but it was so worth it. The dumplings turned out deliciously (with the Siu Mai being both of our favorites) and were actually pretty fun to make. I paired the dumplings with Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier, a crisp wine with citrus and melon notes that pairs perfectly with Asian flavors.

The best part of the whole experience is that I came away with several bags of frozen dumplings to savor at a later date! And now that I have mastered the art of dumpling wrapping, maybe I’m even ready to make Har Gow – with Canuck’s guidance, of course.

Salade Lyonnaise

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The other night I had some girlfriends over for dinner to celebrate Space Cadet’s birthday. Initially, Space Cadet just wanted to pick up some Taco Bell (has anyone tried the new quesalupa??), but my friend – who shall be known as Georgia from this point forth – and I were able to convince her to elevate the menu a little. I realized that I had all the necessary ingredients for a Salade Lyonnaise, which is basically a fancy breakfast salad. It’s pretty hard to screw up, as long as you nail the poached egg. Luckily for me, I assigned the egg poaching to Space Cadet and since she is a perfectionist they turned out wonderfully.

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Salade Lyonnaise (serves 4)

  • 1 lb of small fingerling potatoes (try the “Teeny Tiny Potatoes” from Trader Joe’s), halved
  • 3 TB olive oil, divided
  • 2 TB dry sherry
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 TB whole grain mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bag of Trader Joe’s Crunciferous Crunch Collection
  • 1 lb bacon, roughly chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tsp white vinegar, divided
  • 1 TB chopped preserved lemon peel (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Toss the potatoes in 1 TB olive oil, salt and pepper. Place them flat side down on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, flipping them half way through.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing. In a medium jar or bowl, combine 2 TB olive oil, sherry, shallot and mustard. Season with salt and pepper then whisk to combine. Set aside to let flavors meld.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over a medium flame. Add bacon and cook, tossing often, for about 10-15 minutes or until your desired doneness. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain some of the fat.

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Divide the dressing equally into four shallow bowls. Add a cup of the Crunciferous Crunch Collection to each bowl, then top with equal portions of potatoes and bacon.

With about 10 minutes left to the potatoes, bring two medium pots of three inches of water to a low boil. Add a teaspoon of white vinegar (rice vinegar also works) to each pot. Crack each egg into a small dish or ramekin (do not break the yolk). Poaching two eggs at a time (one in each pot), use a rubber spatula to make a whirlpool in the pot, then carefully slide the egg into the center of the swirl. Use the spatula to keep the whites close to the yolk, and cook each egg for about 4 minutes. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and add to the top of the salad. Repeat with the other two eggs.

Top each egg with a touch of cracked pepper and a bit of preserved lemon. Serve and tell you’re guests to slice the egg and mix all the ingredients together, including the dressing on the bottom.

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We all went nuts over this salad. It had enough protein for a dinner, but still leaves you feeling light and healthy. If you want to lighten it up more, use fresh frisee instead of the Trader Joe’s blend (though, I swear by Crunciferous Crunch Collection). I have to give big thanks to Space Cadet for mastering the poached eggs, as the whole salad would have been ruined if the eggs were runny or overcooked – no pressure.

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I also have to give some credit to Canuck for telling me to preserve my own lemons three months ago, because I finally found an opportunity to use one! Just a bit of preserved lemon peel in this dish adds some salty bitterness that compliments the dressing well. In fact, you could probably just add it directly into the dressing. Note: if you’re going to preserve your own lemons, I recommend using Meyer lemons and incorporating 3 parts salt and 1 part sugar, plus cinnamon stick, peppercorn, whole clove and fennel seed. Once ready to use, rinse, remove the flesh, and rinse again. 

We enjoyed this salad with a Twomey Sauvignon Blanc and a Ram’s Gate Syrah – both incredibly different wines but each of them paired deliciously with the salad. In fact, I think this salad would pretty much go with anything, especially your closest silly girlfriends.

 

Give Me Umami

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About two years ago I came across a recipe for Spicy Kimchi Tofu Stew in my beloved Bon Appetit. KDD and I had planned to make this detoxifying stew to cure any upcoming hangover Sunday, but some time between then and when I moved to Napa we must have become responsible adults because we were never hungover enough to make this stew. Or maybe we just kept forgetting – also a sign of getting older. In any case, I finally found an opportunity to make this savory stew last week. And although it wasn’t to cure any particular hangover, it did feel extremely detoxifying after a week of too much wine and rich food.

There are two key ingredients in this stew that give it umami: gochujang and kimchi. I had purchased a little jar of gochujang when I was doing the BA Food Lovers Cleanse last month, and I had just enough leftover for this recipe. As for the kimchi, my pickling guru – who shall be known as Canuck from this point forth – had given me half a quart of some kimchi that he made at home. I’m not exactly sure how he made it, but I know it involved fish sauce and cabbage. If you don’t have the time or equipment to make kimchi at home (or you don’t have a pickling guru to “lend” you some), you can find it at Whole Foods or any Asian market, along with the gochujang.

Reid's homemade kimchi

Canuck’s homemade kimchi

Spicy Kimchi Tofu Stew (serves 4)

    • Kosher salt
    • 1 16-oz. package silken tofu, cut into 1” cubes
    • 1 TB vegetable oil
    • 2 cups kimchi, including liquid
    • 1 ½ TB gochujang 
    • 6 scallions, cut into 1” pieces
    • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 large egg yolks

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce heat, then carefully add tofu and simmer gently until slightly puffed and firmed up – about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer tofu to a medium bowl and set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the kimchi and gochujang and cook, stirring often, for 7 minutes. Add kimchi liquid and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until kimchi is softened and translucent – about 40 minutes.

Add scallions, soy sauce, and tofu; simmer gently until tofu has absorbed flavors, about 20 minutes. Add sesame oil and season with pepper (the stew will already be salty so there is no need to add more). Ladle stew into bowls and top each with an egg yolk.

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I served this spicy soup to my pescatarian friend and her fiancé (who eats meat, and was actually able to recognize the fish sauce in the kimchi) and they both loved it. While very spicy, it’s not a burn-your-tongue spice but more of an addicting umami spice. The egg yolk does lighten it up a bit and add a touch of creaminess. Having Canuck’s homemade kimchi in my possession certainly gave me a reason to finally make this soup, but it also elevated the dish and added depth of flavor. So much so, that I am considering making my own batch of kimchi at some point! Let’s just hope I don’t push it off for two years like I did with this stew.

FLC16: Highlights from Week 1

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It’s Day 7 of my Wine and Cheese Detox and I’m going strong! I feel light and refreshed, I’m sleeping better, and I have hardly thought about cheating. I even attended a work-related wine tasting on Tuesday afternoon and spit all of the wines. But I have to admit, the feel of Napa Bordeaux blends on my lips was luscious. In continuation with my Food Lover’s Cleanse, I’ve made several delicious and healthy meals the past week:

The Chia Pudding with Pineapple and Apricot and Banana Almond Smoothie made for great breakfasts – very filling, slightly sweet, and easy to get together during a morning of multitasking. I was a little put off by the thought of it at first, but I really enjoyed the texture of the chia pudding.  I will definitely incorporate both of these into my breakfast routine.

Tofu Stir Fry

Brussel Sprout and Tofu Stir Fry

The Brussel Sprouts and Tofu Stir Fry was spicy and and hearty. I love a good stir fry, and this was recipe was pretty dynamic for so few elements. I enjoyed the crunch of the water chestnuts and the tangy spice of the gochujang – a Korean chile paste that I have been dying to use in cooking since I read about it about a year ago. I didn’t prepare the suggested rice side as directed, but I did use some black rice that I cooked with bits of ginger and topped with shredded coconut. I forgot to add furikake to the stir fry, but I remembered to include it on my leftovers the next day and it added a nice umami flavor. I would recommend this dish for a hearty vegetarian stir fry, but double up on the gochujang or add some Sriracha because it’s lacking in heat.
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Last night I made Salmon with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce and Carrot Salad with Garlicky Bok Choy. My favorite component was the carrot salad, which I didn’t make nearly enough of. I didn’t bother toasting cumin seeds and used ground cumin and turmeric instead, so it only took about 10 minutes to prepare; an easy salad to get together before heading out the door in the morning. I enjoyed the yogurt-cucumber sauce on top of the salmon, and added a bit of mint to brighten it up. Overall, this meal was flavorful, light but filling, and the flavors integrated well with each other. I used the leftover salmon filet in a lunch salad with arugula, mixed greens, cilantro, mint, cucumber, carrot, almonds and miso-tumeric dressing – yum!

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By far, the Spicy Orange Hazelnut Bark was the best thing I made all week. Since I haven’t been drinking alcohol, I find myself craving something sweet in its place. I’m not a dessert person by any means, but I can’t resist a piece of dark chocolate. Rather than munching on some hipster chocolate bars I got over the holidays, I decided to get out the double boiler and make my own bark. I’m not a huge fan of hazelnuts so I used some bittersweet chocolate with almonds from Trader Joe’s and added some pistachio pieces to the mix, which was delicious. But it was the orange zest and cayenne pepper that really pulled the bark together. I will definitely be making this on the regular, whether or not it’s a replacement for wine! Here’s to another 7 days…

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