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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…

Braised Moroccan Lamb Shanks with French Lentils

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In continuation with my Wine and Cheese Detox and the BAFLC, I spent the better part of my Sunday braising Moroccan Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate, and I’m certainly not sorry. As the sweet smells of cinnamon and pomegranate filled my apartment, I knew I was in store for something delicious. Not to mention, I was able to use my newly purchased ceramic Dutch oven!

Moroccan Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate (serves 4)

  • 1 tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 1 TB cornstarch
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 large leek, white and light-green parts only, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  •  cups pomegranate juice
  •  cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • ¼ cup mint leaves

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I paired the lamb shanks with Confetti Lentils, per BAFLC suggestion. They were pretty easy to prepare as long as you have a good box shredder or shredding disc for a food processor. You should be able to find French lentils at most specialty grocery stores, but the only place I could find celery root was at Whole Foods. Turns out, it’s a pretty cool vegetable!

Confetti Lentils (serves 4)

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1 medium celery root, peeled and shredded
  • 1 medium onion, shredded 
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more
  •  cups French green lentils

All in all, the lamb takes about 5 hours to prepare so it’s the perfect Sunday roast. Trim the shanks of any excess thick fat (white opaque, rough parts) but do not remove the iridescent membrane, which holds the meat together. Blend together coriander, cumin, fennel seeds, salt and pepper and rub all sides of the shanks with the spice mixture, then let rest for 30 minutes and up to overnight.

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About 30 minutes before you plan to cook the shanks, dredge in cornstarch, covering all sides of the shank. Preheat the oven to 350, then heat 2 TB olive oil in a large dutch oven. Sear the lamb shanks on all sides until browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish then add onion, carrot and leek to the pot and cook, stirring and scraping up any brown bits that have accumulated, for 1 minute. Add cinnamon and thyme and pour in pomegranate juice and chicken stock. Scrape pan again, then bring mixture to a simmer. Return shanks to pan and season with kosher salt and black pepper.

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Cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise 1½ hours, then check liquid level, making sure there is at least 1″ stock in pan; if not, add water or stock to bring it up to that mark. Continue braising until meat is completely tender and falling off the bone, about 2½ hours.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer lamb shanks to a plate. Discard thyme and cinnamon stick. To serve, bring remaining braising liquid to a simmer, adding more water or stock if needed. Add the meat back to the sauce and cook until warmed through, if needed. Serve lamb pieces off the bone with some sauce and top with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves.

Prepare the lentils when there is about 30 minutes left to the lamb. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium. Add carrots, celery root, onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in lentils. Pour in 3¾ cups of boiling water and bring to a boil once more. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender but retain their shape, about 25 minutes. Season with more salt, if desired. (Do not drain excess liquid; lentils remain tender better if stored in their cooking liquid.) To serve, use a slotted spoon or mesh strainer.

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The lamb was so flavorful and had the perfect balance of sweet and savory, and the yummy lentils soaked up all of the delicious sauce from the braise. I have tons of leftover lentils and plan to add them to a salad some time this week. Although the lamb took a while to cook (as all braised meats do), it was totally worth it and I know it will taste even better over the next few days. This one is definitely a repeat – next time with a wine pairing!

No Wine or Cheese, Please!

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For the first time in my adult life, I’ve implemented a “Dry January” – GASP! I know, I know; how is it possible for me, of all people, to stop drinking wine (and all booze) for an entire month? Well frankly, it’s probably not possible. Which is why I’ve only promised myself two weeks of sobriety instead of the full month. To add to it (because no booze for two weeks isn’t enough?), I’ve also eliminated most dairy and all cheese from my diet until January 15, right in time for what will probably be a gluttonous MLK Weekend.

The line up of wines over Thanksgiving, the beginning of the Holiday binge.

The line up of wines for Thanksgiving dinner, the beginning of the Holiday binge.

I usually roll my eyes when people eliminate an entire food group from their diet for the sake of a New Years resolution or the like. But I legitimately felt the need to take a break after the over indulgence that has taken place over what’s basically been the last six months. And although most of it has to do with the desire to shed a few sugar fueled pounds, I honestly want to prove to myself and any doubters than I can in fact live without wine and cheese for two weeks. So that I can fully maximize my potential weight loss, I figured I should also implement a clean diet and lots of exercise.

The last wines I drank in 2015: Dueling Scribe Cabs (the 2009 blew the 2010 out of the water)

The last wines I drank in 2015: Dueling Scribe Cabs (the 2009 blew the 2010 out of the water)

(While I didn’t drink alcohol or eat any dairy on New Years Day, I didn’t start the official clean eating part of the diet until January 2nd because New Years Day is reserved for hangover cravings. I strongly believe that any New Year resolutions or diets shouldn’t start until January 2nd so that you have at least one day to recover and prepare yourself.)

Lucky for me, this is the time of year when the Bon Appetit Food Lovers Cleanse (BAFLC) comes out! The annual plan includes three meals, a snack and a dessert per day, focusing on healthy proteins, good fats, grains, fruits and vegetables, with minimal dairy and sugar. I particularly like this cleanse because many ingredients are repeated throughout the two weeks, and all lunches are made up of leftovers so you don’t have to spend an obscene amount of money on groceries. BA has even put together a printable grocery list that makes shopping much easier (especially when you already have most of the pantry items). While I typically don’t follow the entire two-week cleanse, I almost always find 6-10 tasty and unique recipes that I cycle through.

I kicked it off Saturday night with Mahi-Mahi with white beans, swiss chard and shiitake mushrooms. I made the meal for myself and two friends: The Mayor and First Broad. We all liked the fish (although, I could have doubled the orange zest and sage) and swiss chard, but agreed that the beans were lacking flavor. When I reheated the leftovers for lunch today, I sautéed the chard, mushrooms and beans together with 2 TB of harissa for about 5 minutes, adding the leftover cooked, chopped filet of Mahi-Mahi in towards the end. I finished the dish with a squeeze of lemon. These two small bursts of flavor added some spice and acid that the dish was otherwise lacking.

Leftovers turned healthy lunch

Leftovers turned healthy lunch

Next on the menu: Moroccan Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate with Confetti Lentils. It looks pretty delicious, but I’ll let you know how it turns out. Stay tuned for more of my favorite BAFLC recipes, and check it out yourself to let me know what you think. In the meantime, wish me luck on my wine and cheese detox!

Little Bunny Ragu

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I’ve been trying to up my meat game lately. I know how that sounds. What I mean is, I’d like to cook proteins other than beef, pork, lamb and chicken. I’d also like to learn how to break down a chicken, but we’ll get to that later. I recruited Space Cadet to help me come up with an interesting dish to cook, initially suggesting duck. I was abruptly shot down and told that we would be cooking rabbit. So we hopped down to Fatted Calf to scope out their meat case, and we we’re very pleased with our findings. We picked out the smallest rabbit and asked the butcher to break it down for us. He happily obliged – because this place is awesome and their staff is really helpful – and suggested that he remove the rib cage so we could use it for a stock. He also packaged up the offals (liver, mostly) for us. You should be able to get your rabbit quartered from your butcher, but if not I’m sure there is a video on YouTube that will teach you. In fact, next time I will attempt myself – after some serious knife sharpening.

Rabbit Ragu (serves 4-6)

  • 1 small rabbit (about 2 lbs), quartered with the rib cage removed (reserve for stock, along with offals if available)
  • 2 TB vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp Bavarian seasoning
  • 2 cups medium-bodied red wine
  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes with basil
  • 1 TB tomato paste
  • 4 cups water
  • 5 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • frilly pasta of your choice, or creamy polenta
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

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Preheat the oven to 400. Place the rib cage on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place flour in a shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper. Heat vegetable oil in a large pot over a medium-high flame. Dredge the rabbit legs and loins in flour and transfer to the pot, searing the meat for 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

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In the same pot, add carrots, celery and onion and season with dried herbs. Cook until softened then add wine, tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a boil then add rabbit back to the pot and submerge into the sauce. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 2 hours. If it needs to thicken up more, remove the cover entirely and continue to cook at a slightly higher heat for another 30 minutes.

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For the stock, heat 4 cups of water in a large pot. Add braised rabbit rib cage, offals, thyme sprigs and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce the stock to a cup and add directly to the sauce. Stir to combine but be careful not to disturb the rabbit meat.

Once sauce is done, remove rabbit meat and place into a bowl one at a time. Using two forks, pull meat off the bone. Place the meat back into the pot and discard the bones. Repeat with all pieces of rabbit, then stir to combine and season to taste.

Boil a large pot of salted water. Add 2 cups of pasta and cook for about 8 minutes. Drain out most of the water, leaving about 1/4 cup in the pot. Transfer pasta back to the pot and add 3-4 cups of sauce. Reserve remaining sauce in a sealed container. Simmer and stir frequently until pasta is fully cooked. Transfer to shallow pasta bowls and top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Space Cadet and I enjoyed this meal with Galvan Family Cellars 2012 Viejo (also the same wine that went into the sauce). It’s a Solano County red blend of mostly Zinfandel, Syrah, Gamay Noir and Petite Sirah. The wine had a nice complexity with layers of crushed red fruit, baking spice and a strong acidic backbone – the perfect foil for a ragu!

I really enjoyed the ragu and will certainly make it again, although I will hope to be in less of a rush so that I can allow the sauce to cook for longer, building more complexity and flavor. That being said, it was quite delicious as is. Space Cadet agreed, and she’s pretty hard to please.

UPDATE: I used the leftover ragu the following night when I made dinner for another dining companion (who happens to be a chef, so I was pretty nervous about making a meal that was up to his standards). I added 1/2 a cup of water and simmered the ragu partially covered for about 90 minutes. I served it over Parmigiano-Reggiano polenta, which proved to be a much better pairing than the pasta. And my chef friend seemed pleased, even though he did pull out one or two little bunny bones.

Fall into Brunch

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I’ve been seeing huge stalks of Brussel sprouts at Trader Joe’s the last few weeks, and I can’t resist them. I find it hysterical that I would’t touch Brussels sprouts until the age of 25, when I was finally wooed over by the delectable crispy Brussels sprouts at my favorite SF restaurant, B*Star Bar. If you haven’t had them, you should stop what you’re doing right now and get to 2nd and Clement and order some.

In any case, I’ve found numerous ways to enjoy the sprouts from my stalk throughout the course of the week. But my favorite instance was this morning when I concocted a delicious and healthy breakfast bowl that was the perfect start to the first of November.

Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower and Pancetta with Poached EggsIMG_3816

  • 1/2 cauliflower, stalks removed
  • 1/2 TB butter
  • 1 small shallot, diced
  • 8-10 Brussel sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup chopped pancetta
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Using a food processor, pulse the cauliflower until it’s broken down into a rice-like consistency. Transfer to layers of paper towel and squeeze until slightly damp. Transfer to a baking dish and cook for 10 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a pan over a medium flame. Add shallots and sauté until soft, only a few minutes. Then add Brussel sprouts and continue to sauté until they begin to brown a bit. Add pancetta and thyme and sauté until pancetta starts to crisp, about 4 minutes. Lower heat and let sit.

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Bring 1/2 cup of water to boil in a small pot. Lower the heat to summer and add two eggs. Cover and cook for 6 minutes.

Remove the cauliflower from the oven and add to the pan of Brussel sprouts. Toss to combine, and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl.

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Remove the eggs from the pot and run under cold water to cool the shells. Carefully remove half the shells, then gently slide or spoon the egg onto the bowl of Brussel sprouts and cauliflower. The whites will be cooked and the yolk will be runny – just how I like it.

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You could easily increase the quantities in this recipe and serve a larger group, perfect for a autumnal brunch. Don’t forget the Champagne!

Pretty Food Tastes Better

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I was really into the Skinnytaste recipe that landed in my inbox yesterday morning. She did a play on sushi in a measuring cup, flipping it onto the plate and creating this beautiful layered tower of spicy shrimp deliciousness. After sweating it out at the gym with my fabulous and stunning trainer, Miss Brit, I ran by my favorite Mexican market for an avocado and a cucumber. But when I finally got into my kitchen around eight – after my hilarious neighbors sufficiently distracted me – I really didn’t feel like waiting for brown rice to cook, especially since it wasn’t even short grain and probably wouldn’t be sticky enough. So naturally, I turned it into a quinoa bowl.

Spicy Shrimp Sushi Quinoa Bowl

  • 1 TB low sodium soy sauce, plus more for drizzle
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 lime, juice and zest
  • 4-6 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/4 cup of dry quinoa
  • 1/2 cup chopped cucumber
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 an avocado, sliced
  • 1 tsp furikake
  • 2 tsp Sir Kensingtons Sriracha Mayonnaise

Combine soy sauce, sesame oil, lime zest and half of the lime juice in a small dish. Coat the shrimp and marinate for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the quinoa: combine with 1/2 cup of water in a small sauce pan, then bring to a boil, simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Fluff and remove from heat but keep covered. Heat a small pan over a medium flame. Cook shrimp for 3 minutes on each side, remove tails, then chop into bite size pieces.

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Now, just because I couldn’t make my dinner into a neat stack sure doesn’t mean I’m not going to make it look pretty, because pretty tastes better. Spoon the quinoa into the bottom of a shallow bowl then top with cucumber, scallions and shrimp. Lay the avocado slices around the edge of the bowl, then top with furikake and drizzles of remaining lime juice, Sriracha Mayonnaise and soy sauce.

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Once you sit down and stop taking photos for Instagram, chop those avocado slices and mix it all together, seasoning as you wish with straight up Sriracha and more soy sauce. Serve with Dry Riesling, Viognier, or Chenin Blanc. I opted for one of my favorites: Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier – or, as true fans commonly refer to it as, CB+V.

Braised Boudin

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We’re having a heat wave in the Bay Area. It got up to 90 degrees in San Francisco yesterday (which is CRAY for SF) and 103 degrees in Napa. Fortunately for me, I was inside my chilled office for the majority of the day. It gets so cold in there that I find myself layering my summer dress with a Pine Ridge fleece that I keep on the back of my chair. Yesterday I even had to step outside for a minute to warm up! I quickly went back inside when I realized my error.

But the heat won’t keep me out of the kitchen! I purchased some rabbit boudin from Fatted Calf about a month ago when I had some friends in town. We were going to grill them with a bunch of other goodies but I decided the rabbit was unnecessary, so in the freezer it went. Then last night when I opened the freezer to put my head inside it, I felt beckoned by the tell-tale Fatted Calf sticker. I pulled together some random ingredients that I thought would go well with the flavor of the rabbit, and came up with a delicious braise that I will surely recreate.

Braised Rabbit Boudin with Fennel and Kale (serves 2)

  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, fonds removed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 purple carrot, halved lengthwise then chopped
  • 2 rabbit boudin, or rabbit sausages
  • 1 TB Dry Sherry
  • 1/2 cup of chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup chopped Tuscan kale
  • 1 cup cooked white quinoa

Heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a large pan. Add shallots and sauté for 1 minute, then add fennel and carrots and continue to sauté for 5 minutes then push to the side of the pan. Add the sausage to the other side of the pan and brown for a few minutes on each side. Add the sherry to the vegetables and sauté to combine.

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Move the sausage to the center of the pan, nestling them into the vegetables. Add chicken broth, Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and decrease the heat to medium-low. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove the lid and add the kale. Saute so that the kale is tucked into the rest of the vegetables. Cover and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, or until all vegetables are cooked and the chicken broth has reduced to less than 1/4 cup. Serve over quinoa and enjoy!

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Pair this dish with a Central Coast Pinot Noir such as Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Pinot Noir, one of my favorites for the price and a light enough to pair with poultry. Or if it’s too hot to drink red wine – such is my case – you could try a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Chablis or White Rhone blend. I can’t wait to go back to Fatted Calf and figure out more ways to prepare this delicious rabbit boudin! Any suggestions?

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