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Ad Libbing It

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I’m sure many of you have heard of the famed Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, and more recently the $300,000 worth of wine that was stolen from the prized cellar, and recovered in North Carolina shortly after. This happened on Christmas Day, days after Keller closed The French Laundry for four months for renovations. During the closure Keller opened a pop-up in Silverado Resort called Ad Lib, which was recently extended through October (and possibly beyond). Initially it was hard to get a reservation, but things have since settled down and you can usually get in on a Monday or Thursday without too much advance planning (or you can be like me and book a reservation six weeks in advance). I finally had my long-awaited first Thomas Keller dining experience last week and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.

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I was worried that Ad Lib might be stuffy and too fancy (à la The French Laundry) but it certainly had its own character, which was far from stuffy. Maybe it’s the young, flirty staff or the retro menu, but it has a very fun, laid back vibe to it that really puts the diners at ease. It also helped that my dining companions were three fabulously entertaining foodie fems: Miriam, Space Cadet, and MaeMae.

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We had a fantastic view of the golf course at Silverado Resort

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While the wine list at Ad Lib is quite impressive, we preferred to bring our own bottles and pay the $50 corkage fee (which was still far below any bottle we would have purchased). MaeMae brought a 2005 Mumm DVX Cuvée, which was the perfect start to the evening. And Miriam brought a Pine Ridge Epitome Cabernet Sauvignon, which she had previously used a Coravin on about a year ago, so we were taking a bit of a gamble with it. It was obvious some wine had been removed from the bottle so we told the sommelier that we had used the Coravin on the wine before we left – you know, to make sure that it was drinkable. I don’t know why we felt the need to lie, but in the words of Space Cadet, “our credibility came down to our cork. If it turned out to be corked, we would not only be caught in a lie but we would lose our credibility as badass industry bitches.” Thankfully, the wine was perfect.

Even the bread was beautiful! And melt-in-your-mouth flakey.

Even the bread was beautiful! And melt-in-your-mouth flakey.

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We wanted to try as much food as possible without overdoing it, so I suggested ordering family style. We easily agreed on two orders of Caesar salad, a side of mac-n-cheese, a side of wilted greens, filet of salmon, chicken schnitzel, and beef wellington (serves two). The Caesar salad is prepared and served table side – sometimes by Keller himself if he’s around. Our salad artist for the evening was a lovely young lady named Erica, a newbie to Napa who is slated to work at The French Laundry once her stint at Ad Lib is up. She started by seasoning the salad bowl with peeled garlic, then she prepared the dressing using anchovy paste, an egg, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Space Cadet actually filmed it, which I encourage you to watch until you get bored (you might want to mute the sound unless you want to be subjected to our our snarky banter).

We had requested the sides to come out separately, before the entrées, but they began to bring out the beef wellington after they cleared our salad plates. There was some whispering and they quickly slid the cart away, but we all caught a glimpse of the drama. Apparently our silly server, Louie “made a mistake”. Clearly it worked out in his favor (and the rest of the kitchen staff) because they had an extra beef wellington to chow down on. In any case, they quickly corrected their error and brought out our mac-n-cheese and wilted greens. The mac was so yummy and surprisingly light, and the greens were perfectly seasoned. It made for a nice middle course before our much-anticipated main courses.

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The beef wellington was beautiful. They prepared it with a mushroom paté between the beef and the pastry, instead of the traditional foie gras. This made the dish lighter but also gave it an earthy quality, and the moisture from the mushrooms made the beef even more tender. It was outstanding. I was also a big fan of the salmon filet, which was cooked to perfection with a crisp exterior and coated in a delicious lemon-dill burre blanc. The schnitzel was pretty yummy, but a little too salty if you ask me.

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As we were finishing our entrées we noticed the waitstaff carrying what looked like a torch to a nearby table, and we realized it was someone’s birthday. Space Cadet spoke up and mentioned that her birthday was a few weeks ago, and that she would appreciate a sparkling surprise. Well, the staff must have been thoroughly entertained by us because they indeed brought us a slice of seven layer coconut cake with a sparkler in it, in addition to banoffee trifle and Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée – all of which they graciously comped. It was the perfect finish to a glorious evening of fine dining – with a little bit of ad lib, indeed.

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Easter Treats

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KM2, my best best friend since third grade, just visited me for a whole week to celebrate her 30th Birthday! She happened to be staying with me over Easter, which was a big deal because it’s one of her favorite holidays (and she was also born on Easter). So to make it feel special I planned a little gathering and we made some delicious Easter themed treats!

KM2 and me enjoying some bubbly!

KM2 and me enjoying some bubbly!

KM2 found this cake on Pinterest and set her mind to making it. Unfortunately, we left all the ingredient shopping to Easter morning and had a really hard time finding yellow peeps. But they HAD to be yellow otherwise the sunflower wouldn’t make sense. After trying Lucky’s, CVS, and Safeway with no luck, I thought KM2 was going to lose her shit. But we made one last attempt with a visit to Walmart and luckily they had a few boxes of yellow peeps left. PHEW. She used her this amazing brownie recipe to make the cake, and now I will never eat any brownies other than these. And of course, the hunt for yellow peeps was totally worth it because the cake looked so damn cute.

Sunflower Peep Brownie Cake!

Sunflower Peep Brownie Cake!

KM2 also came up with the brilliant idea to make these candy pretzel bites, which can be used for any holiday if you just find the right holiday-themed candies (i.e. Christmas colored M&Ms).

Candy Pretzel Bites (makes 30)

  • 30 square-shaped pretzels
  • 30 Hershey’s Kiss Hugs
  • 30 Easter colored peanut M&Ms

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Arrange pretzels on a baking sheet and top each with a Hershey’s Kiss Hug. Bake until just melted (about 1-2 minutes), and watch carefully to make sure the hug doesn’t melt too much. Top each with an M&M and transfer to the fridge for at least 30 minutes to cool. Transfer to a serving bowl and devour! Note: the peanut M&M is key to reach the right salty:sweet ratio.

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My job was to make Deviled Eggs. I had only done it once before and all I could remember was how long they took to make. So I decided to cut some corners by buying the Trader Joe’s packaged hard-boiled eggs. This saved A LOT of time but perhaps made the yolks too hard. In any case, they were a big hit and I was happy to contribute something Easter-themed!

Mexican Deviled Eggs (makes 12)

  • 12 eggs, hard boiled, cooled and peeled
  • 2 TB Dijon mustard
  • 2 TB mayo
  • 1 TB Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 TB chopped chives
  • 1 TB chopped cilantro
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp lime zest

Slice each egg in half and arrange the whites on a serving platter. Using a 1/2 teaspoon, carefully remove the yolk from the eggs and transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients (except lime zest) and mix until combined and smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

If you do not have piping equipment, place the egg yolk mixture in a sealed plastic bag, squeezing out all excess air. Snip a corner of the bag to create a hole, then squeeze the yolk out of the hole and into each egg white. Sprinkle with lime zest and serve.

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This was sort of experimental, but it worked out well! I liked the addition of cilantro and chives directly in the yolk, rather than sprinkled on top. And the Greek yogurt added a smoother texture to the yolk without adding too much yogurt flavor. But my favorite touch was the lime zest because it really brightened it up. I would definitely make these again – WITH the TJ’s pre-boiled eggs!

Dat Salad Tho

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I’m always looking for new ways to dress up my usual kale salad. My favorite combo involves some type of grain and a lemon based dressing, but I always have to find new ways to keep it interesting. That being said, I never get sick of this salad. The tahini dressing adds a faux creamy element when combined with avocado, but it’s way healthier than something like Ranch. Plus, these chicken thighs are so delicious and can be repurposed throughout the week if you make a big batch.

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Chicken Thighs (serves 2)

  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 boneless chicken thighs

Kale Salad (serves 2)

  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 3 TB tahini
  • 2 TB water
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 8-10 leaves Tuscan kale, removed from stemmed and thinly chopped
  • 1/3 cup finely diced red onion
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 3 TB pine nuts
  • 4 basil leaves, julienned

Make the marinade for the chicken: combine lemon, spices, mustard and olive oil and whisk vigorously until combined. Place into a sealed container or Ziploc with chicken thighs and refrigerate overnight.

Heat a nonstick pan over a medium-high flame. Add chicken thighs and cook for 5-7 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Remove from pan and chop into slices. Add back to the pan and cook for another 3 minutes, tossing occasionally. Drain on paper towel, then set aside.

Meanwhile prepare the tahini dressing; combine lemon and tahini and whisk until thick. Add water by the teaspoon and whisk until smooth. Combine kale and onion in a large serving bowl, then add 3/4 of the tahini dressing to the bowl and toss to coat. Add tomato, avocado, pine nuts and basil. Top with chicken and a drizzle the remainder of tahini over the salad, then serve.

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Tossed

Pack it in, bring it in

Pack it up, bring it in

This is the perfect post-workout salad, full of nutrients and protein. It’s also easy to divide into lunch for the next day; just separate the quinoa and chicken into one small container, the tahini dressing in another, and the rest of the salad in a large container. Microwave the quinoa and chicken for a minute and a half before tossing with salad and dressing. Delish!

Tiny Explosions of Salty Goodness

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When I first pored over the March edition of Bon Appétit, I dogeared “The Providers’ Pantry” article. It offered a few ideas for simple things to create from pantry staples when the fresh food in your fridge starts to dwindle over the week. One particular offering for simple and speedy pasta caught my eye when I saw capers referred to as “tiny explosions of salty goodness” (insert dirty joke). I finally decided to give this recipe a go this week. Even though I had plenty of fresh produce in my fridge, I was craving a bowl of salty pasta after a few days of green smoothies and kale quinoa salads. I jazzed it up a bit with some anchovy paste (mmm more salt) and fresh basil.IMG_1472

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Capers, Anchovy and Breadcrumbs (serves 2)

  • 4 oz whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup capers
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 3-4 basil leaves, julienned

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add spaghetti and cook for 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large pan over a medium-high flame. Add garlic, shallot and red pepper flakes and sauté for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add capers and anchovy paste and continue to sauté for another minute until anchovy paste has dissolved into the mix, then add breadcrumbs. Continue to sauté over medium-low heat until browned – about 5 minutes.

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Add pasta to the breadcrumbs and toss until combined. Add cheese and basil and toss again. Serve immediately in shallow pasta bowls.

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This satisfied all my cravings for salt and carbs, and I think this recipe is really easy to adjust based on what you have. If anchovy paste isn’t your thing, incorporate some chopped crispy bacon for that extra bit of salt. No fresh herbs? Try a nice salt-free Italian seasoning. And if you don’t have whole wheat spaghetti on hand just use whatever you’ve got. Make it your own!

Pair with that half bottle of wine that’s leftover in your fridge. In my case, it was a single vineyard St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc that my friend (who shall be known as Space Cadet from this point forth) left behind after my Sunday BBQ. Speaking of which, I just bought my first charcoal grill and ordered a pizza stone attachment at the advice of Space Cadet, who is teaching me the art of being a grillmaster. Stay tuned.

Pre-Winetasting Hash

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Not THAT kind of hash; although I’m certainly not opposed to that, it’s not really the kind of thing you want to get into before wine tasting. But THIS kind of hash is the perfect pre-wine tasting meal, with enough carbs and protein to coat protect you from getting too buzzed before lunch, without leaving you too full.

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Red Potato Hash with Chicken Sausage (serves 2)

  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 red onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 6 small red potatoes, quartered
  • 1 tsp lemon herb salt
  • 1 pre-cooked chicken sausage (Aidell’s or TJ’s brand are my favorites), diced
  • 2 eggs
  • Sriracha, to taste
  • 1 TB chopped chives

In a non-stick pan fit with a cover, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Once hot, and onion and garlic and sauté until soft – about 4 minutes. Add potatoes, lemon herb salt and 3 TB water; cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove cover and add sausage; sauté for 4 minutes or until beginning to brown.

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Push the hash to one side of the pan, creating enough space on the other side of the pan to fry two eggs. Lower the heat to medium-low and crack two eggs into the pan. Cover the pan and cook for 3 minutes, or until a thin white layer begins to cover the yolk. Remove from heat and transfer the hash to two bowls, then top each with a fried egg and some drops of Sriracha and chives.

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Now you’re ready to taste some delicious wine! By the way, this also doubles as a good hangover breakfast.

Frills on Frills on Frills

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Bon Appetit released their ‘comfort food’ issue last week, and it’s very nearly everything. From soups to pantry meals to pastas, I dog-eared 5 pages and 14 recipes. One recipe that stood out was their Reginetti with Savoy Cabbage and Pancetta. Since I was already buying pancetta for my massive batch of minestrone soup, I figured I might as well add a few more ounces and work this recipe into my week’s grocery shop. And then Miriam’s Tuesday night plans suddenly fell through and I invited her over for dinner so that I could share this batch of frilly pasta with someone who would equally appreciate it.

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Bon Appetit March 2015, p. 55

 

Campanelle with Savoy Cabbage and Pancetta (serves 3)

raw pancetta strips

raw pancetta strips

  • 10 oz Campanelle pasta
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 4 oz thinly sliced pancetta
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 1 small head of savoy cabbage, tough ribs removed, leaves torn
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino or parmesan
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt

 

This recipe suggests “Reginetti, or other short pasta.” I didn’t see anything short and frilly enough after checking out the pasta aisle in a few routine grocery stores; I decided to swing by Genova Deli on my way home, because I knew they would have what I was looking for. Sure enough, they carry Barilla’s Campanelle pasta, the perfect substitution for “Reginetti” – whatever that is.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and a pinch of salt and cook for 8 minutes, until very al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid.

cooked pancetta

cooked pancetta

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add half of the pancetta and cook for 2 minutes, then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then cook the second batch in another tablespoon of olive oil and transfer to paper towels.

Deglaze the pan with dry sherry, then add the cabbage and cook undisturbed until deeply browned in some spots – about 3 minutes. Using tongs, toss the cabbage then cook undisturbed for another 2 minutes. Continue to cook and toss until cabbage is charred in some spots and bright green in others and beginning to wilt. Add butter and thyme and continue to cook, tossing often for 2 minutes.

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Add cheese, pasta, and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid and cook, tossing often until sauce is thickened and emulsified and coats pasta, about 5 minutes. Add pancetta and toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then serve immediately in shallow bowls.

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IMG_1267Miriam devoured this pasta; she didn’t even speak for a few minutes other than “mmmm” and “ommmggggg”. After I was finally through with snapping photos, I dug in and joined in the chants of “mmmm”. It was almost like a carbonara, but much lighter and greener and just as delicious. The addition of the sherry not only worked to clear the burnt oil from the pan, but also added some braising liquid to the cabbage. Also, this dish just looks good with all the frills.

Miriam (unaware of the fact that Porter Creek is my favorite Sonoma winery) brought over a bottle of 2012 Porter Creek Timbervine Ranch Syrah. We enjoyed it before, during and after dinner. The wine is soft enough to be enjoyed on its own without food, but made the perfect companion to the pasta dish. With soft earth tones, hints of raspberry and meaty spice it worked well with the salty pancetta and sweet cabbage.

Soup’s On!

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I hear it’s been getting cold back east. How about that! I really don’t know what that’s like, since we don’t really have any serious form of winter where I live. In fact, it’s been in the high 70’s the past few weekends, and I even got in some much needed pool time over Valentine’s Day weekend.

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“Winter” in Napa

I’ll stop rubbing it in. Because even though it’s nice to wake up to a fresh blanket of beautiful snow – especially if it means a snow day – and sit by the fire with a glass of port, drinking away the bitter winter temperatures, it gets old real quick. So this new Bon Appetit recipe is for you freezing east coasters. This spicy minestrone will warm you up and last all week long, so you don’t have to go back out into the cold to get dinner!

Spicy Kale Minestrone with Pistou (serves 8)

  • 3 sprigs oregano
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon (or more) crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, with juices
  • 1 Parmesan rind (about 2 ounces; optional)
  • Two 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces baby Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, cut into ½” pieces
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, ribs and stems removed, leaves torn into 1” pieces

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Pistou (makes 1 cup)

  • 2 garlic cloves 
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt

Using cheese cloth and kitchen twine (or in my case, a tea filter bag), bundle oregano, rosemary and bay leaves, then set aside.

Makeshift herb bundle

Makeshift herb bundle

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pot over a medium-high flame. Add pancetta and sauté until browned, about 3 minutes. Add onion, leek, carrots, celery, garlic, and red pepper flakes and season with salt. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes. Then add tomato paste and continue to cook until slightly darkened, about 3 minutes.

Add tomatoes and juices, crushing with your hands as you go, then the herb bundle, Parmesan rind, and 6 cups of water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add potatoes, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add kale and beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove parmesan rind and herb bundle and remove from heat.

I made my soup, partially covered it, then ran out to the movies to see Still Alice (which I highly recommend, even though I sobbed through almost the whole thing). When I came home a few hours later, the soup was still a little warm but cool enough to divide into various tupperware containers. I took out a portion and reheated it for about 5 minutes in a smaller pot, while I made the pistoupistou

To make the pistou, plus garlic and basil in a small food processor. Transfer to a small bowl and add olive oil, lemon zest, and a generous pinch of salt. Serve the soup topped with a large spoonful of pistou.

minestone

There were so many things I loved about this soup. First of all, it was easy to make (as most soups are), and only took about an hour, including prep. I loved the combination of the herb bundle and Parmesan rind to enhance the broth, creating layers of powerful flavors, as well as the red pepper flakes to kick it up a notch. It was very hearty with the addition of potatoes and cannellini beans, but still very fresh tasting with the pistou topping. Bon Appetit suggests topping with roasted pumpkin seeds or a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan – both of which I plan to try throughout the week as I devour my leftovers.

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