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Tomato, Basil and Everything

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One of my favorite things about my Napa apartment is my yard! Not only is there space for corn hole, ping pong, a grill, and a fire pit, but also a garden. This summer is the first time I have ever exercised my green thumb, so I started with something simple: sunsugar tomatoes, Genovese basil, Thai basil, and purple basil. I figured these ingredients would last me all summer and still allow for some variety. And I am happy to report that my garden is thriving! I have my genes and the hot Napa sun (no more SF fog!) to thank for that.

My sunsugar tomatoes, planted in a half barrel

My sunsugar tomatoes, planted in a half barrel with some Genovese basil

Over the weekend I used all three basil varieties to make a pesto. I also incorporated some kale and a touch of lemon juice, as well as pine nuts and parmesan. I wasn’t sure what I would do with the pesto, but then it struck me when I spotted some frozen chicken thighs in the back of my freezer. I coated them in the pesto and left them out to defrost for the day, while my mind stirred with ideas of side dishes. I happily settled on a light tomato-farro salad with – you guessed it – more basil from my garden.

Left to right: Thai basil, purple basil, Genovese basil

Left to right: Thai basil, purple basil, Genovese basil

Pesto Chicken (serves 2)

Tomato Farro Salad (serves 2)

  • 1 cup of vine-ripened grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 green beefsteak tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup sunsugar tomatoes, quartered
  • 20 basil leaves (assorted or Genovese), julienned
  • 1/8 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/8 tsp dried oregano
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 TB shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup dry pearled farro

Heat a grill or cast-iron pan over a medium-high flame. Once hot, spray with a touch of cooking spray. Grill the chicken for 5 minutes on each side, then continue to flip until fully cooked.

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Meanwhile, cook the farro. Fill a small pot with 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of farro. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until done. Drain any excess water then rinse with cool water to chill. Add to a mixing bowl with all other salad ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

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Pair with your favorite summer Rosé. As far as domestic brands go, I like Azur, Navarro, Red Car, and Trefethen – but you can never go wrong with a nice GSM French Rosé!

This was the perfect summer meal, and I was so happy to incorporate ingredients from my small garden. Next summer I hope to plant several more varieties of tomatoes, as well as more herbs and even some zucchini!

Buffalo is the New Black

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I recently had a buffalo burger when I was back East visiting my family, and I thought to myself, why don’t I ever make these? When I returned to Napa I spotted some buffalo meat at Whole Foods and knew this was my chance! Not only is buffalo meat leaner and healthier than ground beef, but it has a slight gaminess to it that elevates any burger. I decided to spruce it up a bit with some fancier ingredients, and they turned out perfectly!

Buffalo Cheeseburgers (serves 8)

  • 2 lbs ground buffalo meat
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 TB Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 8 slices of cave-aged Gruyere
  • chopped roasted red peppers
  • handful of raw spinach

In a large bowl, combine the first 8 ingredients, kneading together with wet hands. Using about 2/3 of a cup of meat, form a patty. Roll the meat around between your hands, then flatten and place on a parchment covered baking tray. Do this until the meat runs out, making 8 patties.

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We used a charcoal grill to cook these bad boys, but you can use any grill. I prefer charcoal because it’s just more fun. Cook the patties for 4-5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 4 minutes (they should be served medium). Top with slices of Gruyere when you have about a minute left. Transfer to a platter and serve with soft buns, ketchup (I prefer Sir Kensingtons), Dijon mustard, roasted red peppers, and spinach. SO good! I will never go back to ground beef again.

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I served these burgers with some delicious JAQK Cellars 2006 Soldiers of Fortune Syrah, which is drinking perfectly right now. I have several bottles to go through, so I see a lot more buffalo burgers in my future this summer!

Zucchini Blossom Quesadilla

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I’ve been keeping my eye out for zucchini blossoms during my past few trips to the farmers market, and finally spotted some this weekend. The last time I bought blossoms was the day before the earthquake – of course they did not get put to use – so it’s been almost two years since I last cooked with blossoms. I’ve only ever stuffed them with ricotta and pan-fried them, but I wanted to do something different this time. Space Cadet suggested doing a quesadilla, which sounded appealing and different. With her helpful tips and some inspiration from this recipe, I got to work on collecting the remaining ingredients.

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I couldn’t find any Oaxacan cheese at Whole Foods, but I sampled some cave-aged Gruyere that they had out. Even though I’m not always crazy about Gruyere, this stuff was delicious and melts easily so I thought it would make a fine substitute. I also selected some healthier tortillas, which are my new favorite: Trader Joe’s Whole Grain Flour Tortillas with Flaxseed and Rolled Oats. Trust me, they’re great. I also made some salsa verde and avocado crema to serve with the quesadilla, because why not?

Zucchini Blossom Quesadillablossoms

  • 1 small poblano pepper
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of diced yellow onion
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 large whole grain flour tortillas
  • 1/2 cup grated cave-aged Gruyere cheese
  • 6 zucchini blossoms, stems and stamen removed and torn into smaller pieces

Avocado Crema

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 TB nonfat Greek yogurttomatillo
  • juice of 1 lime
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of smoked paprika

Fresh Salsa Verde

  • 5 tomatillos, quartered
  • 2 serrano chiles, stems removed
  • 6 cilantro sprigs, stems removed
  • 1/4 cup water

Start by roasting the poblano pepper. Cook it close to the broiler for 5 minutes, turning once halfway through. Transfer the pepper to a plastic bag and seal. Let sit for 20 minutes, then peel the pepper and remove the stem and seeds. Chop into small pieces and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the salsa verde. In a food processor, combine tomatillos, chiles, cilantro and water and pulse until the salsa is coarsely chopped. Transfer to a serving bowl. For the avocado crema, mash together all ingredients and season to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl.

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Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over a medium flame. Once hot, add onion, garlic and poblano and sauté for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and wipe the excess oil off the pan with a paper towel.

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Return the pan to heat and add a single tortilla. Flip the tortilla once it starts to puff up a bit – about 30 seconds. Add the cheese, pepper and onion mixture, and blossoms. Top with another tortilla and heat for about a minute. Carefully flip the quesadilla so that the top tortilla browns, and cook for another minute. Transfer to a plate and slice into 6 pieces. Serve with salsa verde, avocado crema, and a dry floral white wine such as Gruner Veltliner or Albarino.

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These quesadillas were really yummy, especially with the addition of fresh salsa verde! I made a ton of it, so I will be sure to repurpose it throughout the week, even though it’s quite spicy. And I am so happy to have found another way to enjoy my precious blossoms. Next time I think I will try putting them on pizza. Yum!

Asian Turkey Meatballs with Zucchini Noodles

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In the category of things I can now eat because I will allow cilantro to touch my lips, I bring you Asian turkey meatballs by Skinnytaste! So far Gina has yet to disappoint me, but I was still a little wary about this dish because turkey meatballs can be very dry if there aren’t enough wet ingredients. Fortunately, these meatballs came out perfectly; crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. And the dipping sauce (which I tweaked ever so slightly) added a burst of umami.

Asian Turkey Meatballs (serves 2)

  • 1/2 lb of lean ground turkey
  • 2 TB panko crumbs
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, mincedIMG_1996
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 TB chopped cilantro
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • 2 tsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Cilantro-Lime Dipping Sauce (makes 1/2 cup)

  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 TB chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 TB water
  • 1 scallion, chopped

Asian Zoodles (serves 2)

  • 2 zucchini, shredded with a julienne peeler
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 TB diced red onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for the meatballs. Mix together and form into 1/4 cup sized balls. Line a baking sheet with wax paper, then place meatballs evenly on the paper. Place in the oven and bake for 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce. Combine all ingredients and stir until the oil is evenly incorporated. Set aside.

To make the “zoodles” heat a large nonstick pan over a medium flame. Once hot, add sesame oil and swirl around the pan. Add onion and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the zucchini, leaving undisturbed for 1 minute. Sprinkle salt, then sauté and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and divide into two bowls. Top with three meatballs each, and add a spoonful of dipping sauce onto each meatball.

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These meatballs were delicious – full of flavor and not dried out at all. I enjoyed the zoodles, but I think these meatballs would work even better over some soba or thin rice noodles with shredded carrots and zucchini. Maybe next time!

Springing for Steelhead

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The Napa Farmer’s Market is back on! It actually opened two weeks ago, but I couldn’t make it until yesterday. And I was so excited that I forgot to get cash and only had $8 with me. The first thing that caught my eye was a small bag of shelled English peas. It was $3, but I had never cooked with them before so I splurged. I wandered around the rest of the market, scouting each stand to see what looked the best. I stopped at the seafood stand in the back and noticed some Steelhead trout filets – something else I had never cooked before. I purchased (with my credit card) a filet that was over half a pound and went back to another stand to pick up assorted zucchini, squash and a spring onion for a little over $5, but the farmer let it slide. You won’t get that at Whole Foods!

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Spring Pea and Zucchini Salad with Pan-Seared Trout (serves 2)

  • 1 medium zucchiniIMG_1956
  • 1/4 cup Sherry vinegar
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 4 TB olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 10 oz wild trout
  • 1 TB fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 radicchio leaves, torn
  • 1 small fennel bulb, sliced very thinly with a mandoline
  • 1/2 cup shelled English Peas
  • 8 mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 10 parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

Slice the zucchini lengthwise with a mandoline. Sprinkle zucchini evenly with salt and place in a small colander in the sink for about 5 minutes. Rinse the zucchini under cold water and lay out on a clean dishtowel. Carefully fold the towel over the zucchini and roll to squeeze out the excess water and let sit.

In a small food processor, pulse a shallot. Add lemon juice, Dijon, anchovy paste, Sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. Process to combine, and add 2 TB oil in a slow, steady stream. Transfer to a small container and set aside.

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In a large non-stick pan, heat 2 TB olive oil over a medium flame. Add garlic cloves and toss off heat to flavor the olive oil. Bring the pan back to the heat and add trout, skin side down. Chop two fonds off the fennel bulb and add to the pan. Cook for 3 minutes to sear the skin, then lower the heat and cover; continue to cook for about 8 minutes, or until the flesh is light pink. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool for a few minutes.

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Meanwhile, assemble the salad: radicchio, fennel, peas, mint and parsley. Top with the zucchini slices and dressing to taste (add by the tablespoon), then toss to combine. Top with half of the trout filet and serve! I enjoyed this meal with 2013 Madam Preston White Rhone Blend – a family favorite! It’s bright and crisp, but the Rhone varietals add slight creamy undertones that make the wine stand up well to a heartier seafood.

Put an egg on it!

Put an egg on it!

The best part of making this meal was the leftovers! I incorporated the trout, english peas and fennel fonds into a quinoa breakfast bowl and it was spectacular. Sauté chopped fennel fonds with chopped white onion and garlic for a few minutes. Add the peas, trout (broken up), 3/4 cup of cooked quinoa, and a handful of coarsely chopped spinach and sauté to combine. Once hot, top with an egg, cover the pan, and lower the heat. Cook for 5 minutes then devour. I actually enjoyed this more than the salad, but that may have been due to my slight hangover.

Helluva Halibut

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I’m ashamed to admit that I have developed a new habit of shopping at Whole Foods. It was innocent at first; an organic free range chicken thigh here, some ezekiel bread there. Before I knew it I was buying chia seed peanut butter and Pamplemousse La Croix by the case. It’s especially depressing after a trip to Trader Joe’s, where I typically spend under $70 for a week of groceries, only to be followed by a stumble into Whole Foods where I spend $70 on 6 items. What can I say? It’s convenient and it smells good in there.

This past week I saw some sustainably raised halibut for $24.99 a pound. Initially I guffawed at the sticker, but when the woman in front of me ordered some I thought, other people are doing it so it’s okay if I do. Damn peer pressure grocery shopping. Alas, it was worth it because it was a helluva halibut.

Panko Crusted Halibut (serves 2)

  • 2 halibut fillets, skin removed
  • 1/2 cup Panko crumbs
  • 4 basil leaves, julienned
  • 2 TB chopped parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 TB freshly grated Parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • cooking spray

Line a baking sheet with tin foil and lightly coat the foil with cooking spray; set aside. In a shallow bowl, combine Panko, basil, parsley, garlic, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Coat each halibut fillet in lemon juice and olive oil, then coat evenly in the panko mixture. Place fillets on the baking sheet and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes (this helps the Panko stay on).

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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, until the fish is flakey when touched with a fork. Serve with a medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc or a bright Chardonnay, roasted asparagus with garlic, and lemony herbed orzo or Israeli couscous – perfection!

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Okay Whole Foods; you win.

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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