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New Yearakkah

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With Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years Eve all falling within the same week during this past holiday season, Canuck and I really got into the spirit of things. It was the day before Christmas Eve and I was able to buy the last tiny 2-foot tree at Whole Foods (directly from their display, might I add) and I decorated it with our combined seven ornaments and some battery operated rainbow LED light as Canuck made massive batches of candy cane cookies (his family recipe) and rugelach. The next day, we drove the single hour – hardly enough time to listen to the entire Hamilton Mixtape – over the mountain to my parents home in Woodland; a welcome change from flying six hours to New York in a middle seat on an overpacked red eye.

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Canuck’s Christmakkah Cookies

As we passed through the bottom of Lake Berryessa, it dawned on me that this would be the first time in my unreligious lifetime that I would be celebrating the first night of Hanukkah with my dear grandmother, Mema. I knew we would be lighting her beautiful peacock-like menorah, a piece that I’ve admired for years. So much so, that I claimed it “mine” when she began packing up her home in San Diego, preparing for a move to Davis to be closer to her family. What I didn’t know is that she intended to give it to me this year, as long as I continued the tradition of lighting the candle and saying the blessing each night of Hanukkah – or, joining Canuck when he said the blessing each night as I tended to the candles.

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We made sure to light the eighth candle just before our guests arrived

To round out the holiday season, we decided to celebrate New Years Eve by throwing a fancy dinner party – the first of many dinner parties in our new home. And since New Years Eve landed on the eighth and final night of Hanukkah, I thought it would be appropriate to make gravlax for the first course. Naturally, Canuck made deliciously crispy latkes to pair with the gravlax, and also secured a tin of white sturgeon caviar that he served on homemade potato chips with crème fraîche.

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That salad, though…

I ended up eating so much food during the first course (along with the delicious appetizers that our friends brought) that I barely had enough room in my stomach for the main course: leg of lamb with Moroccan couscous, crispy roasted potatoes, and green leaf salad with apples, aged gouda, dried cranberries and roasted walnuts. Canuck – being a professionally trained chef and the best boyfriend ever – took the lead on almost everything, but I was responsible for the salad (my specialty), cocktails, and the gravlax. Since I only had three jobs, I took each one of them very seriously, especially the gravlax.

Gravlax – a Nordic dish of raw salmon cured with salt, sugar and dill – is very easy to make and costs a lot less than store-bought lox. And when done right, it’s a luxurious treat that will impress any guest. The whole process involves a few quality ingredients, about a four day wait, and a really, really sharp knife. The only real variables are the ratio of salt to sugar, the curing time and any additional flavors you choose to add to the curing mixture.

Since it was my first go at this seemingly simple dish, and this was an important occasion (the long awaited end of 2016!), I wanted to insure that I made the best version of Gravlax, using the most gratifying combination of variables. To do so, I went to Serious Eats – a trusted source of Canuck’s – and found a recipe that was developed by Daniel Glitzer after a bit of testing. I was ready to go.

Gravlax With Caraway & Coriander (serves 10+)

  • 1 (2-pound) skin-on, sushi-grade salmon fillet, pin bones removed by fishmonger
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 4 TB of kosher salt, plus more for washing salmon
  • 1 TB sugar
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 or 2 large bunches of dill

Mustard-Dill Sauce

  • 3 TB distilled white vinegar
  • 2 TB roughly chopped dill fronds
  • 5 TB Dijon mustard
  • 1 TB sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a mini food processor, combine vinegar with dill, mustard and sugar, and blend until dill is very finely chopped. Add oil and blend until a smooth sauce is formed. Season with salt and pepper.

Start with a short salt water bath: fill a large bowl with cold water and add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. Add the salmon and set aside for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast caraway and coriander seeds in a skillet over high heat, stirring constantly for about 1 minute. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind finely. In a small bowl, stir together salt, sugar, ground caraway and coriander seeds, and white pepper until thoroughly combined.

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The caraway and coriander were a nice touch

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Remove the salmon from bath and pat dry with paper towels. On a clean work surface, turn salmon skin side up and sprinkle about half of salt mixture all over, rubbing in with fingers. Arrange half the dill all over the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold salmon (and wide enough to fit a weight, like a pot of water). Set salmon skin side down on the bed of dill and rub remaining salt mixture all over top and sides of salmon. Top with remaining dill and cover with plastic, then top with a weight. I used a smaller baking dish with a pot of water on top, but you can also use canned beans or anything heavy. Place in the refrigerator.

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After chilling for one day, remove from the fridge and carefully unpack the salmon, reserving the dill. Place the salmon back in, skin-side up. Repack with the dill, cover with new plastic and set the weight back on top. Refrigerate for another 2-3 days, until the salmon is firm and sufficiently cured, then unpack the salmon and remove the dill. Gravlax can be kept refrigerated tightly wrapped in plastic for approximately 5 days after curing.

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Perfectly cured and ready to slice

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Sliced super thin and topped with a little dill

When ready to serve, remove the salmon from the fridge and place on a clean, heavy cutting board. Using a very sharp slicing knife, thinly cut gravlax on the bias. Glitzer suggests serving the Gravlax on pumpernickel bread with dollops of mustard-dill sauce (recipe above) and bits of dill. I used the last bits of leftover gravlax to try it this way a few days after New Years, and it did not disappoint. But it didn’t hold a candle (no pun intended) to the pairing of gravlax and latkes that we had on New Years Eve. Topped off with some mustard-dill sauce (a little goes a long way), and you have the most delicious mouthful of Jewishness that ever occurred. And, although not Kosher at all, the caviar certainly didn’t hurt.

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The most delicious way to ring in the New Year!

Back to Life

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This has been the longest I have ever gone between blog posts, and I’m somewhat embarrassed. It’s a vicious cycle, really. You think, “well I’ve gone this long without posting, who will notice anymore?” Or, “I’m going to take 100 photos for my future blog post about this” and then realize you don’t have enough storage on your phone. I promised I would never let myself go this long without connecting with my dear readers, but then life happens and your hobby blog suddenly falls lower and lower on the list of priorities. But I’m back, and I’m going to be better than ever!

Let me give you a brief culinary recap of my life since my last post:

  • I went to Seattle for the first time in my life and realized how much I miss living in a real city (but I still love you, Napa). I was there for a business trip, but stayed a little longer to indulge in all the culinary delights that the city has to offer.
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One morning in Seattle (clockwise from top left): salmon pierogi, Hom Bow, lots of fish at Pike Place Market, Rose and Puget Sound oysters from Taylor Shellfish, and the Starbucks Roastery. Damn.

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Fresh summer fruits from a market on Vashon Island, WA

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Cider tasting at Dragon’s Head on Vashon Island, WA

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Best brunch ever at Revel (clockwise from top left): ramen, savory monkey bread, spicy kimchi bloody mary, BBQ pork waffle, SPAM rice bowl… I could eat this stuff every Sunday.

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Blanquette de Lapin at Bistro Jeanty: Pancetta wrapped rabbit loin and braised leg with pappardelle pasta morels and truffle oil

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Ratatouille at Bistro Jeanty

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Okonomiyaki at Two Birds One Stone

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Roasted whole chicken at Ad Hoc

  • I ate a lot of delicious meats. Let’s just say, I know someone at Fatted Calf.
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Said Fatted Calf employee (aka my boyfriend @PeterPorker13) raging on shoulder chops at “Butcher’s Happy Hour” – first Thursday of every month in Napa; every Wednesday in SF.

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Fig and sausage stuffed quail from Fatted Calf

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Wagyu prime rib… and Yorkshire pudding… and roasted potatoes… and Christmas.

  • I made Gravlax for the first time (which warrants a separate post), for a super fancy New Years Eve dinner party that was hosted in my newly purchased townhouse! It has been taking up all of my energy and time, but it’s completely worth it.
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Before and after of my living room/dining room/kitchen (missing cabinet doors). It’s amazing what floors, lights and paint will do to an old space!

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Table setting for our first dinner party, on New Years Eve of course! I learned how to fold cool napkins just for this occasion.

I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things, especially now that I finally have a massive open kitchen with plenty of counter space (as well as a dishwasher!!!).

I’ve also set some culinary goals for 2017, including, but not limited to:

  • learn to make sushi; more specifically, sushi rice
  • make homemade pasta, including ravioli
  • master the art of breaking down a chicken
  • eat more caviar
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My first go at sushi… looks pretty but I really need to work on the rice.

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Caviar is served best on homemade chips with Crème fraîche.

Bayside Panzanella

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Last summer I took my family to Hog Island for the first time. The event was part of a week-long thirtieth birthday celebration, and I had made the reservation months in advance (as one needs to). None of them really knew what they were getting into but they knew there were oysters involved and that’s all that really mattered at the time. Since my family hadn’t yet moved to Northern California, they were visiting from New York and they rented a minivan for the week. So my parents and I, my brother, his girlfriend (Hillz) and her sister (Livy) all piled into the car, trucking a leaky cooler full of beer and wine, a dozen sausages, the makings of a panzanella salad and a few picnic supplies. We set out towards the coast – Tomales Bay, to be exact – along a winding, cliffside road that made my vertigo-suffering mother and carsick ridden girls lose a bit of faith in me. I kept insisting, “it’s just around the corner, we’re so close, I promise it will be worth it…” but they couldn’t believe that something could be so good to make this treacherous ride worth the trip. Then we finally got there, and it sunk in: we were in oyster Heaven.

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IMG_6355Last weekend the same crew made the trip again, our second year in a row of what will be a long-standing tradition. This time was a little different in that everyone was more prepared. The cooler was in tip-top shape, filled to the brim with light beers and oyster-friendly wines like Rosé, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and sparklers; we bought pre-cooked sausage links from Costco and Fatted Calf that wouldn’t burst over a direct flame; we had a table cloth and ample plastic picnic supplies, including a cutting board, grill tools and an oil brush (we’ll get to that). We were pros now.

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Livy requested that I make the same panzanella salad again, and I couldn’t deny that I was already planning to do it. It’s the ideal grill-picnic salad because you can prepare the tomatoes at home and put them in a sealed container to marinate while you make the drive, then put the other ingredients in the cooler to keep them fresh, and use the oil from the marinade to coat the bread before grilling. Perfection!

Panzanella Salad with Fresh Ricotta (serves 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main)

  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • Salt
  • 2 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 loaf ciabatta bread, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 10 oz arugula
  • 5 ounces fresh ricotta, crumbled

On a cutting board, using the flat side of a chef’s knife, mash the garlic clove to a paste with a pinch of salt; transfer to a large container. Add the tomatoes, onion, vinegar and the 3/4 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover and let the mixture stand at room temperature, stirring a few times, for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours.

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Using an oil brush, generously apply the oil from the marinade to each side of the ciabatta. Grill the bread, oil side down, for about 7 minutes, or until brown and crispy, then flip to the other side and grill for 3 more minutes. Once cool, slice into 1½-inch chunks. Transfer the tomato mixture to a large platter and top with arugula and ricotta, then toss to combine. Top with the grilled bread chunks and serve.

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This is the perfect salad to serve alongside a tray of four dozen shucked oysters, as a prelude to a heartier protein like sausage or another grilled meat. But if that’s not quite your plan, it also goes well with just about anything you would find at a cook-out. The freshness and acidity is great for a hot summer day, but it’s still substantial enough of a salad to soak up a booze-filled afternoon. You could swap the ricotta for burrata, but personally I think the ricotta keeps it nice and light whereas burrata might make the dish too heavy.

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And if you’re an oyster-lover and Northern California is accessible to you, make Hog Island your day trip destination. It’s truly the best place in the world to consume oysters, and my father still has a hard time describing it to people who have never been. It definitely has a Maine-like East Coast vibe that appeals to my family of transplants, but to me it’s as California as California gets.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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