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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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Radicchio: Where Have You Been All My Life?

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When I was visiting my parents over Christmas, I made my latest rendition of orecchiette with sausage, Brussels sprouts and broccolini. (In short, sauté garlic, red pepper flakes and shallots in 3 TB olive oil for a couple minutes, then add broccolini and chopped brussels sprouts and sauté over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Brown a mix of Italian sweet and spicy sausage – about 6 links, casings removed – in a separate pan, and toss everything with a healthy portion of orecchiette pasta. Top with freshly grated Pecorino and serve immediately). While everyone loved the pasta, my mom’s radicchio and mixed green salad really added some brightness the meal. And it got me thinking, why don’t I use more radicchio?

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My new favorite pasta dish. I’m obsessed with Brussels sprouts.

Well, since then I have been putting radicchio is almost all my salads. I love the bitter, spicy flavor, but also the color that it brings to any salad. You can mix it with spinach, kale, arugula, or any combination of mixed greens and it will bring the salad to the next level. Lately I have been adding nuts and other crunchy vegetables and tossing with a citrus vinaigrette, then topping with some protein. It makes for a great light meal without cutting the flavor.

Radicchio Salad with Grilled Mahi Mahi (serves 2)

  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 4 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 small Mahi Mahi filets
  • 1/2 head radicchio, chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 TB red wine vinegar
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 cup arugula
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 6 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 small avocado, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 TB Safflower oil

In a small dish, combine orange zest, sage, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over each side of Mahi Mahi filets and let sit for about 10 minutes. In a separate small dish, combine lemon, mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and set aside. In a large bowl, combine radicchio, arugula, radishes, avocado, and almonds, and set aside.

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Heat safflower oil a large nonstick pan over a medium flame. Add garlic clove and sauté for about as minute to infuse oil. Cook Mahi Mahi for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until browned and opaque in the middle.

Add vinaigrette to the salad and toss to combine. Serve in large shallow bowls and top with a filet of Mahi Mahi.

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This dish is light and healthy, but bursts with flavors of citrus and spice. Pair with crisp white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier. If you’re hankering for a red wine, this dish would also pair nicely with an Oregon Pinot Noir. To make this meal a little more hearty, try topping with grilled sirloin or roasted duck breast.

The Ricotta Gnocchi Project

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Last week I hosted my monthly Cookbook Club meeting, which focused on Canal House Cooking, Volume 7. I love the simplicity of The Canal House books, and I particularly love this volume because it focuses on my favorite cuisine: Italian. I was determined to make a pasta from this book, and settled on the Gnocchi Verdi because I thought it would be easier than making hand-rolled pasta (not so… but I’ll get to that). I sent the group a wide selection of recipes and declared I would be making the gnocchi; we quickly determined the rest of the menu would consist of minestrone soup, shrimp risotto, sausage and apple stuffing, prosciutto wrapped figs, and ricotta cheesecake.

figs

Prosciutto-wrapped figs with balsamic reduction

I started preparing the gnocchi a couple days in advance, beginning with the homemade ricotta that goes into the dough mix. I was nervous to make my own ricotta, but it seemed pretty straightforward so I went for it. After securing a double boiler, candy thermometer, and a skimmer (How did I not have a skimmer before now? It’s my new favorite kitchen tool!), I turned on Game 4 of the World Series (yay Giants!) and got to work.

Whole Milk Ricotta (makes 1.5 cups)

  • 1/2 gallon of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt

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Make a double boiler out of two large pots, with enough water in the bottom pot to come at least halfway up the sides of the top pot. Pour the milk into the top pot and heat over a medium-high flame until the temperature reaches 190 on a thermometer*. Add salt, yogurt and lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds to mix everything together. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 minutes, maintaining at 190 degrees. Do not stir, as it will disrupt the ricotta curds. Once done cooking, use a skimmer to carefully lift all the ricotta curds out of the whey and transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for about 1 hour, then transfer to a covered container and use within 4 days.

*The recipe said it would take about 15 minutes to reach this temperature, but it took me more like 45 and it was still not entirely 190 degrees. Eventually I just gave up and continued with the rest of the process, and it gradually reached 190 after I added the other ingredients. 

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Gnocchi Verdi (serves 6)

  • 2 lbs fresh spinach, cooked, squeezed dry and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup finally minced basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta
  • 1 TB melted butter
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 TB flour, sifted

Sage Butter

  • 8-12 TB butter
  • 8-10 sage leaves
  • Parmigiano-reggiano

Mix together the spinach, basil, ricotta, butter, Parmesan-reggiano and eggs with a rubber spatula in a large bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, then sift the flour through a sieve or fine-mesh strainer into the spinach mixture. Mix it just enough to incorporate the flour. The dough will be soft, sticky and slightly moist. Refrigerate in a covered container overnight.

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About 2 hours before you’re ready to cook the gnocchi, form into cone shapes by hand (make sure your hands are constantly wet to avoid the dough sticking to you) and lay onto a lightly floured baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and freeze for 1.5 hours.

Make the sage butter about 20 minutes before serving. Melt the butter with the sage leaves in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, turn off heat, cover and keep warm until serving.

When ready to cook, fill a deep, wide pan with water to a depth of about 3 inches. Season with salt, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Adjust the heat to keep the water barely simmering. Using a spoon, place the partially frozen gnoccho into the water, sliding it off the spoon. Cook 6-10 at a time. When they float to the surface, cook them for about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel covered plate to drain for a minute, then place onto serving platter. Once all gnocchi are done and on the platter, pour the sage butter over the pasta and season with salt, pepper and a shower of Parmigiano-reggiano.

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The gnocchi were well-received, which I was very happy about because they were quite a labor of love! I DEFINITELY recommend test-cooking a few gnocchi before getting into the whole batch; that way you have an idea of how hot the water should be, and how long to cook them. The first few I made fell apart in the pan, ether because the water was boiling too hard or because they weren’t formed well enough – or both. I started to panic and thought I would have to give up all together, until Miriam suggested freezing them. Since the dough was so soft and moist, freezing the gnocchi firmed them up they stayed more in tact when cooking. Thank goodness!

I had quite a bit of leftover gnocchi, and wasn’t quite sure how to reheat them. During some alcohol-influenced late night cooking on Halloween night, I decided to pan fry the gnocchi on a dry nonstick pan. That tasted magical. Or maybe I was just buzzed? Nope, pretty sure it was magical.

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

But the best use of the leftovers was the morning after Halloween when I incorporated some gnocchi into the egg mixture for my frittata. Usually I add ricotta to my frittatas, but since I didn’t have any actual ricotta the spinach gnocchi was the PERFECT substitution to my bacon-mushroom-pepper concoction. So perfect that I would consider making Gnocchi Verdi again just to have a batch around for morning frittatas. Though, I suppose I could just continue to make my own ricotta for that purpose!

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