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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.

Give Me Umami

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About two years ago I came across a recipe for Spicy Kimchi Tofu Stew in my beloved Bon Appetit. KDD and I had planned to make this detoxifying stew to cure any upcoming hangover Sunday, but some time between then and when I moved to Napa we must have become responsible adults because we were never hungover enough to make this stew. Or maybe we just kept forgetting – also a sign of getting older. In any case, I finally found an opportunity to make this savory stew last week. And although it wasn’t to cure any particular hangover, it did feel extremely detoxifying after a week of too much wine and rich food.

There are two key ingredients in this stew that give it umami: gochujang and kimchi. I had purchased a little jar of gochujang when I was doing the BA Food Lovers Cleanse last month, and I had just enough leftover for this recipe. As for the kimchi, my pickling guru – who shall be known as Canuck from this point forth – had given me half a quart of some kimchi that he made at home. I’m not exactly sure how he made it, but I know it involved fish sauce and cabbage. If you don’t have the time or equipment to make kimchi at home (or you don’t have a pickling guru to “lend” you some), you can find it at Whole Foods or any Asian market, along with the gochujang.

Reid's homemade kimchi

Canuck’s homemade kimchi

Spicy Kimchi Tofu Stew (serves 4)

    • Kosher salt
    • 1 16-oz. package silken tofu, cut into 1” cubes
    • 1 TB vegetable oil
    • 2 cups kimchi, including liquid
    • 1 ½ TB gochujang 
    • 6 scallions, cut into 1” pieces
    • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 large egg yolks

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce heat, then carefully add tofu and simmer gently until slightly puffed and firmed up – about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer tofu to a medium bowl and set aside.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the kimchi and gochujang and cook, stirring often, for 7 minutes. Add kimchi liquid and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until kimchi is softened and translucent – about 40 minutes.

Add scallions, soy sauce, and tofu; simmer gently until tofu has absorbed flavors, about 20 minutes. Add sesame oil and season with pepper (the stew will already be salty so there is no need to add more). Ladle stew into bowls and top each with an egg yolk.

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I served this spicy soup to my pescatarian friend and her fiancé (who eats meat, and was actually able to recognize the fish sauce in the kimchi) and they both loved it. While very spicy, it’s not a burn-your-tongue spice but more of an addicting umami spice. The egg yolk does lighten it up a bit and add a touch of creaminess. Having Canuck’s homemade kimchi in my possession certainly gave me a reason to finally make this soup, but it also elevated the dish and added depth of flavor. So much so, that I am considering making my own batch of kimchi at some point! Let’s just hope I don’t push it off for two years like I did with this stew.

FLC16: Highlights from Week 1

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It’s Day 7 of my Wine and Cheese Detox and I’m going strong! I feel light and refreshed, I’m sleeping better, and I have hardly thought about cheating. I even attended a work-related wine tasting on Tuesday afternoon and spit all of the wines. But I have to admit, the feel of Napa Bordeaux blends on my lips was luscious. In continuation with my Food Lover’s Cleanse, I’ve made several delicious and healthy meals the past week:

The Chia Pudding with Pineapple and Apricot and Banana Almond Smoothie made for great breakfasts – very filling, slightly sweet, and easy to get together during a morning of multitasking. I was a little put off by the thought of it at first, but I really enjoyed the texture of the chia pudding.  I will definitely incorporate both of these into my breakfast routine.

Tofu Stir Fry

Brussel Sprout and Tofu Stir Fry

The Brussel Sprouts and Tofu Stir Fry was spicy and and hearty. I love a good stir fry, and this was recipe was pretty dynamic for so few elements. I enjoyed the crunch of the water chestnuts and the tangy spice of the gochujang – a Korean chile paste that I have been dying to use in cooking since I read about it about a year ago. I didn’t prepare the suggested rice side as directed, but I did use some black rice that I cooked with bits of ginger and topped with shredded coconut. I forgot to add furikake to the stir fry, but I remembered to include it on my leftovers the next day and it added a nice umami flavor. I would recommend this dish for a hearty vegetarian stir fry, but double up on the gochujang or add some Sriracha because it’s lacking in heat.
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Last night I made Salmon with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce and Carrot Salad with Garlicky Bok Choy. My favorite component was the carrot salad, which I didn’t make nearly enough of. I didn’t bother toasting cumin seeds and used ground cumin and turmeric instead, so it only took about 10 minutes to prepare; an easy salad to get together before heading out the door in the morning. I enjoyed the yogurt-cucumber sauce on top of the salmon, and added a bit of mint to brighten it up. Overall, this meal was flavorful, light but filling, and the flavors integrated well with each other. I used the leftover salmon filet in a lunch salad with arugula, mixed greens, cilantro, mint, cucumber, carrot, almonds and miso-tumeric dressing – yum!

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By far, the Spicy Orange Hazelnut Bark was the best thing I made all week. Since I haven’t been drinking alcohol, I find myself craving something sweet in its place. I’m not a dessert person by any means, but I can’t resist a piece of dark chocolate. Rather than munching on some hipster chocolate bars I got over the holidays, I decided to get out the double boiler and make my own bark. I’m not a huge fan of hazelnuts so I used some bittersweet chocolate with almonds from Trader Joe’s and added some pistachio pieces to the mix, which was delicious. But it was the orange zest and cayenne pepper that really pulled the bark together. I will definitely be making this on the regular, whether or not it’s a replacement for wine! Here’s to another 7 days…

Braised Moroccan Lamb Shanks with French Lentils

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

Moroccan Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate (serves 4)

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

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

Confetti Lentils (serves 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Wine or Cheese, Please!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leftovers turned healthy lunch

Leftovers turned healthy lunch

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

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!

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