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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.

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.

Braised Boudin

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We’re having a heat wave in the Bay Area. It got up to 90 degrees in San Francisco yesterday (which is CRAY for SF) and 103 degrees in Napa. Fortunately for me, I was inside my chilled office for the majority of the day. It gets so cold in there that I find myself layering my summer dress with a Pine Ridge fleece that I keep on the back of my chair. Yesterday I even had to step outside for a minute to warm up! I quickly went back inside when I realized my error.

But the heat won’t keep me out of the kitchen! I purchased some rabbit boudin from Fatted Calf about a month ago when I had some friends in town. We were going to grill them with a bunch of other goodies but I decided the rabbit was unnecessary, so in the freezer it went. Then last night when I opened the freezer to put my head inside it, I felt beckoned by the tell-tale Fatted Calf sticker. I pulled together some random ingredients that I thought would go well with the flavor of the rabbit, and came up with a delicious braise that I will surely recreate.

Braised Rabbit Boudin with Fennel and Kale (serves 2)

  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, fonds removed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 purple carrot, halved lengthwise then chopped
  • 2 rabbit boudin, or rabbit sausages
  • 1 TB Dry Sherry
  • 1/2 cup of chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup chopped Tuscan kale
  • 1 cup cooked white quinoa

Heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a large pan. Add shallots and sauté for 1 minute, then add fennel and carrots and continue to sauté for 5 minutes then push to the side of the pan. Add the sausage to the other side of the pan and brown for a few minutes on each side. Add the sherry to the vegetables and sauté to combine.

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Move the sausage to the center of the pan, nestling them into the vegetables. Add chicken broth, Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and decrease the heat to medium-low. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove the lid and add the kale. Saute so that the kale is tucked into the rest of the vegetables. Cover and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, or until all vegetables are cooked and the chicken broth has reduced to less than 1/4 cup. Serve over quinoa and enjoy!

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Pair this dish with a Central Coast Pinot Noir such as Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Pinot Noir, one of my favorites for the price and a light enough to pair with poultry. Or if it’s too hot to drink red wine – such is my case – you could try a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Chablis or White Rhone blend. I can’t wait to go back to Fatted Calf and figure out more ways to prepare this delicious rabbit boudin! Any suggestions?

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