Monthly Archives: January 2012

Not so Winter Wonderland

As a Bay Area native, and San Francisco resident, I lazily stick to the city’s 7 by 7 radius and unintentionally neglect the wonders beyond the city limits. Most San Franciscans will agree that it’s very easy to develop a city-centric weekend schedule with minimal effort, so the prospect of making an actual commitment and venturing elsewhere is easier said than done.

Of course, by exception, I will travel far and wide to experience a quality glass of wine, and perhaps a world famous chef’s culinary empire.

This past weekend’s miraculous 70-degree weather influenced me to cut the neighborhood brunch routine and venture to Napa Valley: San Francisco’s robust back yard with the finest food and wine in the country (or, arguably the world). The drive is less than an hour, and the location couldn’t be more enticing with sunshine and low-season crowds (the manageable kind).

I highly recommend the breathtaking views and serene surroundings of Alpha Omega winery. The outdoor seated tasting will take that crowded air-conditioned tasting room to a new level, offering a more relaxed and personalized opportunity to sample world class wines in a casual setting.

Try not to spend your entire day here, as it’s easy to get lost in the luster of the blue fountain, while sipping on hand-pressed wines (out of the barrel, if you play your cards right).

If you crave a more non-traditional winery experience, or frankly want something other than beautiful rolling hills, you must add Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley to your to-do list. Ma(i)sonry, located in Yountville, boasts tastings from a multitude of award-winning wineries, and an art gallery with eclectic, note-worthy pieces. The experience was like no other, and a preferred location among locals.

I’ve explored the Napa Valley in the past, but admittedly overlooked Yountville as a wine country destination. The small town, located a few miles north of Napa, is home to many tasting rooms, hotels, and restaurants, including chef Thomas Keller’s world famous The French Laundry. More to come on this restaurant in future posts, however, I was initially impressed with the building’s subtlety and adjacent farmland. I can’t wait to score a reservation to this place (my bank account feels otherwise).

Of course, I had to try one of Thomas Keller’s other restaurants in town (having recently become obsessed with his cookbooks), and made prior reservations at Bouchon. This French bistro had exquisite service with friendly staff, a comfortable atmosphere with plush red velvet seating, and the most memorable cuisine. I couldn’t stay away from the buttered poached lobster tail. The photo does not do enough to illustrate the deliciousness. Go ahead, give this restaurant a try. And while you’re at it, ask your server for some winery recommendations, as they may know a thing or two about the local gems. 

For those of us that need a little more chateau in our lives – fear not. Domaine Carneros, off of highway 12 (and on the way home!), will satisfy the “inner-castle” in you. Seated table service and sunshine make this outdoor tasting the perfect finale (or start here first) to any wine tasting trip.

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Filed under VINTOGENIC

Gingery Shrimp Lettuce Wraps with Red Quinoa and Cilantro Peanut Sauce

I have always had a thing for peanut sauce (seriously, I will ask for extra at Thai restaurants).

At first, the only peanut butter I knew was smashed between two pieces of bread (I didn’t care for jelly), so the concept of a savory sauce took some getting used to. My first peanut sauce experience as a child involved Thai chicken satay & lettuce wraps, and it’s been a favorite ever since.

This dish is a hybrid of the classic Thai interpretation, and is inspired by an unforgettable peanut sauce, which can be found in the Real Food Daily cookbook.

Gingery Shrimp Lettuce Wraps with Red Quinoa 

Ingredients

3/4 lb large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

About 1/4 cup soy sauce

3 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt & fresh ground pepper to taste

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 orange bell pepper, julienned

1 red bell pepper, julienned

2 carrots, shaved into ribbons using a potato peeler

1 head of butter lettuce, washed and dried

1 cup of organic red quinoa, cook according to directions on package

1 bunch of cilantro for garnish and peanut sauce

1 cup of cilantro peanut sauce recipe (listed below)

1. Marinate shrimp ahead of time – at least 30 minutes in advance. Place shrimp in a large bowl, add a few dashes of soy sauce and freshly ground pepper. Stir. Make sure each shrimp is coated in soy sauce mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator.

2. Heat a large heavy bottomed sauté pan with extra virgin olive oil

3.. Add half of the diced onion and cook until soft, using medium heat, about 5-7 minutes.

4. Add peppers, season with salt & pepper, and continue to cook until peppers are soft, another 15-20 minutes. Turn heat to low, and simmer the peppers and onions while shrimp are prepared. 

5. Heat a second medium sized sauté pan with extra virgin olive oil, and add remaining diced onions. Cook until soft, using medium heat, about 5-7 minutes. Add ginger and cook  for another minute.

6. Add marinated shrimp, and cook until shrimp are fully cooked – look for opaque skin and bright pink color.

7. Assemble lettuce wraps with layers of quinoa, peppers, onions, gingery shrimp, and garnish with carrot ribbon and cilantro. Top with freshly made peanut sauce. Yes, that just happened.

Cilantro Peanut Sauce (also known as Peanut-Sesame Dressing, according to RFD)

Ingredients

2/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1/3 cup brown rice vinegar

1/4 cup maple syrup

3 tbsp water

2 tbsp tamari

1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic

1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1/4 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves

1. Blend the peanut butter, vinegar, maple syrup, water, tamari, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and crushed red pepper in a food processor until smooth and creamy.

2. Add the cilantro and blend just until it’s finally chopped.

The dressing will keep for 2 days, covered and refrigerated.

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Filed under FRESH FETE

Socially-Acceptable Stuffed Shells

Disclaimer: do not make this recipe unless you are prepared for zero leftovers, or a test of your ultimate willpower.

Take a night off from 2012 resolutions and indulge with good friends, as time is precious and only grants you limited relaxation (I know, your dream of being on vacation full-time has yet to come to fruition).

My friend Sarah and I recently arranged a dinner for four, and had the task of feeding a NFL playoff consumed group. They are hungry, have most likely been in loud open areas full of flat screen TVs and beer, and crave something that provides comfort and familiarity. Our friend Ashley recently suggested this Shells with Crispy Pancetta and Spinach recipe, and deemed it as her “favorite home-cooked dish”. We could not ignore such a recommendation (ask friends for advice, chances are you enjoy similar dishes) and decided it was the perfect option for a Sunday night event. Cozy, comfortable, and easy (and did we mention crowd pleasing?).

Rule Number 1 when entertaining: choose familiar items, which have been tried and successful in the past, that contain simple ingredients. You are guaranteed to have a smooth night since there are no unexpected surprises or difficult prep work required.

Ingredients: 

1 (12-ounce) package jumbo shells pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 pound thick-cut pancetta, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

2 pounds frozen spinach, thawed and drained

1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta (we used part-skim and did not notice a major difference in flavor)

1 cup grated asiago cheese

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Sauce (we doubled the original recipe):

2 tablespoons butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups cream

4 cups grated asiago cheese, plus 1/2 cup

1/2 cup grated fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375° fahrenheit.

For the shells:

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta. (Note: the shells will cook again once they are baked in the oven – it’s important that they remain very al dente prior to being stuffed with ricotta mixture)

Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and cook until lightly golden, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large bowl. Add the spinach, ricotta cheese, asiago cheese, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.

Stuff the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture each and place stuffed shells in a large, buttered baking dish.

For the sauce:

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat the very low and add the 4 cups asiago cheese, parsley, and pepper. Stir until the cheese is dissolved.

Pour the sauce over shells. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup asiago cheese. Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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Filed under EVERYDAY EATS

Show Stopping Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes with Hazelnuts

Say hello to your next go-to side dish. If you’re like me, the new year has brought resolutions, discipline, and absolutely no time for elaborate recipes that keep me in the kitchen for three hours.

Upon returning from a grueling session at the gym [or insert preferred method of exercise here], there is little motivation to cook, let alone have the creativity to make something tasty, and fall within “new found” health parameters.

The solution: befriend root vegetables and robust greens. Brussels Sprouts, packed with cholesterol-lowering goodies, are both filling and guaranteed to please your taste buds. I was intrigued by Martha Stewart’s Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Rutabaga with Hazelnuts, and decided to adapt the recipe by using Japanese sweet potatoes instead of rutabaga.

The end results are sufficient for a meal, or serve alongside some light protein for a balanced weeknight dinner. YUM!!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

2 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Course salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds japanese sweet potato, skin removed and cute into 1-inch pieces (5 cups)

3/4 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise

1 ounce toasted hazelnuts

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk together maple syrup, oil, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add sweet potatoes, and toss.

2. Transfer sweet potato and all but 2 tablespoons glaze to a rimmed backing sheet (leave remaining glaze in bowl). Spread sweet potatoes in a single layer, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and roast for 35 minutes, tossing half-way through and making sure sweet potatoes are spread toward the edges of pan.

3. Raise oven temperature to 450°. Toss brussels sprouts with remaining glaze in bowl and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Remove sheet from oven, and add sprouts. Toss, and spread in a single layer. Roast vegetables, tossing every 5 minutes, until glaze is very thick and vegetables are deep golden brown, and about 20 minutes. Season with pepper, and sprinkle with hazelnuts.

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Tomato and Onion Tart

I hated the thought of a raw tomato until my trip to Greece in 2007, where I experienced garden-fresh tomatoes during the peak of the summer season. I then became adventurous enough to try every type of tomato that crossed my path, and have been in love ever since.

Tomato and Onion Tart is the perfect accompaniment to any buffet table (watch how fast it goes). I attempted Gourmet Magazine’s recipe for our New Year’s Day dinner party, and served as the main dish since most indulged heavily the evening prior. As a health conscious foodie, I am looking forward to a lean and healthy 2012, so it was so satisfying the start the year off with such a light yet substantial meal.

Health conscious tip: Substitute all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour

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Filed under FRESH FETE