Not-so Traditional Panzanella

panzanellaYou have a sourdough loaf that’s a couple days past its prime, a whole lot of tomatoes, and a grumbling belly. What do you do? Make a bread salad for dinner!

The reason this post is titled, “Not-so Traditional Panzanella” is because traditionalists usually only create it using bread, basil, tomatoes, and onions. Like the way I feel about making stock, I think you should make your meal with what’s already in the kitchen. If that means you open the refrigerator door and spy, say, olives and a bit of mozzarella — and maybe there’s an avocado sitting on the counter that has to be used today or it will be too old for anything but guacamole — well then, use them! If the flavors seem like they’d meld well, go for it. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but the best way to stick to a food budget is to eat what you buy. Wasted food is money down the drain, or into the compost heap, so make sure to figure out how to use those random leftovers you have hanging around the kitchen.

I paired the panzanella with a Dolcetto, and it was phenomenal! It’s the type of pairing one dreams about, that perfect harmonizing of food and drink. There was a lovely counterpoint to the tomato, basil, avocado… even the olives. If I had more Dolcetto in my collection, this would be our meal for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, I only have one more bottle, and it can be a hard wine to come by in California. People don’t know what it is, so they’re hesitant to try it. It’s a beautiful wine, but because folks won’t buy it, winemakers don’t make it. Please, don’t be scared! Search it out, and have it with this recipe.

Not-so Traditional Panzanella


Serves 4

Most of a leftover sourdough baguette, cut in one-inch pieces
pinch of dried sage
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
drizzle of olive oil
3 tomatoes, cut in chunks
1 avocado, cut in chunks
4 ounces of mozzarella
7 ounces of kalamata olives
20-30 basil leaves
drizzle of olive oil
drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Warm a skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Toss in bread, sage, and pepper and stir until bread begins to golden.
Remove from heat and toss the bread, with the rest of the ingredients, in a large bowl. Cover the bowl and set in the refrigerator for a couple hours so the flavors have a chance to combine well.
Remove and serve.

Stuffed Bell Peppers

stuffed green bell pepperIt’s pepper time in our neck of the woods. The summer’s presented us with a few heat waves, and while that might not be all that pleasant for us, it is for our local produce. When making a dinner of stuffed peppers, you may want to wait for a gap between hot days. Who wants to turn on the oven when it’s 100 degrees F outside? Certainly not me, but even on a warm day, this is a quick to prepare dinner, with a minimum of oven time.

What goes well with green bell peppers? I thought sausage mixed with rice pilaf and some blue cheese seemed like just the ticket. Then I paired dinner with a Cabernet Sauvignon, one with a bit of bell pepper characteristic but not too heavy on the tannins. It was a good match. ***One other thing, you’ll have stuffing left over. Save it for the next morning, scramble some eggs, mix it all together, and make into a frittata. Waste not, want not!

Stuffed Bell Peppers


Serves 2-4

4 green bell peppers, tops cut off and seeds and ribs removed
1 lb sausage
1 cup rice pilaf (I used a local company’s — though they’re offered all over — Wild Porcini Mushroom pilaf. You can also make your own.)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Warm a skillet over medium heat and cook sausage. Set aside.
Cook rice pilaf to package directions.
Stir together pilaf, sausage, and blue cheese. Stuff mixture into each pepper until nice and full. Set tops of peppers back onto the rest of the bell.
Place peppers onto a wire rack set into a baking pan and cook for 30 minutes. About 20 minutes in, take the pepper tops off and set onto the rack in the baking sheet so the stuffing browns a bit.
Remove pan from the oven and let sit about five minutes. Place peppers on plates and serve.

Nectarines and Arugula on Filo Dough

Nectarines and arugula on filo doughMiss me? I’ve been pretty busy with some house hunting/packing/moving of late. Dinner usually comes after a long, exhausting day, and I’ve been gravitating to a few standbys to get me through the evening cooking process. I’m going to give you the low down on how I cook healthy meals while being super swamped, but for today, I have slightly fancier fare.

Nectarines have just come into season in California. They’re one of my favorite fruits, and I love to incorporate them into both sweet and savory meals. I decided to take them and some other in-season ingredients and plop them on some filo dough for a crispy — though rather messy, dinner. I discovered this meal in its open-faced layout required a knife and fork to eat it. If you’d like something a bit easier to eat, fold over the filo into square or triangle pockets so you won’t need a knife. (You’ll just need to add the arugula before folding.) Either way you go about it, pair with a rosé, and enjoy a quick meal after a long day.

Nectarines and Arugula on Filo Dough


Serves 6-8

3 white nectarines, sliced
1 package of prosciutto
15 ounces of ricotta cheese
a few dollops of soft goat cheese (I used my Farm to Table shipment of laychee with chive flowers.)
handful of fresh arugula
8 sheets of filo dough
walnut oil (or olive oil)
black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, roll out the 8 sheets of filo dough. Drizzle, or spray if you have an oil sprayer, a fine layer of oil over the filo. Spread the ricotta in a nice, even layer, followed by the dollops of goat cheese. Lay the prosciutto evenly over the cheese, followed by the nectarines. Drizzle or spray a little more oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Cook for about 10 minutes or until the edges of the dough turn golden brown. Sprinkle on the arugula and return to the oven just long enough for the arugula to wilt, three to five minutes more.
Remove from the oven. Let sit for five minutes, then cut with a pizza cutter into eight pieces, and serve.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

strawberry spinach saladToday’s post is a quick one, as every spare moment has been filled with busy work this week. I’ll be telling the whole tale on my other blog, but for now, why don’t we take a break and enjoy a superb salad?

There are a lot of strawberry spinach salads out there, and for good reason. They’re a wonderful mix of flavors, and they’re good for you, too. Mine has the protein upped a notch with the addition of pecans and thin slivers of Pecorino cheese. After a little drizzle of papaya poppy seed dressing and a glass of rosé, this salad was ready to be a sensational supper.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 2

2 cups baby spinach
4-6 strawberries, sliced
1 Tablespoon coarsely chopped pecans
1 avocado, sliced into small pieces
2 Tablespoons thinly sliced Pecorino cheese
salad dressing (I used Annie’s Papaya Poppy Seed)

Arrange the spinach on two plates. Layer the other ingredients. Drizzle the dressing and serve right away.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

asparagus soupAbout a gabillion years ago (okay, maybe closer to 10) I worked in a coffee house. We baristas also served food, things like toasted bagels and cream cheese, blueberry granola, and soup. I fell in love with the cream of asparagus soup we served. It was an interpretation of the Moosewood Cookbook recipe and was made in large batches by my boss. This was my first introduction to, “Hey, vegetables can taste amazing as soup!” Before that, I was mostly about salads, and as a starving college student, I honestly saw most veggies as something above my income level.

But here we were. This soup was amazing, and I wanted more! I had graduated from college (again) and was working two jobs, one at the coffee shop and one at a grocery store. Not only was I able to afford creating something I considered fancy, I worked at a place where I could get part of it for free. The perks of working in grocery mean that you never starve. Keep that in mind, college students! I got a bunch of asparagus that was too old and ugly for the buying public, as well as an onion that had seen better days, and was on my way to making my first batch. Full disclosure — this soup was part of the first meal I ever made for Charles, and my first attempt at making it, so it has a very special place in my cook’s heart.

These days, I only work in grocery, and my position is a bit higher up the ladder. The coffee shop, though I still miss being a barista, is long gone. While the shop may be a thing of the past, I continue to think this soup is all that. It’s tasty and filling, and it’s a great first course or even a good meal, depending on how hungry you are. Serve it with a Sauvignon Blanc, though in my opinion, it’s best to stay away from the gooseberry characteristics of a New Zealand style. Oh, and even though I no longer take advantage of the free for staff as often as I used to, that doesn’t mean I’m not still frugal. This batch was made with the leftover asparagus after my naan pizza creation. The best way to save money when buying food is to eat all of it.

Cream of Asparagus


Serves 4-6

2 cups stock
1 onion, chopped
6 Tablespoons of butter
6 Tablespoons of flour
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 bunch of fresh asparagus, chopped
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper

In a pot over medium heat, cook asparagus with onions and butter.
When the onions are clear, about eight minutes or so, sprinkle in the flour.
Lower the heat to low and continue to cook for five to eight more minutes, stirring often.
Add stock, salt, dill, and white pepper and cook about ten more minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently.
Puree the mixture bit by bit with the milk in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
Return soup to low heat until it begins to bubble.

Morel, Asparagus, and Pancetta Pizza

naan-pizzaSuddenly, it’s April. No one I know can quite figure out how we got here already, but hey, it’s the fourth month of the year.

Spring has sprung, and so have morel mushrooms. Morels should be cooked before being eaten, and many people enjoy them sauteed in butter with a bit of salt and pepper. I’m all about sauteing mushrooms in butter — and I did that as part of my preparation — but I thought a pizza that showcased the first flavors of spring would be just perfect. Along with morels, the first asparagus is presenting its green, tender shoots. With the warmer weather, Pennyroyal Farm is also back to making their Laychee cheese, the light, fluffy stuff that they make from new milk. To finish off the flavors, this pizza-of-the-spring was put on a “crust” of garlic naan, given a white sauce cover, and graced with some pancetta. It was incredibly delicious. Pair it with Pennyroyal’s sister ranch, Navarro Vineyard’s, Pinot Noir (2011 was a very good year) and toast the fresh, new world.

Morel, Asparagus, and Pancetta Pizza


Serves 4

White Sauce
1 pat of butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup milk
dash of white pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1⁄4 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, shredded

2 pieces garlic naan
8 asparagus tips
6 pieces of pancetta
3 morels, sliced thinly and sauteed in butter
12 dollops of Laychee cheese (or chevre)
balsamic vinegar (in a spritzer if you have one)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
On the stove top, put milk and butter in a small pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Stir until flour is mixed thoroughly. Mix in white pepper and garlic. Add cheese and remove from heat. Whisk until cheese is melted and set aside while you cook the morels.
Place naan on a pizza stone, pizza pan, or cookie sheet. Spread white sauce evenly over each piece. Place pancetta on top, then follow by scattering the asparagus and morels. Dollop each naan with the cheese, placing strategically so each bite will have some gooey goodness.
Put naan pizzas in the oven and cook seven to 10 minutes or until the asparagus begins to brown. After about five minutes of the pizzas being in the oven, spritz the tops with balsamic vinegar.
Cut each pizza in pieces and serve right away.

Slow Cooker Vegetable Bean Soup

Vegetable Bean SoupWell, hello there! Things were a little quiet on the blog last week because I was on a short vacation, enjoying the wildflowers in Death Valley. Charles and I don’t do complicated camp food. Our cooler is reserved for beer, so everything else is just boil-in-a-bag. After a few days of eating Tasty Bites Jaipur Vegetables for dinner, I was in the mood for anything different.

It was a busy week for us after our break, as the reality after trips often is. I wanted something healthy and inexpensive, and I didn’t want to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen, since I didn’t have a great deal of time. That’s where my favorite kitchen tool — other than my Japanese chef’s knife, the slow cooker came into play. After a night of soaking beans, it was a day of slowly cooking a mishmash of ingredients, and by the time I got home from work, soup was on!

One of the best things about soup is it’s not an exact science. I tend to eyeball the amounts when I’m making it, so don’t feel freaked if you only have 30 ounces of tomatoes or vegetables. It will still be tasty.

What’s even better, there are plenty of leftovers. We’ll have more soup tonight, probably paired with a Zinfandel or Sangiovese, and I’ll freeze the rest in two-serving containers for more easy, soup-filled evenings in the future.

Vegetable Bean Soup

  • Difficulty: super easy
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Serves 10

1 cup dried Orca beans (Black turtle beans or little navy beans would also work.)
water
32 oz canned, fire-roasted tomatoes
32 oz (2 bags) of frozen, assorted vegetables (Buy these while they’re on sale and hoard them for whenever you need a veggie addition to a meal.)
2 cups of stock (You know I always have plenty in my freezer.)
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried parsley
roasted red pepper flakes to taste
salt and black pepper to taste

In an eight quart slow cooker, soak the beans in water overnight.
The next morning, drain the beans in a colander. Return them to the slow cooker and add the rest of the ingredients. Add water to the pot until it’s 3/4 of the way full. Put on the lid, turn the slow cooker onto low, and let cook eight to ten hours.
Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Serve with some crusty bread, if you’re into that.

Veggie Wrap with Green Bean Fries

veggie wrapOh, fresh vegetables, you call to us during the winter months, promising crunch and flavor and energy…

Sometimes, I marvel at the world we live in, where we can get tasty, vitamin-packed veggies out of season. I started the week off on a less than healthy note, eating Chinese take-out for two days straight. I had neglected my usual grocery shopping the weekend before, so before take-out, I think we ate something like frozen cheese pizza. These things happen occasionally, but man was my body screaming for fresh food after that stint!

Wraps are always good for containing a great deal of vegetable goodness in an easy-to-eat format. To turn our veggie consumption up to 11, I made a side of green bean fries to go with it. We paired dinner with a Pinot Noir. There was just enough fruit in the wine to be a nice companion to the roasted red bell pepper and tomato, plus the lovely mineral characteristics were great with the mushroom.

Veggie Wraps with Green Bean Fries


Serves 2-4

2 spinach wraps or large tortillas
1 tomato, sliced thinly
4 Tablespoons of grated carrot
1/2 avocado, sliced
2 pieces of roasted red bell pepper, sliced
2 Tablespoons of thinly sliced spring onion
1/2 portobello mushroom cap, sliced
2 handfuls of baby spinach
choice of condiments (I used a drizzle of ranch dressing and a smear of stone ground mustard per wrap.)

2 cups of green beans
sprinkle of grated Parmesan
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Turn oven to 400 degrees F.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook green beans until they turn bright green.
Drain in a colander. Toss with olive oil and Parmesan.
Spread onto a cookie sheet and cook until the beans — and Parmesan — just begin to brown, about as long as it will take you to assemble your wraps.
inside wrap
On two plates, place spinach wraps. Add condiments, and then layer up the vegetables, staying to just right of the middle of the wrap. Turn the plate so the right side is now the bottom. Fold in the sides of the wrap. Using your thumbs, fold the bottom of the wrap over the veggies and then slowly roll until the vegetables are fully encased, making sure the sides stay in as you go.
Cut the wrap in half, add the green bean fries, and eat right away.

Int. Alsace Varietals Fest. 2015

Alsace festival 2015One thing that’s a must-do each year for Charles and me is attending Anderson Valley’s International Alsace Varietals Festival. Not only is there a lot of amazing wine to try, there’s also an educational aspect to the event, which just makes it that much greater.

This year’s highlights included a discussion on how pressing/skin contact and early intervention influence wine flavor, differences in vintage and vinification of single vineyard Pinot Blanc, a food and wine pairing showcasing Gewurztraminer, an appellation discussion about a family winery in Alsace — this was so great! — and a food demonstration of seared steelhead on a pool of cauliflower puree with caramelized onion butter by Chef Francois de Melogue.

As always, each tidbit of the event was amazing, from the education to the Grand Tasting to the winery open houses the next day. It’s one of the highlights of our year, and we’ll make sure it stays in our yearly planner. Thank you so much to the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association for putting on such an amazing event!

For a list of the places where we stay, eat, and drink, check out last year’s post. I’ll leave you with a collection of my photos from this year’s awesome festival.

Alsace Festival 2

alsace2

alsace4

Alsace Festival 5

Kimchi Fried Rice

kimchi fried riceWe’re a home of many stir-fries. There are usually vegetables in the crisper as well as the freezer, and a stir-fry is both easy and nutritious. And it’s a quick dinner.

Sometimes, though, a little variety is desired.

I had a crisper full of vegetables that needed to be used. Their freshness was waning, and I hate to waste anything, so… stir-fry? Nah. Instead, I decided to incorporate kimchi into the dish to create a sour and savory meal

Kimchi seems to be growing in popularity in the States. BuzzFeed even did a list-of-things-you-can-do-with-it article. Like sauerkraut, it’s a fermented food, and it’s versatile in the dishes in which it can be served. Also like sauerkraut, it pairs nicely with Alsace varietals of wine.

I paired dinner with a bottle of Corvidae Ravenna 2012 Riesling. Not only is this an awesome wine, because, raven – Charles and I are big corvid fans – it’s really nice. It was a spot on pairing – the Riesling cut through the richness of the egg while making the kimchi fried rice almost creamy and balancing the spice from the Sriracha. It was lovely.

Kimchi Fried Rice with Egg


Serves 4

Hot Pepper Sesame Oil
1 cup white rice, cooked
1 jar of kimchi, drained well
2 cups mixed vegetables
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1-2 Tablespoons Sriracha
1-2 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
4 eggs, cooked how you like them (Charles is a scrambled egg kind-of guy. I like mine over-easy.)

Warm a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Drizzle in sesame oil, just enough to coat the pan. Toss in rice and stir for a minute. Add kimchi and sauté until mixed well and warmed-through.
Remove rice mixture and set aside.
Add a bit more oil to the pan. Toss in vegetables, garlic, Sriracha, and soy sauce and sauté until vegetables are tender.
Turn heat to low and mix the kimchi rice with the vegetables.
While the mixture warms and the flavors incorporate, heat another pan over medium-low and cook eggs.
Divide the rice mixture evenly onto four plates, top with eggs, and serve.