Mr. Right

Great Pumpkin Soup, For Those Of You Who Don’t Want To Wait in a Pumpkin Patch with Linus

I waited until almost the last possible second to make this. As a Thanksgiving-ish baby who chowed-down on full-size pumpkin pies instead of birthday cake, my pumpkin season begins during the week of Halloween. After prancing about in a culturally-contrived “sexy” costume for a few evenings, I finally let peer pressure run its course and slide into legwarmers, sweaters, and seasonal Starbucks drinks.

What is everyone doing for Halloween, by the way? Are you dressing up? Staying in? Staying in and dressing up? Ordering pizza, watching horror films, and passing out candy? None of the above? Have I inquired enough into your personal lives?

I’m sorry, by asking you too many questions, did I become this girl?

As opposed to this girl?

The original recipe for this came from food52, I’ve supplemented a few of my own proportions, beer preference (did I forget to mention this soup is flavored with pumpkin beer), and – because the pumpkin I purchased for this purpose was utilized in a homebrew experiment – canned pumpkin.

Pumpkin Soup with Pumpkin Beer and Various Bourgeois Toppings

  • 1 can Pure Pumpkin (go with Libby’s on this one, most other canned varieties use a lower quality of squash instead of anything remotely sweet and orange-colored)
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted Butter
  • 1 finely chopped Sweet Onion
  • 4 finely chopped Garlic Cloves
  • 16 Ounces Pumpkin Beer – I used half of one Growler Saranac Pumpkin Ale and drank the rest. A 12-ounce Dogfish Head Punkin Ale would also be perfect. (Tangent: There’s so much shitty pumpkin beer on the market. It’s unreal.)
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • 2 cups Vegetable Stock
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Brown Sugar

Bourgeois Toppings:

  • Pepitas (That’s Spanish for “Pumpkin Seeds,” for those new to the class.)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sage Leaves
  • Goat Cheese

Heat the Extra Virgin Olive Oil over Medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft. Pour in the pumpkin and season to taste with cinnamon and nutmeg (be generous, but remember you can always add more later if it’s not saturated enough with autumnal spice.)

Turn heat up to High and pour in the beer. Leave uncovered and let half of the beer burn off. (It should almost not smell like beer anymore.)

Turn heat down to Low and pour in the Vegetable Stock. Let simmer for 20-ish minutes. Stir occasionally so disgusting scalded soup won’t ruin the pot you’re cooking in.

Puree until smooth using an immersion blender – (Real talk, I highly recommend investing in one of these. It cuts hot soup puree time in half.) – or in batches in a Vitamix/stand blender. Once smooth, stir in the heaping tablespoon of brown sugar, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

I might be stating the obvious here, but TASTE YOUR FOOD. If it’s too bitter, add more brown sugar. If it doesn’t taste like anything besides pumpkin, add more cinnamon and nutmeg. If it’s missing something, but you can’t tell what, it’s bland, i.e. add salt.

To prepare the bourgeois toppings:

Toast the pepitas in a dry pan over Medium-Low heat until slightly fragrant or one of them pops. (Take it off the heat if they pop. You’re not in a movie theater. The time for popcorn-esque things is later.)

Heat Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a pan over Medium heat and fry the Sage Leaves until they’re crispy, but not brown and dead-looking.

For the goat cheese, you have two options: crumble it on top, or place a disc of it somewhere near the middle.

Drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil (no more than a tablespoon) on top of your vat of soup slash whichever garnishes you elect to make use of.

pumpkin beer soup

“Baby’s First Curry” Has a Better Ring to It than “Baby’s First Steps”

The first time I had curry and remembered it was at a Japanese restaurant I frequented growing up in Sacramento. A new collaborative chef-partner revised the menu after I left for college. While home for a visit and out to dinner with friends, I randomly selected one of the new dishes to try. My initial reaction was to look around in shock, my eyes widened and most likely dilated. “Guys, this is f**king perfect. I’m serious,” I said.

After that, I didn’t speak very much. I was too busy shoveling as much curry as possible into my mouth like a truck driver. The restaurant in question passed to new ownership last year. This broke my heart, but I’ll always have my spicy and creamy memories.

Do not fret. I won’t get on a plane and leave you without giving you this curry recipe. I’d regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life.

My preference for curry exploded during my senior undergraduate year. A conservative estimate is that I ordered or ate curry out once every other week. I’ve calmed down about various combinations of garam masala, coconut milk, tamarind, ginger, chilis, papadum, sambal, etc. from various parts of South Asia, but this doesn’t mean I’ve stopped imbibing occasionally. On the rare irksome day where I come home and the thought of cooking fills me with anxiety, I will inevitably roll lazily to my computer, where curry is only a few clicks away.

The title of this post is deceptive, because I’ve actually attempted making my own curry several times; usually when I look at charges made to my card, and realize that I could probably figure out how to satisfy my own craving.

Curry is a difficult thing to execute correctly. The spicy, sweet, creamy, and crisp stars all need to align into a gorgeous constellation of flavor. This isn’t an easy task to accomplish. Unless perfection is staring you straight in the face, you’ve failed miserably and should run along and play with other toys for awhile.

I still want to refine this recipe, but it’s the closest to a restaurant love-affair with a curry recipe I’ve ever gotten. The original proportions for the curry paste came from the Foot Network website, but the vegetables and methodology have been revised considerably to suit my kitchen.

Almost-A-Love-Affair Green Curry

Ingredients:

  • Green Beans
  • Small Purple Potatoes
  • Broccoli Florets
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Coriander
  • 1 bunch Cilantro, roughly chopped (No that’s not an error. Use the ENTIRE bunch.)
  • Fresh Ginger, roughly chopped – I used a piece that was the size of my two thumbs held together
  • 1 Jalapeno, seeded
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 Lime’s-worth of Juice
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Stock
  • 1 cup Unsweetened Condensed Coconut Milk – Yes, the kind from a can, guys.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil over High heat. When the water boils, add a large pinch of salt. Throw in the potatoes and let summer for 5-ish minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, toast the cumin and coriander in a tiny (as tiny as they make them) skillet over medium heat. When you can actively smell the spices without trying too hard, they’re ready.

Blend the toasted spices, cilantro, ginger, jalapeno, garlic, onion, lime juice, and 2 tablespoons of water until a thick paste forms. This is your curry paste (duh.)

Throw the broccoli into the boiling water and cook for 1-ish minutes. Stir in the green beans and let them cook for another minute. Drain the vegetables (careful of the boiling water and steam, I accept no responsibility for you inadvertently scalding yourself) and put them back into the pot.

Pour in the vegetable stock, coconut milk, and 3 tablespoons of the prepared curry paste from the blender. Bring everything to a simmer, then serve over steamed rice or coconut rice.

Green Curry

Try not to shove your face into the bowl. I know it’s tempting.

Everything is Better with Tacos: Pork and Green Chili Stew

I’m sorry about not posting last week. Computer Complications + First Family Visit in Six Months + Some Sort of Stomach Virus = No Free Time to Speak Of.

 

To quickly get to the point:  I’ve realized tacos are a universe-uniting food, capable of solving emotional problems and alleviating unwanted stress.

World Peace

I cooked for my parents while they were in town with a couple of old reliable recipes, but this recipe is definitely inspired by their visit. I’m happy that six months isn’t going to pass again before I see them. (By the way, Sacramento, I’m coming for you twice in November and for New Year’s Day.) However, I’m also happy that I’ll have an ace up my sleeve the next time they come to visit.

Pork and Green Chili Tacos

  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Pork Shoulder (that’s Pork Butt, to you) cut into 3/4″ cubes
  • Sat and Pepper
  • 1 large Sweet Onion – finely chopped
  • 1 pound Mild Green Chilis – I used poblanos and anaheims – finely chopped
  • 3 Serrano Chilis – seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 Garlic Coves – finely chopped
  • 2 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
  • Cilantro
  • Lime Wedges
  • Corn Tortillas

Heat the Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a large pot over High heat. Season the pork shoulder cubes with salt and pepper to taste, and cook in the oil until lightly browned (less than 5 minutes.) Throw all vegetables into the pot, and cover the pot until the vegetables are soft. This should take another five-ish minutes.

“This recipe takes so much time,” she said sarcastically while drinking a Pacifico with lime.

Once the vegetables are soft, add the chicken broth and bring everything to a boil.

Once the stew is boiling, partially cover the pot and simmer over Medium-Low heat until the mixture has reduced by half (20-ish minutes.)

Stir in the cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with lime wedges on corn tortillas. If your parents like cocktails, make sure the beer is cold.

Pork Taco

I Like Eggs

DISCLAIMER: This recipe will not make Jason Derulo appear for you to be the flight that you get on.

I feel like this website revamp is never going to finish, but I realize this is only because we’re at the beginning of it. Honestly, I’m pretty stoked on the direction things are taking. It feels good to have more fuel thrown on the internal cooking flames. (No, that was not intended to be a stove or oven pun, I just had to be at work at dawn, and am consequently loopy.)

The most difficult obstacle to overcome with redoing this website is getting Mr. Right and I into the same room at the same time to discuss anything. (Especially when lately, the only reason we’ve been able to venture from our respective projects into the same room is to watch a new episode of “Hell’s Kitchen.”)

Speaking of which, that show is terrible. Producers, please find a new writing team. I realize it’s how Gordon Ramsay became an American household name, but I can feel him internally cringing at the bad puns. He’s too intelligent and talented for you to keep giving him awful things to say.

Just let Mr. Ramsay ad-lib. It’s what he’s best at.

I digress.

Any form of Breakfast-for-Dinner is a wonderful thing. These were the dinners I looked forward to most growing up (thanks for the continuous stream of waffles, Mom.) The inspiration for this recipe comes from a combination of two things:

1. This month’s “Martha Stewart” waxing poetic about herbed mayonnaise and Greek yogurt for multiple pages.

2. The obscene prices Le Pain Quotidien charges for brunch tartines.

Oh, and in case you were wondering:

tartine (n.) – a fancy way of saying “open-faced sandwich,” usually consisting of a singular slice of bread.

Trivia: This phrase most likely comes from the Middle Ages in France or England, when thickly sliced peasant bread was used in lieu of plates.

Exactly.

The result was something like a deconstructed deviled egg sandwich? Which sounds incredibly pretentious? But more balanced? Try it for yourself.

Soft Boiled Egg Tartines with Herbed Mayonnaise

For the Mayonnaise:

  • 1/2 cup Arugula
  • 1/2 cup fresh herbs – whatever you have lying around – I used Parsley, Dill, Basil, and Chives
  • 1/3 cup Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons Low-Fat Mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Lemon’s worth of Juice
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

This part is easy, just puree all of these things together until smooth, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Maybe stir in-between food processor/blender/Magic Bullet/Vitamix pulses to make sure the texture is turning into what it should be.

For the Tartines:

  • 2 Eggs per person being served
  • 2 Slices of Toasted Bread (we used Ezekiel bread, but I have a feeling this would be spectacular with sourdough toast) per person being served
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Mayonnaise (See Above)
  • Arugula
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Paprika

Place eggs in pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, and cook to your liking. (For the record, it’s 2 minutes on our stove for a perfectly soft-boiled egg.)

Run under cold water immediately to stop the cooking process and separate the egg white from the shell membrane. (Otherwise the eggs will fall apart and look anemic and sad when you peel them.)

I recommend timing putting bread in the toaster to when you take the eggs off the stove and peel them…..because real talk, no one likes cold toast. That’s just wrong.

Assemble the sandwiches by brushing the toast with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, spreading the herbed mayonnaise on top, then topping everything with the arugula, sliced/peeled eggs, and salt/pepper/paprika to taste.

Try not to make these multiple days in a row if you’re having a busy week. It will be a challenge.

If I were incredibly pretentious, I’d call this a “Deconstructed Deviled Egg Sandwich.” Since that title is cumbersome, I’ll just call it, “Addicting.”

Cajun-Inspired Pork Chops with Kale and White Bean Stew

Does anyone else get anxiety when cooking for their parents?

More important, is anyone at the point in their life where their parents are turning into actual friends?

I actually love when my parents come to visit. It gives me an opportunity to step up my game, and show them they aren’t letting their daughter run wild in the big city.

The official reason for my parents’ visit was to help break up with a storage shed. (Thank you to both of you for doing all that heavy lifting while I was at work. Also thank you for being you. And for reading this blog. I digress.)

Cooking for my mother is easy. Cooking for my father is easy, as long as I give him exactly what he wants.

In my Father’s defense, he’s my biggest fan. He drove me to every activity of my formative years. This meant sitting in ice rinks, sweating at soccer games, or attempting to read a newspaper in a dance studio full of screaming children. These aren’t the only passions of mine he’s been forced to sit through. “Gossip Girl?” Seen it. “So You Think You Can Dance?” Absolutely. “Project Runway?” He’s a huge Tim Gunn fan. Now, he cooperates when I want to show him museum things and sits through my running commentary of every culinary television show on the planet.

No one does that. I’m not entirely certain why anyone would.

My father is much more of an omnivore than I. He also makes magical unicorn chili and the best hangover “junk eggs” known to man, but I digress again.

Before his visit to town, I scoured my notebooks and various food sources for meat points-of-reference. I even asked all the men in my life, which yielded classic steak, potato, and bacon results. Quite honestly, I’m not entirely certain when the word “pork chop” entered the scenario

Foods along classic Itailan or Cajun-inspired lines tend to be my father’s flavor profiles of choice. My mother eats the way I do, and loves fresh vegetables and fruit after growing up on a farm. (She’s another one who asks me about kale.) After finding an old “Food and Wine” recipe for a kale and white bean side dish, and letting my father choose the pork chops I’d be sliding under the broiler, I ended up with what my father called “Perfection.”

Cheers to a new family classic.

Cajun-Inspired Pork Chops with Kale and White Bean Stew

Ingredients:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Chili Powder
  • Jalapeno Hot Sauce (I used the Frontera brand, because I’m a celebrity chef disciple….and Rick Bayless is a badass)
  • 1 pound’s worth of bone-in pork chops – Look for thin ones, but you can always pound them a bit to thin them out so they don’t take as long to cook. Additional Advice: If your father or father-figure wants to pick these out, LET HIM.
  • Kosher Salt
  • 4 chopped Celery Stalks
  • 1 chopped large White Onion
  • 3 chopped Garlic Cloves
  • 3-ish cups Low Sodium Chicken Stock
  • One 15-ounce can (no salt added, or as low-sodium as the shelf will let you have) rinsed and drained Great Northern White Beans
  • 5 ounces roughly chopped Kale (I’m getting better about weighing my ingredients and proportions….I just need to remember to do it.)

Preheat your oven’s broiler.

Whisk together equal parts (start with a radio of 1 tablespoon each) of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Chili Powder, and Hot Sauce.
(TASTE THIS to make sure the balance is right. The hot sauce is there to balance the acidic lemon taste of the Extra Virgin Olive oil. The chili powder is there for flavor, not heat. If you want heat, put pepper or chili flakes on the pork chops.)

Season the pork chops on both sides with kosher salt, pierce them with a fork in a few places, and smother with the sauce mixture. – The holes incorporate the flavor into the chop, instead of just on the outside.

Heat some Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a pot over Medium Heat and saute the celery, onion, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of chili powder until the vegetables are translucent.

Once the vegetables are translucent, pour in the chicken stock and reduce the entire mixture by about 1/3. (Look at the boil line on the side of the pot for reference if you feel confused.)
When the mixture is reduced, add the white beans and kale and cook until the kale is tender (7 minutes ish.)
If you start to run out of liquid to cook the kale in, add water by 1/2 cup-increments. I didn’t have to do this, but I almost did, so be prepared.
Season the stew with salt to taste. (I didn’t use pepper or chili flakes this time, since my parents aren’t as big on spice as Mr. Right and I are, but feel free to do so in your own version.)

As soon as you add the white beans and kale to the stew, put the pork chops under the broiler, so everything that’s part of this dish comes out hot.
Broil the pork until browned – 4 to 6ish minutes on the first side, then flip and cook for 2ish minutes on the second side.

It’s certainly aesthetically pleasing enough to be a classic.

Back to Basics with Ingredients No One Can Pronounce: Grilled Age with Ginger and Green Onions

I’d like to pause for a moment, in acknowledgment of anyone who is currently having one of “those” days.

And so on and so forth. When these days occur, there are several plans capable of being put into action to assuage the damage. For me, the breakdown usually works itself into something like the following….

Plan A: Cry. Curl into a ball and plan on letting gravity carry you through the floor to somewhere near Earth’s core.

Yeah, right. Did you really think I’d leave you hanging there? There’s no crying in baseball, y’all. Or anywhere else for that matter, unless you’re under extreme provocation.

Plan B: Have some sort of alcoholic beverage.

Yes, I realize this screengrab is overused. This just means it speaks to all of us. #PreachSJP

I’m not saying this doesn’t work, for the most part. But I have a feeling those who care deeply about you, numerous people in the medical industry, and your liver will thank me for providing you with what’s next.

Plan C: Eat something.

Padma Lakshmi, you demonstrate this point far better than I ever could. All my “sexual eating photos” will never come close. You are a goddess divine and I worship at your alter.

See? Crickets. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Padma, how on earth do you do it?

Those close to me can always tell when I’ve had a bad day based on the way I conduct myself in the kitchen. This doesn’t mean I throw pans around, curse, or anything of the sort. It’s the opposite – I get very quiet, put my head down, and get to work.

I’ve been reading a book about Japanese Farm Cooking in attempt to restrengthen my family roots. I’ve been scribbling recipes on a mini brown paper notepad since New Year’s Day, and I finally made one of them. Of course, the majority of you aren’t going to know what some of these ingredients are. Hopefully that doesn’t add to your bad day.

Look at it this way – nothing to lose, everything to gain. Etc. and so forth. Just cook the thing, already. Less time in the kitchen means more time with your feet up and wallowing in your misery.

Grilled Age with Ginger and Green Onions

Ingredients:

  • As much steamed white rice you think will cure your sadness. (Yes, that’s a measurement.)
  • 2 packages usuage – It’s fried bean curd. It gets used in miso soup quite a bit. Most Japanese markets will call this inari.
  • 1 tablespoo-ish Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
  • Bonito shavings to taste – Yes, they’re dried fish flakes.You can find them at any Japanese market. If this grosses you out, don’t use them. Simple enough, right?
  • Low Sodium Soy Sauce to taste (I used none, but that’s because I’m strange. Use as much or as little as you like.)

If you haven’t already cooked your rice, do so, then follow the rest of these instructions.

Cut the usuage in half horizontally, then into triangles.

Heat the Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a pan over High heat. Cook the usuage until lightly charred. These are extremely thin, so flip and toss them around in the pan a lot, so they don’t burn.

Take the pan off the heat and toss in the ginger and green onions. The leftover heat from the pan will be plenty for finishing the cooking process.

Scoop the steamed rice into a vat (sorry, I mean bowl), and top with the cooked usuage. Top with bonito and soy sauce, if you like.

Inhale without tableside manner, and feel better.

A zen garden after a non-ideal day.

Sometimes You Want Other People to Do the Cooking (Even though I Contributed a Side Dish)

Raise your hand if someone else cooking for you sounds like a good idea. I’m glad you agree.

The gentlemen in our apartment went on a massive Costco run, leaving me to fend for myself for a few hours. Uncertain about the evening’s plans, I picked up a few standards at the market and chose to bide my time until it was time to unload. This translates to eating rice cakes and falling asleep while watching “How I Met Your Mother” reruns. Upon their return, I was told Awesome Roommate would be preparing salmon with a cucumber salad side for dinner.

Awesome Roommate’s salmon was fantastic. He marinated the fish for about 2 hours in sesame oil, maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, and red pepper flakes, squeezing lemon juice on top after it came off the grill. It’s simple, and maybe it has to do with him knowing the contents of our fridge and pantry (and being able to reach all of them, being almost a foot taller than me) – but he’s got the most fantastic culinary knee-jerk inclinations with flavor and technique.

There’s a food version of trivial pursuit, and he’s the only one who’s ever beat me.

I contributed a simple salad (NOT part of the 50 Shades of Salad entries) that intrigued me to use caraway seeds for the first time. If you’re wondering what caraway seeds taste like, think of a bitter version of cumin, with an aroma like dill.

Caraway is from the carrot family – no, I didn’t know this before I liberally sprinkled the seeds all over my roasting vegetables – but the irony of using something from the carrot family to season carrots is not lost on me.

I’m probably the only one who actually thinks the above joke is funny. No matter.

Roasted Carrot and Mushroom Salad

Turn an oven to 450.

Put 1 and 1/2 pounds of sliced carrots (I just bought the bag. Like I mentioned above – I wasn’t in the mood for putting forth much effort.) and 10 ounces of halved mushrooms on a baking sheet.

Drizzle with 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, toss on two cloves of mashed garlic and three sprigs of fresh thyme, then sprinkle to taste with caraway seeds, kosher salt, and paprika.

Roast for 30 minutes until tender, then squeeze one lemon’s worth of juice over the top.

It looks like something to be eaten in autumn, but I promise it’s very light.

Other people doing the bulk of the cooking can lead to fantastic discoveries. Or something charred and inedible. (The Awesome Roommate makes killer salmon, by the way. Definitely try the simple marinade above.) Moral of the story: cook with friends. Regardless of what happens, I’ve never encountered that couldn’t be solved with good company and good wine.

You had me at Bourbon: Melon Salad with Bourbon-Maple Vinaigrette

I have too many magazine subscriptions. My problem isn’t the lack of time to read them (sometimes), but reading in too much detail. All my university textbooks were filled with writing: notes in the margins, underlined things for personal reference, highlighted things for class, doodles based on content, doodles based on nothing at all….you get the point. Karma forbid anyone besides Mr. Right has to share magazines with me, because I have no idea how the hell he puts up with constantly having to look through a horde of sharpie ink to read everything.

I’m one of those girls who gets excited for seasonal changes. No, this doesn’t mean I’m going to trot up to you in Lululemon yoga shorts and an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt to list all my favorite seasonal Starbucks drinks, accessories like legwarmers and headbands, or that I add “<3” to the end of my photos. I have plenty of ladies in my life already doing that so I don’t have to. Just hear me out when I say I’m excited about fall. Pumpkin jargon at Starbucks, boots with legwarmers, and headbands that cover my ears have all been established. Right now, I’m talking about maple syrup.

I’m also talking about bridging the weird gap between summer and fall by incorporating fruit into a plate of food with maple syrup. Oh, and bourbon. When the temperature drops outside, I can’t get enough of bourbon. Okay, let’s be real, I can’t get enough of bourbon at any time of the year. I digress.

Make this and savor the in-between (the liminal, for my friends from the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures.) Halloween is coming up too fast (at least according to my Martha Stewart magazine that just came in the mail), and this middle ground is going to be happening until then.

Melon Salad with Bourbon-Maple Vinaigrette

For the Pecans:

  • 1/2 cup pecans (duh)
  • 1 slice thick cut double smoked bacon – diced
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • A few healthy dashes of Old Bay Spice or Emeril’s Essence seasoning. (No, this is not a plug for Emeril. The market was out of Old Bay.)

For the Salad:

  • 1 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 bunch green onions – finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • Kosher Salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 cantaloupe – peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Turn an oven to 350 and spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast them up for 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon over medium heat until browned and delicious.

(Bonus Point: I got this tip from Giada de Laurentiis via Twitter, and haven’t looked back. I’m also going to keep mentioning this until you try it for yourself. If you sprinkle a dash of ground cinnamon over the bacon in the pan while the fat is rendering out…..holy cow. If you didn’t think bacon could get more delicious. Oh man….I just…..Think again. Okay?)

When the bacon is browned (hopefully you’ve decided to take my advice about the cinnamon), add the maple syrup and vinegar portions from the pecan ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook until thick (2 -3 is h minutes.)

Take the pan off the heat – no one likes burned bacon.

Stir in the pecans and Old Bay/Emeril’s Essence and spread on the baking sheet to cool.

These will also make your entire kitchen/dining/living room area smell like some sort of cracked out orchard. Delicious.

Simmer the bourbon portion from the salad ingredients over medium low heat. Let this reduce to about one-third of its side (3-4 minutes? Maybe longer. You judge.) Next, whisk in the maple syrup and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Let this reduce to about one-half of its size (3 minutes ish, pending on how hot the pan is.)

Remove from heat, stir in the green onion, and let cool before whisking in the thyme, salt, and oil.

To plate this up, sprinkle the melon with salt to taste, spoon the bourbon glaze over the top, and sprinkle with pecans and cilantro.

And okay, if you want to drink a pumpkin spice latte while eating this, I won’t stop you.

“Excuse me, dude….are you Chuck Bass?”: A Morning Wine Tasting at Duckhorn Vineyards

Duckhorn became one of my favorite vineyards shortly after graduating from UCLA, when I was gifted a bottle from an extremely generous friend. The Duckhorn company encompasses five different wine programs: Duckhorn itself, Paraduxx, Goldeneye, Migration, and Decoy. Decoy is the most widely distributed, Paraduxx only does red blends, and so on and so forth.

I despise being one of those people who comes back from vacation full of gloat about the perfect weather….but I had no complaints. It was 76 degrees and sunny with a breeze.

Real talk.

All wine programs under the Duckhorn umbrella provide tasters with take-home notecards about the wines they’ve tried. Before you claim this is done all the time – it’s not. Trust me, I’ve been around the block and down the street. Wine programs providing this level of detail to people coming in are indicating their trust in your palate. I’m a huge fan of wine programs that allow tasters to come to their own conclusions.

After checking in for our tour, we were poured Duckhorn Napa Valley 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, which I’ve had in LA. I’m a fan of Sauv Blancs from California, because I’m usually not partial to tasting grass, cucumber, and jalapeno in my wine, the way I can with varietals from New Zealand. Call me a California girl, but I love citrus flavors in my white wines. This one started smooth, finished with acid, and tasted like a combination of grapefruit with crystallized ginger cutting through it.

Notes from the Winemaker Card:

-Duckhorn has been crafting Sauvignon Blanc since 1982

-Varietal Composition – 83% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Semillon

-100% French Oak – 15% barrel-fermented in new oak

“This is a classic expression of our Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of grapefruit, lemon curd and nectarine, as well as rich, underlying notes of vanilla and homemade marshmallow. A smooth-textured entry gives way to tingling acidity that shows off the citrus elements beautifully, while adding length to flavors of cantaloupe, Asian pear and Fuji apple.”

Props to our tour guide Sally for being a rad human. She was articulate, well-versed in broader Napa Valley history in addition to that of the vineyard, and actively sought questions. She made sure to emphasize the diversity of Napa Valley soil, climate, methodology, etc. It was the type of tour that encourages visitors to actually learn something, rather than passively nodding and waiting for free wine. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

There was only one other couple on our tour who were about our age, and they were pretty….snooty….from the beginning. We’ll start and end with the guy ending every sentence with mention of his trust fund and promising to buy multiple cases of wine. If only he’d had Ed Westwick’s “Gossip Girl” demeanor and looks. By the time we headed back to the tasting room for our five flight wine-and-cheese pairing, Chuck Bass, Jr.  was commenting on the personal appearance of everyone in the group, and attempting to answer questions by himself.

Damn that mother-Chucker.

Feeling like adults in our private tasting room. Was trying to sneak a shot of Chuck Bass Jr.’s blazer and *ascot*, but realized I should be soaking up the experience and acting mature.

One of the wines we chose to take back to L.A. with us was the Duckhorn 2010 Merlot from Three Palms Vineyard in Napa Valley (paired with manchego cheese from Spain for the tasting). The flavor profiles were extremely familiar to me, since Spanish food is one of my favorite things. This wine was beautiful – lush and subtly spicy. (I like my wines with a little sass.)

The Three Palms Vineyard is rocky, which means the soil drains well and the vine roots are able to spread and draw out nutrients deep within the earth. The stones also serve to protect the vines from the warm and cool temperatures of day/night.

Winemaker Notecard:

-Varietal Composition – 82% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. (By the way, if anyone can tell me as much about Cab Franc, it’s my newest wine-snob obsession. I want to know everything about it.

-100% French Oak, 18 months in the barrel

“Filled with lush red and black fruit and classic early undertones, this is a rich and weighty expression of Three Palms Vineyard, bursting with flavor and structure. The aromas are warm and inviting, highlighting dark cherry, plum, cocoa and sweet Asian spices. The palate is equally layered and expressive with pure, intense notes of ripe plum, currant, candied cherry, mocha and red licorice.”

Has anyone else noticed how extremely over-the-top wine and art jargon is? Lovely. But a bit much occasionally. Quite a fine line.

The fourth wine we tasted was where time stood still and I had to do double and triple-takes toward my wine glass like a crazy person. It’s one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted. It’s going to be my new favorite red in my personal collection. ….And it’s not available for public sale. Typical. One trip to a winery and I morph into a “members only” loon. I’m sorry! It was so delicious!

Duckhorn Vineyards 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. [!!!!!!]

Howell Mountain is my new obsession. I’ve developed a huge affinity for the way wine from Howell Mountain tastes after this trip.

Howell Mountain isn’t in the main part of Napa, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, or  the Russian River Valley. It’s located at the top of a mountain (duh, look at the name), above a fog bank. It’s the Kona Coffee of California red wines. If you don’t understand that analogy, do some googling. Howell Mountain is only about 100 acres worth of land, and Duckhorn has about 60 of them. It sounds big, but it’s small enough where only about 150 cases of this wine were made….ever.

WHAT.

Winemaker Notecard:

-Varietal Composition – 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot

“As the debut vintage of our Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine was blended to showcase the structure and complexity of Cabernet Sauvignon from this storied winegrowing region. Crafted around a core of older vine fruit from our Stout Vineyard, there is an unmistakable wildness to this wine with wild berry layers supported by earthy undertones, fresh herb layers of mint, eucalyptus and sage, and an oak-inspired note of coconut macaroon. A study in power and restraint, this mountain-grown wine is broad and lush on the palate with a big, yet elegant, finish.

I mean, even the description is awesome. Bonus points to the vineyard for provocative jargon. This wine was luxurious. I was ready to recline in some sort of velvety boudoir or library in a black silk bathrobe while listening to a string quartet on the veranda of my balcony, with double doors thrown open to the breeze. 

So good, it made me have an overly-feminine fantasy.

The final wine in our flight was one of the best the vineyard has to offer. The price tag was three digits, i.e. something I can only wildly dream about being able to purchase at this point in my life. Being able to taste it was an honor and only moderately surreal. My favorite was still the previous one described, but this one made Mr. Right’s taste buds go wild.

Duckhorn Vineyards 2009 Estate Grown “The Discussion”

Winemaker Notecard:

-Varietal Composition – 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot

-100% French Oak, aged 26 months in the barrel

The Discussion was blended using the very best barrels of wine from the finest blocks of our estate vineyards. While the wine is abundantly rich and flavorful, it is defined by its refinement and complexity. Aromas of mulberry, plum, leather, cassis and cocoa offer a beautiful prelude to a rich, velvetymouth feel with fine-grained tannins.”

Have you seen the “How I Met Your Mother” episode with the tannins joke? Can’t read a wine label without laughing. Very bad form.

This wine was so complex, my palate didn’t know what to do. Was I tasting red fruit? Black fruit? Was it something floral? Or something spicy? Mr. Right is better at these sorts of things because he and Awesome Roommate brew their own beer, so they’re used to smelling and tasting the layers of flavor that come from the raw materials/ingredients, fermentation process, aging, pouring style, year, etc.

I learned so much on this trip to the Napa Valley and want to share as much of it as I can with you. Please don’t hesitate to send me a message with any questions about Napa Valley recommendations, wines I like, and so forth. Maybe life in general? It doesn’t matter to me. Anything I can’t answer will be directed to a couple of sommeliers I know in that area who have graciously agreed to answer your brain-picks.

Cheers!

Duckhorn, I’ll be back soon. Until then, I’m glad we decided to split the cost of your wine club.

Sorry your car is at a 45-degree angle in a ditch….try the muffins?

I shouldn’t complain about the hours I work. I mean, I lived with two djs. I’ve seen how exhausted they are after setting up for an event all day – heavy lifting, making sure sound works correctly, usually doing all this under the sun in black t-shirts – only to have to stand on their feet for five hours or more at night for their gigs. I’m used to not having Mr. Right in bed next to me when I head for sleep and not being able to say goodbye to him when I leave for work in the morning. It’s a working relationship. Shit happens. I’ve got so much respect for those ladies and gentlemen dating chefs, bartenders, bouncers, dancers, and the like. Snaps to all of you for making the commitment to making it work.

That being said, work weeks get stressful. I work 6-7 days a week. Yes, I realize that means I have no days off occasionally. Once again, shit happens. When I’m not at one museum, I’m at the other. I used to work for a contemporary photography gallery on top of those two museums. If I’m not at any of those places, but still not home? I’m either at the ice rink or in the dance studio – teaching and trying to convince my non-teenage body that I can still move in a way that’s moderately aesthetically pleasing.

I really, really shouldn’t complain. Real talk, I love it all. That being said, the vacation we just took to visit my family in Sacramento and spend time in Napa and San Francisco was needed.

A moderately accurate representation of my inner self during this trip.

Mr. Right and I spent an entire day shopping for food and alcohol while Hey-Telling (for those of you who don’t have this app, get it – it’s a walkie-talkie throwback to Nextel phone days) one of my best friends who was planning on joining my family’s celebrations.

My grandmother lives on a farm. I don’t mean this sarcastically, her house is literally in the middle of a functional field. The aftermath of a sunflower crop was everywhere while we were visiting.

In order to get to her house, one turns off the main road onto a smaller road….then off the smaller road onto a dirt road. It’s not exactly over the river and through the woods, but it’s far enough.

“If directions to your house include the phrase, ‘Turn onto a dirt road….you might be a hillbilly.'”

Heard it all before; trust me.

The outskirts of the field surrounding my grandmother’s house are lined with an irrigation ditch. A corresponding irrigation road runs alongside this. Do you see where the story is going yet? Since my girlfriend hadn’t been to my grandmother’s house since the summer following my freshman year at UCLA, she accidentally turned onto the irrigation road instead of the road leading to the house. A few yards into the turn, she realized she’d made a mistake, attempted to reverse, and…..

Damn. Festive firework added for this lovely lady’s privacy. Speaking of which, I love this woman.

Thankfully, no one was injured and we were able to make use of my AAA service. It took two tow trucks and two burly men quite a bit of effort to get the car back onto the road – as it turned out, only the front left tire was keeping it from going in the water – but the guys sent to help us in the 103-degree weather were nice, and my friend’s car didn’t even get wet.

After we were solidly dusty, they followed us back to my grandmother’s house for a plate of food. (I mean….it was the least we could do.) I also made sure to pour the poor girl an oversized glass of wine to go with the plate of carbs I shoved in her direction.

Muffins don’t fix everything….but they definitely help.

Garlic & Sun-Dried Tomato Corn Muffins (adapted from a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis)

Ingredients:

  • Two 8.5 packages Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix (Don’t judge. Life must go easy on us, and our food sometimes. Besides, a lot of technology and money went into the box cake/muffin mix to make it taste good.)
  • 2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes – chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cups thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 cloves (or 3 tablespoons, if you’re working with the Costco-type of jar) minced garlic
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs – beaten

Turn an oven to 375 and place paper liners in a muffin baking sheet.

Mix the dry ingredients together (the muffin mix, sun-dried tomatoes, corn, and garlic). Mix the wet ingredients together (the milk, sour cream, and eggs.)

Combine the dry and wet mix together. (As you can tell, this recipe is extremely difficult. Please note the tone of voice I’m saying this in.)

Bake for 15 minutes ish, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out without any gunk on it.

Serve with the comforting beverage of your choice. Also make sure your car is safe, while you’re at it.

I had to get in on the fun. And obviously, UCLA girls rock.