Rustic Lamb, Eggplant, and Mint

Vintage 2014

Vintage 2014

We have 80 sheep coming today! “Ed the Sheep Guy” is bringing 45 babies and their Mommies to mow our vineyard and hillsides. Sheep are fantastic helpers when you grow organic grapes. They eat the weeds down to the nibs, aerate the soil with their hooves, and fertilize with their epic amounts of poop. And at the end of the spring? We get one butchered lamb for the freezer. The ultimate “farm to table” dishes we’ll make over the next year. To help make room in the Barn freezer, I pulled out frozen chops and shoulder to make this Stew for dinner last night. And it was superb!  Takes a bit of effort, yes, but perfect for the weekend or “date nights in.”  This dish will fill your home and bellies with the scents and tastes of Spring.


  • 3 small eggplants
  • 2 lbs lamb cubed to 1″
  • 1 large yellow onion quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 5 cloves garlic run thru a garlic press (not chopped)
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 large teaspoons of cumin seeds — toasted and crushed up in mortar & pestle
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt & cracked pepper
  • dry white or rose wine (optional)

Top your eggplants and slice into quarters. Cube into 1″ sizes, put into a colander, and sprinkle with a lot of salt. Elizabeth David calls for a tablespoon! But I just did 2 pinches to minimize sodium in the finished dish. Put a plate and weights on the top and let rest for a good hour. This step squeezes excess moisture out. Before cooking, rinse and then forcibly squeeze as much water from the eggplant as you can using a clean tea towel.

Cubed eggplant salted and draining in my colander under "weights"

Cubed eggplant salted and draining in my colander under “weights”

In a bowl, toss the lamb with half the chopped mint, basil, pinch of red pepper flakes, cumin seeds (toasted & crushed), a pinch of salt and pepper. Let marinate while eggplant drains.

I bought a second jar of cumin seeds and toasted the whole batch last year for cooking more Mediterranean dishes.

I bought a second jar of cumin seeds and toasted the whole batch last year for cooking more Mediterranean dishes. Big time saver.

Lamb ready to marinate with fresh herbs, pepper, and cumin.

Lamb ready to marinate with fresh herbs, pepper, and cumin.

In a dutch oven or large sautée pan, heat 5 tablespoons of EVOO. Add the onions to the warming oil. Once the onions begin the color, add the meat and marinating herbs. Brown the meat and onions turning the mixture often with a wooden cooking spoon. Scrape up the browning/burning bits from the sides and bottom often. Then remove the meat and onion mixture with a slotted spoon to your bowl.

Lamb and marinating herbs added to the onions.

Lamb and marinating herbs added to the onions.

Be sure to brown lamb, herbs, and onions.

Be sure to brown lamb, herbs, and onions.

Add your eggplant cubes to the hot oil and coat the eggplant. Cover and turn heat down. Gently cook for 10 minutes. I almost burned mine but realized in time the pan was drying out too much and splashed the eggplants with half a glass of my Rosé! And the added flavor was wonderful.


Hot house tomatoes got the job done but this summer, I’m sure my garden tomatoes will bring extra flavors!

Return the meat and onions mixture to the pan and mix well with eggplant and juices. Add your chopped tomatoes and mashed garlic and gently cook for 60-90 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes or so. I splashed with white wine occasionally. The meat will not be too tender. This is a rustic dish.

Serve alone or over rice  I garnished with chopped mint and a few basil leaves.

Finished dish served over a small scoop of rice.

Finished dish served over a small scoop of rice.

The kids added katsup and it was still delicious.

Our kids eat what we eat. No exceptions. But I do let them add ketchup.

Our kids eat what we eat. No exceptions. But I do let them add ketchup.

Happy Eating!  Now, what to make with the lamb bones? Thinking Lamb Stock today….image



Easy. Tasty. Healthy. In 25 Minutes

A lovely start to an easy dish!

A lovely start to an easy dish!

This is the simplest, mostly vegetarian, yummy dish I’ve made in awhile. We enjoyed as an entree but could easily be served as a side to grilled chicken or pork chops! You must make it this weekend.

Brocoli Rabe, Lemons, and Beans


  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1.5 lemons
  • 1 bunch Brocoli rabe
  • 2 15 oz cans of cannellini beans
  • 1 bunch italian parsely
  • 1/2-1 cup shredded parmesan reggiano
  • extra virgin olive oil

Thinly slice garlic and lemons (seeded) Sautée quickly in 4 tablespoons of EVOO wt 2-3 #anchovies in a Dutch Oven (Le Creuset) for about 5 mins. Lemons will start to brown a bit.

Next, add coarse chopped broccoli rabe. Cook 5 mins more.

Broccoli Rabe brings the color and green bite.

Broccoli Rabe brings the color and green bite.

Stir two cans drained/rinsed cannellini beans. I added a good splash of white wine here. Cook 5-7 more mins. Be sure beans are cooked through.

Mix in 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley and 2 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese. Turn out into a pretty bowl and garnish with red pepper flakes, parsely, and more parmesan. Delicious! Took 25-30 mins max. Thanks to Bon Appetite Magazine for the initial ecipe. I paired with our 2012 Annadel Estate Chardonnay. Dean had our 2009 Merlot. Perfect.

Bring out those pretty dishes! Use them daily.

Bring out those pretty dishes! Use them daily.

Happy Eating!

How to Botch Eggplant Parmesan

Saved by blistered Cheese and fresh chopped Basil!

Barely Saved by blistered Cheese and fresh chopped Basil!

“I’m not white. I’m Italian!” Declared my Dean some years ago. I laughed uproariously.  But have since come to know this as one of his core Truths. And now it’s one of our Family Truths here in my Kitchen.

I’ve learned to cook many a rustic Italian dish from Dean and his family over the years and then on my own with my army of Cookbooks. Lydia Bastianich is the only writer I don’t alter a single thing about since her recipes taste “so much like home” to my husband. Everything else? I play with. Tweak spicing. Swap ingredients. Make healthy (sort of). Because I’ve come to discover that I am a Californian — culturally and figuratively.  I favor fresh ingredients, smaller portions, and a lighter touch to my foods with the big exception of garlic. I loooooove too much garlic. And olive oil. Especially if its homemade (like ours) or artisan.  Great quality EVOO tastes like sunlight to me.

But every so often, I want to make a dish “the proper way.” How I’d imagine Dean’s Nonna would’ve made it — or at least directed. Last night was just such a night. Cue Eggplant Parmesan. Now, we’d been playing in San Francisco with LaLa and PapaWil for a few days. It had turned cold and foggy back home in Sonoma and the Farmhouse needed some warming up. Horsehair and Plaster walls get and stay cold! And Eggplant Parmesan was just what we needed to warm up on the inside and out.

Thank heavens for good cheese and great wine!

Thank heavens for good cheese and great Annadel wine last night.



  • 2 large eggplants
  • 5 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons whole milk
  • grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 4 cups plain breadcrumbs
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh thyme and 1 tspn dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 5-7 cups homemade tomato sauce or 2 jars good store bought
  • 1.5 lbs fresh mozzarella
  • 1 lb fontina cheese
  • 1-2 cups shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 1 bunch fresh Basil

Step one: Whisk 5 eggs and  milk in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix 4 cups plain breadcrumbs, pinch of kosher salt, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon dried oregano.

Slice 2 large eggplants thinly. Working in batches, drench 5 slices at a time in the egg batter and then toss with breadcrumbs mixture. Be sure to lightly press in the crumbs to coat eggplant evenly.

The Assembly Line: a Good Start

The Assembly Line: a Good Start

Heat 1/3-1/2 cup Grapeseed (or vegetable) Oil in a large flat pan. Fry the eggplants evenly on both side turning when browned. Remove from oil and place on paper towel lined plates to drain excess oils. Add more oil to pan when needed.

Now if you’re a perfect Italian cook, the eggplants will look golden and evenly browned. But if you’re like me last night?  Your eggplants will have a charred exterior and the kitchen will be slightly smoking. Turn on hood vents. Keep going.

Didn't quite have the right touch last night in the kitchen. Burning eggplants!

Didn’t quite have the right touch last night in the kitchen. Burning eggplants!

Step 2: Realize you forgot to stir your thawing tomato sauce and there is now a burnt, bitter scum on the bottom of your sauce pan. Shit.

Step 3: Assemble Eggplant Parmesan. In a cast-iron or 9×13″ dish, spoon 1/4 of the Pasta Sauce (we used homemade but 2 jars of good store-bought works too. Just don’t use salt in the eggplant crumbs mixture). I took care not to scrape up the blackened bottom from the burnt bitter part of tomato sauce.

The start of layer 1

The start of layer 1 — using the pretty sides of my 8 good eggplants for the shot…

Layer fried eggplant over the good tomato sauce. They will overlap slightly. Evenly scatter 1/3 of sliced mozzarella, fontina and shaved Parmesan cheese. Hand shred 5-6 basil leaves on top of this. Top with tomato sauce. Repeat layers until you’re *almost* to the top. End with the cheese. Do not overfill. Lightly press the whole mixture with your hands.

Ready to go into Oven... If only I'd remembered to preheat...

Ready to go into Oven.

Realize you forgot to preheat the oven to 350’F. Shit. Again. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Feel irritated until oven preheats and Pings! Slide Eggplant Parmesan (looking slightly soggy now) into the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven. And think “cheese needs to be browner”. Turn heat up to Broil. Forget you’ve done this while your little girl dances around dressed as “Tinkerbell Monarch Butterfly.” When timer buzzes, realize you’ve burnt to hell your beautifully shredded cheese crust.


Disaster. (DAMMIT.)

Dammit. Enter Italian husband who cuts off the worst parts of blackened crust. Pour wine.

Grate what’s left of the fontina over the top and dress with fresh chopped basil. Pour wine. And eat around the crunchy bits.

Believe it or not, it turned out delicious! Then again, I secretly love burnt cheese. And eggplant, sauce, cheese and garlic usually tastes good. Charcoal or not. *Sigh*

If you want to try this at home, check out What’s Gaby Cooking Here is the link to her Stacked Eggplant Parmesan. Love Gaby’s Instagram feed too. Be sure to follow her.

As for last night? You can’t win ’em all!  Happy Eating!

Pickled Onion Goodness

Prep work in process

Prep work in process

Keep the onions loosely packed.

Keep the onions loosely packed.

Use as garnish in pretty much anything!

Use as garnish in pretty much anything!

Thanks to foodie friends on Instagram, I have a new favorite homemade garnish: Pickled Red Onions!  Easy to make. Quick to “pickle.” Great on pretty much everything, this garnish is a sure hit.

Slice 2-3 red onions the thickness you desire (thin or thick, it doesn’t matter). Take one mason jar (whatever size) and fill lightly packed with sliced red onions. Cover onions with apple cider vinegar. Add in a pinch of salt, a pinch of white sugar, and a few peppercorns. From there, you can add whatever herbs you like. Or not! Continue reading

Spinach Hummus

Finished product -- easy peasy!

Finished product — easy peasy!

For years, I’ve heard “just make your own hummus!” But it seemed so much easier just to buy local hummus — being Sonoma County, having at least three local hummus options to choose from is as normal as owning Birkenstocks. So why make fresh? Here’s why — holy amazingness!!! And I’m guessing you have the ingredients in your kitchen. Right Now.

Take your Cuisinart. Plug it in. Take a handful or two of Spinach (about 1.5-2 cups). Take 1 can of chickpeas — open, rinse and drain well. Add to Cuisinart. I pulsed here for space. Then add 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds (I self toasted. It takes about a minute). Drizzle 4-6 tablespoons of good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the top, three cloves of garlic, half of one lemon worth of juice, pinch of salt and Chop Chop Chop.

Voilá. Magnificent!!!! We dipped roasted asparagus, carrots and sweet potato “fries” in it ourselves. Last night, foodie friend Kelly Dolata made up a quick batch from my Facebook post and served it with steak. @Oldchefguy on Instagram is making his his arugula tomorrow. I bet those are both delicious too! The possibilities are endless.

Happy Eating! And this? I happily ate with a spoon!