Red Wine Chili

Red Wine ChiliJacques Pepin got me thinking: how many recipes does one person commit to memory in their lifetime? The question doesn’t suggest a one-size-fits-all answer but maybe you’re already beginning to rattle off recipe names or tick fingers doing a lap on the mental treadmill of memory.

The only time we ever stirred a pot of slow-cooked chili in my childhood home aligned with ominous clouds darkening the sky above as rain lashed the ground outside. It became almost a Pavlovian response: when the rain came, so did my craving for chili. In Texas, one of the important details of the chili-eating experience involves the curlicue corn chip known as the Frito. I can’t recall really ever wanting those chips outside of providing a nuance of crunch to the duet of chili-spiced ground beef and beans with its volcanic rupture of melted cheddar cheese.

Taste memories form us into the eaters we are. We may not pledge allegiance to the flavors of our childhood once we become adults, but their imprint can catapult us quickly back to a place in our past, faster than we might be able to conjure them up without the olfactory and taste bud assistance.

It’s not that we eat chili often now at home at all. I can count only two occurrences we’ve pulled together a pot this year and perhaps not coincidentally they’ve coincided with the arrival of rain. But, there’s something about taking what is known and teasing it out—seeing how far the boundaries extend before it no longer looks or acts or tastes like its initial point of departure. Would it be accurate to suggest we are all adaptations of our former selves, much like the chili recipe of now can be credited back to the flavors that formed in our taste bank many years ago?

For Christmas Eve last year, part of our family congregated around a table in a dimly lit restaurant in the wine country. We would cloister around the massive paella pan the next day preparing and waiting to dig up the crusty bits of rice still clinging and etched into the bottom of the pan of what had become tradition. But, this evening, we huddled in elegant Dry Creek Kitchen, playing the part of happy family, unfettered by a fissure whose full impact is still deeply felt a year later. I ordered the tasting menu and marveled at the soft poached egg melting into the housemade ricotta paired with spiced warm brioche and red currant vinaigrette. This led to second course of spiral cut ham salting roasted butternut squash risotto with a peppery pop of arugula and sweet maple glacage. By the main course of Pop’s Prime Rib Wellington, we had all pretty much pled mercy and requested to-go boxes.

Red Wine Chili

Two days later, we fished out the leftover prime rib steaks, considering how we might present them anew for dinner. A decent bottle of red table wine sat on the counter and one thing led to another. The flavors formed into a Spanish and Sonoma-inspired red wine chili with chunks of steak. We sat around steaming bowls that night as the savory aroma wafted up from our spoons. Through the disparate odds and ends leftover from the grand celebrations, we had created something unexpected and good.

The holidays can be tricky to navigate as they come fraught with expectation as much as ensuing excitement. They can bring to the surface leftover hurts of a misplaced comment or issues that we thought we had resolved and healed. Looking at leftover meat doesn’t usually inspire the kind of admiration of the original plate with its thoughtful garnish and presentation. But leftovers can teach us a lot about ourselves. They give us a second chance to make what was originally someone else’s creation, our own. It’s not easy forgiving small grievances that can compound into one ball of recollection. But the thing with holidays is they too are an attempt at second chances—every year we get an opportunity to try again and learn better how to celebrate life with each other.

What we might not see at first glance is that holding onto leftover hurts allows them to keep us shackled to the past instead of moving gracefully into the future. Forgiveness might seem like an odd gift to give at the holidays, but no wrapping can contain its incredible value. It is in its way a fresh start, a chance to open the to-go box, survey the cold meat inside and say, how can I make this good again?


Red Wine Chili

Red Wine Chili

In a different chili recipe I made a while back, I had jotted a note to self to try using chipotle chili in a future iteration. Oh, yes. Look for the small can of chipotles in adobo sauce in the Latin American aisle of your supermarket. My obsession with figs runs deep and I wanted to play around with the idea of letting a hint of their natural sweetness play into a chili-laced paste that’s simmered tomatoes with a bit of red wine, and thyme. This is definitely a game-changer for me. I had never made my chili using a paste before, but as I was thinking about texture and wanting to both concentrate the flavors in the base, I decided to simmer and puree and now I’m not looking back. The figs also act as a thickener in the homemade chili paste. In some circles, cooking with wine might come across as a bad way for the bottle to go down. But, I find a judicious glug of decent dry red makes a well-served sacrifice in this chili. It adds body and depth, and should come from a vintage you would like to drink, since the rest of the bottle will be the cook’s (and company’s) libation. I used Healdsburg Reserve Merlot from Split Creek Farms. When it comes to garnishing chili, we are of two minds in our household. You might find as I did that the chili tastes best on its own or with a dollop of yogurt. Nathan added cheddar to his bowl and between spoonfuls, pronounced this the best chili he has ever eaten, so there might be something to that. However you serve it, make sure to break out the corn chips.

Serves 4 huge bowls to 6 small bowls


2 cups plus 1 cup diced tomatoes and juice (1 28-ounce can)

4 ounces dried California mission figs, stemmed (1/2 cup)

2 teaspoons adobo sauce plus 1 chipotle pepper

3 tablespoons plus 1 cup dry red table wine

Fresh thyme leaves from 1 sprig (1/2 teaspoon)

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons chili powder

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 large white onion, peeled and medium chopped (2 cups)

1 pound ground beef

1 cooked ribeye steak, cool and cubed

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1 carrot, peeled and small grated (1/2 cup)

2 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt

Organic corn chips

Whole milk yogurt, optional

Sharp cheddar cheese, optional


Simmer 2 cups of tomatoes and juice with the figs, adobo sauce, chipotle pepper, 3 tablespoons of red wine, thyme leaves, and chili powder on low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile drizzle and swirl the olive oil into a skillet set over medium-low heat and cook the onions for 15 minutes, until almost translucent, stirring sporadically. Add and brown the ground beef in the skillet with the onions. Turn off the heat under the pot of chili-laced figs and transfer the chili-laced figs to a blender. Remove the cap off the lid and place a towel over the hole. Blend until smooth. Pour the chili-fig puree into a large stockpot. Stir in the remaining cup of red wine, cup of diced tomato and juice, steak, beans, carrot, and salt to the pot. Add the ground beef and onions to the pot. Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes. Garnish with yogurt and cheddar if desired. Serve with corn chips.


Salad for Endless Summer


Salad for Endless Summer

Everything inside of me wants to braise– to uncover a pot and release the steam of beer-scented lamb into the small confines of the kitchen. My red Dutch oven peers out from its file cabinet perch, forlorn. The sourdough starter that brings joy to the bread eaters in my family and among friends sits on the top shelf of the refrigerator, its fermentation retarded until its bi-weekly feeding time. Sandwich boards tout the flavors of fall even as the thermometer tells me otherwise.

We live in Oakland. We live in endless summer. In fact, I’ve taken to calling our fair city “endless summer” anytime the occasion arises, which I can assure you is as frequent as forgoing cups of hot tea for cooling quenchers of iced. For years, I lived in a patch of fog that finagled the idea of grey skies into my daily experience. Yet, even when I visit the bookseller friend in that former San Francisco neighborhood whose fondness for the East Bay encouraged me to embrace our move, she tells me the patch of fog in our old neighborhood has hung up a sign that it’s on holiday.

During the summer, no-bake recipes flitter through feeds on twitter, eat up the thread on pinterest, and woo home cooks with the idea that dinner can be a winner without the assistance of the oven. Zucchini noodles may just have transitioned this summer from fringe food to mainstream main dish. When it comes to kitchen gadgetry, bypass one of those contraptions that cranks out zoodles for the humble box cheese grater or reach for your food processor.

A simple lunch salad for endless summer comes together with a can, a squash, a squeeze, and a sprinkling of almonds. It takes a nod from summer appetizers of prosciutto wrapped figs pairing them with creamy garbanzos. As dinner, it comes together in 10 minutes and satisfies the urge for healthy food that’s fast. It is a safeguard against evenings of easy take-out and my response to the days of drought that keep summer forestalling fall. Soon enough, the pumpkins will get hacked into roastable chunks. The half moons of delicata will sizzle from brushed-on olive oil. Raw squash will give way for roasted. And, the glow of oven coils will replace the long days of our overworked brightest star.

Salad for Endless Summer

A Salad for Endless Summer

Feel free to omit the prosciutto for a vegetarian version of the salad—the garbanzos star in this salad that can easily be doubled and is best served right away. 

Makes 2 servings

3 zucchini, grated (3 cups)

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

3 slices prosciutto, rolled and chopped

9 dried figs, chopped (1/3 cup)

1 tablespoon chopped green onion

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon toasted slivered almonds

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 crushed red pepper flakes

Stir together the zucchini, garbanzos, prosciutto, figs, green onion, almonds, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes.


Pomegranate Chicken with Eggplant and Figs


Weekend warriors take on many forms. In my case, I used to reserve the weekends for cooking projects. There will be a batch of Morado Jam in my near future as soon as the first Concord grapes hit the farmer’s market. Even if my once prodigious-to-me preserving has taken a bit of a backseat, can we reflect on the idea that cooking during the weekend looks a little bit different from weeknight meals? Perhaps the time is looser and not quite so structured. Maybe you regularly invite friends over for long, leisurely meals sobre mesa. I like that European ideal that the time spent at the table can linger without all of the weekday requirements. Good stuff happens over meals.

Katie Quinn Davies captures that sense of revelry and occasion in her latest cookbook, What Katie Ate on the Weekend… My first impulse upon thumbing my way through the book leapt out as surprise. Her popular blog, What Katie Ate was one of the early forerunners in blogging to really maximize moody photography where the shadows and darkness play as much of a role in the shots as the food itself. What Katie Ate on the Weekend is full of brightness, light dripping off of the pages. Some cookbooks I collect for the recipes, others for the stories. This cookbook is all about the photos.

Davies won a James Beard award for the photography in her first cookbook. So, it goes without saying that the photography will be enticing. And, it is. But looking at the cookbook as part of a larger package, the design choices are intriguing. Full page photo collages get splashed with modern chunky typography. The design and layout are key to bringing the sheer quantity of photographs spanning the pages of this cookbook. The design is busy and fun, even down to the bright pink and white polka dot grosgrain bookmark, and conceptually this design suits the book because Davies herself is busy and fun. While weekends may relish lounging around a table, they also welcome road trips and excursions.

She invites the reader into several weekend journeys around the world and brings them to the table with recipes featured in that excursion. The book acts as travelogue and scrapbook with imagery setting the scene of place scattered throughout the book, jettisoning the reader to places like Dublin and the Barossa Valley. The sections break out into the kinds of categories you would expect for gatherings like Party Food and Drinks. You get the impression she likes to throw fetes and wants you to join in on the fun since recipe yields tend to extend the party through larger sized results.

Several recipes stood out. Her Eggplant and Mozarella Lasagne (page 206) substitutes thin slices of eggplant for the noodle layer, which makes it like the best version of eggplant parm possible. My sweet side eyed the Self-Saucing Mocha Pudding (page 278)– my pudding affection is legendary in our house. But the recipe I kept coming back to, the one that made me pause over its brief method and easy assembly was the Pomegranate Chicken, which I lightly adapted.

Davies’ Pomegranate Chicken recipe calls for 12 pieces of chicken thighs, but instead I substituted a Japanese eggplant with its slender, long purple body and several yellow and green-striped tiger figs for roughly half of the chicken, opting to marinate the side accountrements with the chicken for a fuller flavorful meal. While her initial yield for the recipe serves 4 to 6, I changed that to 3 to 4 since there isn’t as much chicken. Trust me when I say you will devour the eggplant and figs right off the griddle. There’s a pretty good chance I’m going to make the marinade again and just marinate a heaping ton of eggplants and figs. I sweat the eggplant using the colander and salting method before tossing the rinsed eggplant chunks into the marinade. For the figs, I opted to use ripe tiger figs with jammy raspberry middles. You could also use black mission figs to great effect here too.

The idea behind the adaptation was to invite other Middle Eastern ingredients into the marinade, thinking their contributions would add to the party. Because isn’t that one of the beauties of planning soirees, thinking about the guest list and who might hit it off with whom, the kinds of conversations that might happen with the right conglomeration of friends? Indeed, the sweetness from the figs, lush softened eggplant and savory chicken combine with tart pomegranate molasses and frizzled mint leaves for a highly memorable meal. We served it with sliced beets, pistachios, and a relish of ginger, chive, and mint. All of the flavors melded together so well and started our weekend on a celebratory note.

Pomegranate Chicken Eggplant and Figs

Pomegranate Chicken, with Eggplant and Figs

Thanks go out to Penguin Random House for sending the book to review.

Adapted from What Katie Ate on the Weekend
Reprinted by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Katie Quinn Davies, 2015.

Serves 3 to 4

Pomegranate Molasses Marinade

2 ½ tablespoons olive oil

½ cup pomegranate molasses

Juice of 1 lemon

3 large cloves garlic, minced

2 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 sprigs mint, leaves, finely shredded

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1 pound skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat (5-6)

pomegranate molasses (optional), mint and pomegranate seeds, to serve

1 Japanese eggplant, large chopped

4 fresh tiger figs, halved


In a glass measuring cup with a spout, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, vinegar, mint with a dash of salt and pepper. Place the chicken, figs, and eggplant into a large zip seal bag. Pour the marinade into the bag and squeeze out any air, zipping it shut and jostling the chicken, figs, and eggplant so they are all coated. Place the bag in the refrigerator, ideally overnight.

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat until hot. Working in batches, use tongs to add the chicken, figs, and eggplant to the pan to cook for six minutes on each side or until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. The eggplant and figs will cook faster than the chicken, so once they soften at the touch of the tongs, flip and cook the other side, removing from the heat once both sides have cooked through. Sprinkle the mint leaves and pomegranate seeds over the chicken, figs, and eggplant to serve.


Fig & Goat’s Milk Yogurt Parfait

When traveling internationally, your pick of companions is key: do you like the same activities? Are you both regimented in scheduling activities or flexible to let the wind take you where it may? Is your companion someone who prefers historical artifacts and art or shopping? Does your companion have a discriminating palate or not? There’s no right answer to these questions provided the answer for your companion complements your own, as I learned in France many moons ago with a companion who was bored at the Louvre after an hour’s visit. But that’s a story for another time.

santorini sea photo

A few years ago, when I entered a new decade, Olga and I set out on a Mediterranean adventure. Tight on cash but high on ideas, we began investigating ways to visit Greece that would let us stay there for the most days while being budget-friendly. After much scrimping, saving and sorting through airline miles, we flew to Italy and embarked on our Italian cruise of the Greek Isles and Dalmatian Coast.

She and I had traveled overseas before but on this particular trip, she began channeling her mom SallyD, planning out the minutiae and I began channeling my mom, who goes where the wind blows. SallyD in fact had been quite concerned with us going as there were reports of marauders in Cyprus. We cajoled and convinced her that our islands were nowhere nearby, at least not as close as a pebble’s throw, and off we went with the blessings of our parents.

Oia santorini church and sea

Neither of us had ever been on a cruise before and learned several important tips to share if considering cruising:

a.) A cruise is like a tasting menu with each port offering a snack bite of its environs.

b.) Pack accordingly.  And what I’m saying here pertains to books & reading material. You might be at sea several days or only while sleeping, but I’ve designated cruises as great opportunities for longer reads from greats like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

When we were out to sea, I would laze about on deck after going for a swim. My deck chair would point toward the guardrail, letting me look out into the dizzyingly beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean with Anna Karenina in hand. I never got sick of staring out into that sea of blue expanse and could understand the inspiration painters and artists experienced. Olga signed up for dance classes and attended social events. What worked so well for the cruise ship model of travel is that both of us had an enjoyable trip… that to a point was quite different from one another’s. Also, I decided then and there that the best way to sink into a massive tome from the likes of Leo Tolstoy required unbroken time staring out at the sea between pages.

At one port-of-call, we walked the wall of Dubrovnik with newfound friends Catherine and Marian, both of whom had traveled alone on the cruise. Marian possessed this quiet and peaceful spirit about her and became a regular part of our travels on land. I remember thinking meeting Marian made my Greek adventure so much more memorable. On the wall of Dubrovnik, she mentioned this cruise had come as an opportunity to explore the world after some sobering health news from her doctors. Together we conquered the streets of Oia in Santorini, ate a long leisurely lunch in Corfu, and shied away from the precocious giant pelicans in Mykonos along with our visit to the terracotta city of Dubrovnik flanked against a sparkling sea.

One thing Olga and I had been looking forward to included a growing desire to taste rich strained Greek yogurt in Greece dripping with local honey. After a trek from the train station to visit the Parthenon in Athens, we got our long-anticipated bowls of yogurt and paired them with Greek iced coffee- such a welcome chilled respite in the afternoon heat! And then there were the figs…

adriatic figs in dubrovnik

I’m a sucker for figs.

farmer's market dubrovnik

There are few foods that I would claim to be smitten about, but figs, friends,  are the fastest way to my heart. Pair them with chocolate or goat cheese and you’ve got me around your little finger.

dubrovnik farmers market scales measuring system image

Olga and I sought out freshly dried Kalimyrnas in Santorini and noshed on Adriatics in Dubrovnik, where they dried them with bay leaves to a splendid unexpected flavor! The tour guide in the bus winding up the steep mountain hills of Santorini to Oia pointed out wild fig bushes and we watched them whiz by. Suffice it to say, that visit to Greece and Dubrovnik left their indelible marks on both of us during that fall. Then there are the figs…

dried figs strung with bay leaves dubrovnik farmers market

I’m a sucker, indeed.

My affection for figs has garnered me new friends (hello Mark and Gary), a job offer and even a persona poem during a writing exercise in graduate school called “Ode to a Black Mission.”

A little known reason for our October wedding was to catch the tail end of the California Black Mission fig season. Our wedding reception caterer did a great job pairing them with California blue cheese, prosciutto and a port wine reduction sauce. You know how some brides and grooms talk about being so busy that they don’t get to eat the food? Beck and I heartily requested seconds on the figs the day of our nuptials, remembering them to be our favorite bite during the tasting.

Brown Turkey. Calimyrna. Black Mission. Kadota. The list goes on and so does the love affair. If you’ve never eaten a fresh fig, you’re in for a treat- one of nature’s sweet candies that’s chock full of fiber, flavor and texture. If you’re a wine aficionado, watch out, you may have met your wine and cheese match. Let yourself swoon at this dessert to end all dessert- if you love figs, that is.

Fresh figs. Goat’s milk yogurt. Chocolate and honey. Olga and me.

Good friends that just keep on getting better with time.

DESSERT RECIPES- Fig & Goat's Milk Yogurt Parfait



Fig & Goat’s Milk Yogurt Parfait

To select ripe figs, you want to squeeze them lightly. If the flesh sighs a little under your touch, you’re set. For this recipe, I rinsed the ripened figs, pat them dry and then left them overnight in the refrigerator to great success. This dessert is healthy and breathes balmy Mediterranean sea air into my summer evenings. I like to use small mason jars as they show off the parfait well and help control the portion size. I would also encourage trying this with chipped dark chocolate instead or bittersweet chipped chocolate. May it bring you happiness of the mouth.

YIELD: Makes 1 (easily shareable) portion.

  • 3 fresh black mission figs
  • 1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup plain goat’s milk yogurt
  • 5 walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey

Step 1: Remove the figs from the refrigerator and chop them.

Step 2: At the bottom of your mason jar, add 1 T of chopped figs. Then add a layer of 2 tablespoons  goat’s milk yogurt on top.

goat's milk yogurt fig parfait

Step 3: Add 1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips as the third layer.

how to make a goat's milk yogurt fig parfait

Step 4: Add 2 tablespoons goat’s milk yogurt for the fourth layer of the parfait.

Step 5: Then add 1 tablespoon of chopped figs as the fifth layer.

Step 6: Add another 2 tablespoons goat’s milk yogurt for the sixth layer.

how to make goat's milk yogurt fig parfait

Step 7:  Add walnuts as the final layer and drizzle your raw honey over them.

how to make goat's milk yogurt fig parfait





SOUP RECIPES- CassouletFresh back from the honeymoon, I would love to say we filled the kitchen with cinnamon and butter and sugar emanating from a hot oven. Our lives were as they had been a la honeymoon equal parts tense and excited at the possibilities ahead. No, I’m not referring to the early days of marriage but instead whether or not our San Francisco Giants would win the National League pennant. We meandered into neighborhood pubs and pizza joints yukking it up with other fans. On a particular rainy Saturday evening, we shared a booth facing a flat screen TV, watching pitchers get swapped out and batters foul. Over tapas and organic beer, we cheered and cowered, the digestive juices roiling in a perpetual state of uncertainty. But it was made less bitter and more sweet with slivers of flatbread festooned with shaved jamon Serrano and black mission figs with manchego cheese. That night, victory tasted sweet.

So our first “official” dinner looks something like this. I enter the apartment with its cheery smells of caramelized onions and a big smile spread wide across Nathan’s face. He’s begun chopping celery and carrots for a cassoulet I’ve been jonesing to make except it’s not the cassoulet and so no big surprise, it takes on a life of its own. We chop on different counters yet somehow at one point, all of his knives are on my cutting board as I’m paring the garlic. Hmm. The stew that resulted from our kitchen antics cut the chill of this October San Francisco evening. Think of it as South meets North or France meets a bit of Spain. Thus, this tasty concoction is a bit of a hot mess, but a tasty one nonetheless.




YIELD: 4-6 servings

  • 3 celery ribs, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 leeks, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 carrots, halved & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 T fines herbes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a good grinding of black pepper
  • 1 8 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 8 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2 pieces smoked bacon, split down the middle & then cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 dried Black Mission figs, quartered
  • toasted bread crumbs of Country Levain* (see below)

Pour oil, veggies and spices in a heavy stockpot over medium high heat for 12 minutes. Stir occasionally. Heat up the bacon on the stovetop while the veggies are cooking also for about 10-12 minutes. Add the bacon and a little bit of the bacon grease to your veggies along with the diced tomatoes, white beans and chicken stock. Also add the figs. Let simmer covered for 30 minutes. While the stew is simmering, cut up two hefty slices of Country Levain bread into large chunks. Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until the bread is decimated into crumbs. Toss the breadcrumbs in a large pan over medium-low heat and make sure to turn them or stir them frequently until they are toasted. (You could also put them in the oven, but we did it on the stovetop). Et voila. You have made yourself a bowl of a hot mess- garnish it with the breadcrumbs before serving. Enjoy with a cabernet sauvignon. If you’re Nathan, you might also be inclined to sneak in some shaved white cheese like a manchego. Nathan can never get enough of his cheese, but I digress.