Napa Valley, wine, and simply amazing food

It feels like fall!  And I just couldn’t wait to prepare heart-warming, comfort dishes of the season. Yesterday, the most amazing smells were coming out of my kitchen while I roasted the game hens and squashes. So I decided to share the recipe with all of you. It is a very simple dish though it is packed with flavor and, as I like to call it, “good stuff”.

I recently came back home to Los Angeles after a week in Napa Valley. I had the opportunity to do an apprenticeship at a local winery. Judd’s Hill Winery opened their doors and allowed me to spend a couple of days shadowing their own wine-maker and learning the ins and outs of what it takes to make wine. It was an amazing experience that has broadened our knowledge and allowed us to better understand the complex process of wine-making—from grapes to bottle. I personally have a much deeper appreciation and respect for this art. And from now on, I will think about all that I’ve learned as I decork a bottle :)


Chef Mosher at Robert Mondavi gives us a tour of the edible garden

Besides the obvious benefits from spending a week in Napa Valley, being in that area granted me direct access to a variety of excellent restaurants and unbelievable food. I had the opportunity to meet Chef Morimoto in person while visiting his river-front restaurant, “Morimoto”, which is right in Downtown Napa (ehem, and let me just say that I almost fainted–no, really). Among many other great dining experiences, I also had lunch at “Farmstead” at Long Meadow Ranch in Saint Helena. Using simple ingredients picked from their own grounds, Chef Stephen Barber creates the most amazing dishes. I can confidently say that was food lesson number one from this trip—simplicity is the key.

After spending a couple of days of “pushing through” and “pouring over”, learning about Brix and CO2 levels, appreciating the difference between natural yeast and additives, and understanding how, even if done the same way every single time, wine will always be different every year depending on a number of variables, I have also learned that wine making is similar to cooking. There is a little bit of science and a little bit of art along with intuition, experience, and well, a little bit of good luck.

So here’s my interpretation of simplicity in a fall inspired dish. It has definitely been influenced by my last visit to Napa Valley, a place I already can’t wait to go back to.


Roasted game hen, farro and red kale  sauté, and rustic squash puree


  • Olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Roasted game hens

  • 2 game hens, halved
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • ¼  tsp cardamom powder
  • 8 sage leafs

Farro and red kale sauté

  • 1 cup farro (I use organic Italian pearled farro), uncooked
  • 2 ½ cups of low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cups red kale sliced at ½” wide
  • ¾ cup white onion, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Rustic squash puree

  • 1 small delicate squash, halved
  • 1 small gold acorn squash, halved
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg powder
  • 2 tbsp crème fraiche (optional)


Roasted game hens

Preheat the oven at 450º F

Combine paprika, cumin, and cardamom in a small bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil and stir with a spoon to make a thin paste. Rub all over game hens with clean hands. Carefully lift the skin from the breast and insert a leaf of sage; return skin to original position. Season game hens with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Drizzle olive oil on a clean baking sheet, place a leaf of sage and top with half of a game hen, repeat with remaining halves. Place in the center rack and roast for approximately 30-35 minutes.

Farro and red kale sauté

Combine farro and chicken stock in a small pot, drizzle with olive oil and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, stir gently, and cover with a lid. Let it absorb the liquid completely, about 15 minutes; remove from heat and let it rest, covered, for at least 5 minutes.

Set a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Drizzle pan with olive oil and sauté onions for 2 minutes; add kale to the pan and season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir gently. Pour lemon juice over kale and sauté for a couple of minutes more.

Add cooked farro to a large bowl and top with sautéed red kale; drizzle with some olive oil and gently stir to combine. Set aside.

Rustic squash puree

Preheat oven at 375º F

Rest squash on their skin on a baking sheet, season all halves with nutmeg, salt, pepper and drizzle with olive oil (I like to use a brush to get in there!). Turn upside down, leaving the skin up. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until tender to fork. Remove from oven and let it cool off. This may be done ahead of time.

Scoop squash from each half and place on a shallow bowl. Add about 2 tsp of olive oil*, season with salt & pepper to taste. Using a fork, puree all squash and incorporate all ingredients. This may be

*Optional: add crème fraiche along with olive oil)


Using a large spoon, add some puree at the bottom of the plate. Top with farro and red kale sauté. Top with half game hen and garnish with cooked sage leaf.

One thought on “Napa Valley, wine, and simply amazing food

  1. What a great trip you guys must have had. I never had any interest in Napa until my wife dragged me there. I loved every second. And had an amazing meal at Mustards! If you missed it, next time go for it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s