Latest Posts

My Little Valentine

Valentine’s Day is coming up quickly.  While this traditionally has been a holiday I’ve shrugged off, my husband loves to go all out and give me roses and chocolates.  On one occasion, I got a teddy bear and the flowers.  Last year he gave me custom jewelry with his and my son’s birthstones.

Needless to say, he’s changed my attitude about Valentine’s Day.  I wholeheartedly admit I love flowers and candy.  To be given those things from him makes them even more special.

img_3421Usually I cook him his favorite meal for this holiday.  This year, I decided to do something different.

My husband is Cuban.  There is very little that he loves more than a pastelito.  We live walking distance to Porto’s Cuban Bakery, which has all sorts of Cuban and Cuban-inspired treats.  We used to go there all the time.  It’s cheap.  It’s delicious.  The food is fresh.  The coffee is strong.  The lines are…long.  Oh…that’s right.  It usually takes a minimum of an hour to get in and out of Porto’s, even if the items have been ordered ahead.

Regardless, I wanted to make him something.

Guava pastries are not difficult.  They are basically puff pastry, guava paste, and the optional cream cheese.  While they are always delicious, mine have not always been pretty.  In fact, it seems like no matter how hard I try, they always turn out pretty ugly.  For Valentine’s Day, I wanted to make him something beautiful.img_3431

I decided to make my husband a Cuban-inspired guava macaron with a guava paste center and guava/cream cheese frosting around the edge.  Macarons are ALWAYS pretty, right?

I experimented with this macaron during the holidays.  I wanted to gift them to his family and close friends.  However, the humidity and constant rainfall in Atlanta this last December made it so the shells cracked and wouldn’t form correctly.  They tasted great, but weren’t the right texture.  They were the perfect pink color img_3432with a dusting of sparkly rose gold.  Yet, the finished result looked sad.

I was so disappointed.  I tried twice.  I failed twice.  Finally, I gave up.  They got devoured anyway.

I hadn’t made a macaron since then, so I was trepidatious – especially since desert dry Los Angeles has been wet.

I took a breath and started to sift…

Happily, they came together!  My husband was so excited, he couldn’t wait until Valentine’s Day to eat them.  That’s fine with me.

 

BASIC MACARON SHELL (Click here for the recipe)

GUAVA/CREAM CHEESE FILLING

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Match the macaron shells into pairs and lay them out to fill.
  2. Place the cream cheese into a bowl for a stand mixer.
  3. Cut the guava paste into slices and place in a small pot.
  4. Add a splash of water to the guava paste. Heat on medium until most of the paste has broken down into syrup.  Keep stirring until there are no lumps.  Then let it cool slightly.
  5. Pour half of the guava syrup into the bowl with the cream cheese and begin to blend with the whip attachment.
  6. While the cream cheese is blending, place the remaining guava syrup into a piping bag and pipe a small circle in the middle of the macaron shell.
  7. Add the confectioner’s sugar to the cream cheese and blend together until completely combined.
  8. Spoon the cream cheese mixture into a piping bag.
  9. Pipe the cream cheese around the guava paste, leaving some space on the edges for it to spread.
  10. Top it with the matched shell and move on to the next one.
  11. Refrigerate macarons to keep fresh.

 

The Cure for the Holiday Hangover

It’s January.  Most of us are trying to eat better and work out more.  However, it’s generally cold in the mornings and we’re all feeling a little sluggish from the holidays.

Processed with VSCO with ss1 preset

January may be the time of resolution keeping, but it is also the time of the Holiday Hangover.  For that, I like nothing more than a hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning.

My husband and I have been grinding coffee and brewing it up in our Italian espresso maker.  Add a touch of Splenda and some 2% steamed milk, we have the beginning of a productive day.  It’s our slice of morning heaven.

However, do you know what makes it even better?  A little treat.

That’s right – a treat.  An itty-bitty, something yummy is the perfect way to start the day – even if it isn’t on our diet.  That’s where the Coffee Cookie comes in!

I drink alcohol from time to time, as you may have guessed from the title of my blog.  On

Processed with VSCO with ss1 preset

one boozy night, I had a hankering for some cookies.  It was around 2am, and we all know nothing good for us happens at that time.  That cookie craving I had wasn’t just a desire, it was a necessity.  Not only did cookies sound amazing, I knew we needed to have them to head off that morning hangover.

So, I made cookies.

Only, in my drunken haze, I forgot part of the recipe and put in way too much flour and cinnamon.  When I realized my error, I thought the cookies would all be ruined.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  Instead, the Coffee Cookie was born!

This cookie is denser than your average cookie and it’s not as sweet.  It is truly the perfect pairing for a nice hot cup of java.  Enjoy!

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks butter (softened)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Add Ins: (You can customize your cookie with any of these or add in your favorite cookie additions)

  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin (bake for a couple minutes longer)
  • 1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup dried blueberries
  • ½ cup shaved coconut

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Blend the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until completely combined
  3. Add in the eggs and vanilla
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon
  5. Add the flour mixture one spoonful at a time into the butter mixture until all of the ingredients are combined
  6. Stir in any add-ins
  7. Spoon the dough onto cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes
  8. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool on a wire cooling rack

Bangladeshi Chicken Curry

Many years ago, in a time that seems more like a dream than reality, I lived in London for a spell.  It was a fantastic time of my life.  I had attended a summer session at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, home to such great actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Alan Rickman, and Sir Richard Attenborough.

That summer fueled a desire in me to really hit the pavements as an actor.  Having lived in Los Angeles my whole life, London called to me for a change of venue.  I was young.  I was eager.  I was a starving actor – literally.

Luckily, I became familiar with an area called Portobello Road, in Notting Hill.  Yes, the same Notting Hill as the movie, which showed the street on the weekends, when it became a bustling outdoor flea/antique market. The Portobello Road I knew, was the place to get good quality kosher meats and fresh-from-the-farm vegetables for cheap.

img_3070I discovered this area when a Bangladeshi actor friend helped me rent a small room at Bangladesh Center.  It was close to a Tube Station and was just a stone’s throw away from the market.  The room was about $20 per week.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to have the lodging in such a great locale.  I hung out with the other tenants and was immersed in their culture.  It was there that I learned how to make curry.  It was a hearty meal that could last for days, stretch the dollar (or the pound, as the case was), and satisfy a rumbling tummy.

Over the years, I’ve altered the recipe a bit and have made it my own.  This is so easy to do with curry, since we never measured ingredients and changed it up, based on what fresh vegetables were available at the time.  I always used chicken for my img_3067curry, but any protein should be fine.  In London, I purchased drumsticks because they were inexpensive and flavorful.  I would dump them into the stew with the skin and bone.  Now I usually buy breast or thigh meat and cube it to make it easier to eat.

This has become one of my favorite comfort dishes.  Not only does it remind me of my London days, but it is tasty and filling.  It is a lovely choice for a cold day.

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder
  • 3 tablespoons Garam Masala
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1-2 fresh Indian green chilis, diced (optional – you can usually find these in an Indian market)
  • 2 pounds chicken
  • 1 onion, sliced in long pieces
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 small head of broccoli, chopped in small pieces (you want the broccoli to practically melt into the sauce)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 large potatoes, cubed
  • 4 eggs, boiled

Directions:

  1. Place all the spices, chilis and oil into a pot and mix into a paste.
  2. Cook on medium heat until it starts to sizzle and you can feel the spices in your nose and the back of your throat.
  3. Add in chicken and stir until coated and the outside is seared.
  4. Add in onions and stir until they start to become glassy.
  5. Add in tomato, broccoli, and potatoes, stir until coated.
  6. Pour in the water until it just covers everything in the pot. Bring it to a boil.
    1. For fast curry, keep it boiling for about 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Do not cover it.  Simmer until it reduces down to half (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally.
    2. If you have time to develop the flavors, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. About 30 minutes before you’re ready to eat, uncover the pot and return the curry to a boil.  Then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid reduces to half, stirring occasionally.
  7. While the curry is being made, boil the eggs in a separate pot.  Turn off heat, cover and let sit for about 10 minutes.  Deshell the eggs and put them in with the curry.  I like to make small slits in the eggs so the sauce can get inside.
  8. Serve with rice.

Macarons – Those Temperamental Little B!+(#es

French macarons have been a long-time favorite dessert of mine.  I love the colors, flavors, and that slightly chewy, tender cookie with a fragile crust.  I heard they could be fussy, so I never tried to make them.  Instead, I left them to the French pastry experts.

That is, until I caught a video on making macarons.  It looked so easy!  What could go wrong?

Well, as it turns out, a lot of things.

Let’s start with this:  If you read my blog or know me in person, you know I am very bad at sticking to the recipe.  I enjoy “cooking with love.”  In other words, I like throwing things together and making something yummy.

The first time I made macarons, I followed the directions of the video I had watched.  These were very tasty, but the video left out a very important step:

Sift, sift, sift.  Then sift again.  If in doubt, sift.

E31C59FB-B4AC-4D3F-B4CA-016881608D2AAs I said, the first macarons I created were delicious.  However, they were grainy.  They were completely the wrong texture.  They were not smooth.  They were not shiny.  They didn’t have that beautiful, easily fractured crust.  Nor did they finish with a slight, chewy bite that dissolves beautifully on the tongue.  These were dense, with a typical cookie texture.  I was disappointed.

I tried the recipe again, this time sifting through once.  They had a better texture the second time, but still lacked the true qualities of that delicate macaron.

I decided to give up.

However, just as I made this decision, my friend Jenn asked if she could pay me to make macarons for a bridal shower she was hosting.  I was so flattered, I accepted.

Then I panicked.

Then I became obsessed.

I had to up my game!

My husband gifted me a book on macarons.  I “poured” over the pages and familiarized myself with the different techniques.  Apparently, I had used the Swiss technique before – the simplest one.  After talking with Jenn about what she wanted and consulting the book, I decided to try out the Italian method, where the sugar is cooked before pouring it into the meringue.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I am about to enlighten you.

In my research I came to understand that the shell of a macaron (the cookie part) is essentially a meringue, with almond flour (or any nut based flour) added to it.  This explains why the shell is so light and fragile.  This is also why it is absolutely essential to sift that flour and powdered sugar before adding it to the meringue.  Any clump, any larger grain, even any slightly unclean bowl, can change the texture of the shell and ruin that shiny, smooth finish.

Seriously.

As if that isn’t bad enough, I also discovered through trial and error that even something as simple as ridges on a baking sheet can change, not only the appearance of the macaron, but also the rise of it.  It can flatten out.

Exhausted yet?  Well, wait for this…

Then, even if you have sifted five times, cooked your sugar, made sure every bowl was pristine, AND used flat baking sheets, the temperature of the kitchen can botch a batch!

Seriously.

I made the mistake of having dinner prepping in the slow cooker one time.  The whole batch was ruined.  Well, not ruined.  Strangely enough, the macarons were the perfect texture three days later.  However, they were initially hard and many were cracked.01EA55AD-6FCE-4F0A-867A-D98DE5F1806E

Finally, I have a few more tips and tricks:

  1. Buy a food scale.  You need to weigh all of your ingredients for macaron shells to come out right (don’t worry about the filling – that is much less of a science and more of an art),
  2. Make sure you have older eggs, preferably bought the week before you’re going to make the macarons, and have them at room temperature before making the meringue,
  3. If you can, use a silicone baking sheet with circles to guide you. That way each shell should be close in size,
  4. Once the shells are piped, slam them hard on the kitchen counter about 10-20 times to get rid of any air bubbles,
  5. Give yourself time! Make the macarons about 2-3 days ahead of when you want them to be consumed.

In the end, the macarons for the bridal shower both looked and tasted great.  Some were not as perfect as I would have liked, but they were close enough.  Jenn loved them, and asked me to make them again for a Holiday Open House she was hosting for her jewelry business, Bella Sparkle.604DFFA4-22B9-4DE0-832C-AB2F64BE1FFE

Since my first time, I have experimented with a variety of flavors, including key lime pie, raspberry/lemon, and s’mores.  Once I got past the unpredictable and moody nature of macarons, I’ve had a great time coming up with different flavors and designs.  I even created a macaron for Jenn’s party with her favorite flavors (crème brulee) and color (turquoise).  I still think the shells are temperamental little b!+(#es, but I also think they’re fun.

 

BASIC MACARON SHELL – Italian Method

Ingredients:

 

Directions:

  1. Sift the almond flour 2 times.
  2. Sift the powdered sugar into the almond flour, then combine thoroughly.
  3. Sift the almond flour/powdered sugar 2-3 more times, put aside.
  4. In a stand mixer, whip the egg whites at medium speed with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form.
  5. While the egg whites are whipping, cook the sugar with the water in a small pot until it reaches 235 degrees, whisking while it cooks (you do not want this to burn). If you do not have a thermometer, you will know the sugar is ready when it is boiling rapidly for about 5 minutes.  Note:  This process will take much longer than you think it will!
  6. When the sugar reaches 235 degrees, quickly pour it down the side of the bowl with the egg whites while still whipping (the heat of the sugar can cook the eggs if you don’t keep them moving).
  7. Increase the speed of the mixer and whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. This will take about 8-10 minutes.  You want to be able to turn the bowl over and not have the meringue move.67CA1389-F6D7-451F-A51B-8036B6873874
  8. Create a well (or a hole) in the middle of the almond flour/sugar. Pour the meringue in the center.D5832821-2274-4C80-84F8-4D72772EF1C2
  9. Mix the ingredients together with a rubber spatula. Be sure to completely blend the meringue and almond flour and sugar so it’s flowing, but don’t over mix (those shells will crack!).  A124CC4C-9D8F-4120-8C6E-C7044481225D
  10. Add a couple of drops of food coloring and blend through.
  11. Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a round tip. (Tip:  Put the piping bag in a drinking glass – it will be much easier to fill).
  12. Pipe the meringue onto the silicone mat or baking sheet, making small, circles, about 1 inch wide (try to make them uniform – a guided mat or the squares on parchment paper should help you). Cover any extra batter with plastic until you are ready to pipe it.6C933736-DBDE-4705-9B6A-78786D7AE6BB
  13. Firmly tap the baking sheet about 10-20 times to release any air in the batter.
  14. Let the shells sit for 30-60 minutes, until you can lightly touch them without denting the outside.CC1AECBD-3466-45B9-A938-CBAAF872AE63
  15. Heat the oven to 300 degrees, then bake one sheet at a time, for 9 – 12 minutes, depending upon how hot your oven gets. Vent the oven once or twice throughout the baking process.  You want the air to get in there.
  16. Remove the shells and move the silicone mat to a cooling rack. After a few minutes, gently remove the shells from the mat.

 

For the filling, your imagination is your limit!  Just think:  lemon curd, lime curd, caramel, marshmallow, Nutella, chocolate ganache, guava, or even combinations of flavors!  Just enjoy and delight your senses!  Below is a very easy raspberry buttercream recipe.

EASY RASPBERRY BUTTERCREAM

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
  • 1 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • ½ cup raspberry jam with seeds

 

Directions:

  1. Blend together the butter, sugar and raspberry jam until completely combined.
    • If you would like it to be thicker, add more sugar.
    • If you would like it to be thinner, add some milk.
  2. Spoon the buttercream into a piping bag.
  3. Pair the macaron shells, matching them by closest size and shape.
  4. Pipe the buttercream onto one of the shells, leaving some space on the edges for it to spread.47A796BF-C71F-48FF-BCFE-2F00A256BA3A
  5. Top it with the matched shell and move on to the next one.
  6. Refrigerate macarons to keep fresh.
  7. Take a deep breath… YOU ARE DONE! Pour yourself a glass of wine and put your feet up.  Cheers!DF853D2A-9642-4306-9363-7DF0739B6009

 

 

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Aja Vineyards Malibu Coast Syrah

Malibu is the epitome of California living. It’s known for gorgeous beaches and coastline stretching as far as the eye can see. It is synonymous with wealth and celebrity-lifestyles. However, only a couple of miles away from the coast, there is a completely different environment. The surf gives way to jagged cut canyons, filled with native flora and fauna. The curvy roads lumber past hiking trails and rustic mom and pop establishments. There are breathtaking views and a beautiful silence. This part of Malibu seems worlds away from the clogged freeways of Los Angeles in spite of its proximity. This part of Malibu is something special.

This is where the Malibu AVA (American Viticulture Area) is located with 38 wineries registered under it. This area has hot days and cold nights, usually cooled off by the coastal fog – the perfect recipe for growing grapes.

Aja Vineyards is among these wineries. First planted in 2007 with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, the vineyard has grown to include Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and most recently, Sauvignon Blanc.

Like most in the area, Todd and Heather Greenbaum’s vineyard has been family-run. AJA stands for the initials of their children, Alec, Jack, and Amanda. While Amanda is the Winemaker, Proprietor, and Vice President of the winery, she and Todd are the faces of the vineyard. They exude warmth with a friendly and very approachable demeanor. There is no LA snobbery here – just great wine that has been clearly created out of passion and love for the craft and the vines.

This can be seen in the 2013 Malibu Coast Syrah. It is a well-crafted, complex Syrah that is round and robust. Inky purple in the glass, it smells of lavender, lilacs, roses, and spice, with fresh cracked black pepper and cherry compote. It has a good balance of acid and tannins, with flavors of ripe, bursting plums, black currants, menthol, green pepper, and smoke. It is a truly delightful and food-friendly wine. It paired well with a grilled New York Strip, Portobello mushrooms, and barbecued chicken.

You can check out this wine and others at ajavineyards.com.

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

 

Tres Leches Three Ways

I’ll make this brief and get on to the recipes. Since I met my husband, I have thoroughly enjoyed diving in Cuban cuisine – “the food of his people,” as he calls it. Tres Leches has become a staple for celebrations for us. No matter the season, it is decadent, delicious, and delightful. So, here is a video tutorial and three recipes for Tres Leches. Enjoy!

The Easy Way:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan
  3. Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar together until smooth (about 5 minutes)
  4. While the butter and sugar are mixing, sift the flour and baking powder together
  5. Add eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla to the butter and sugar, and combine thoroughly
  6. Add flour to the mixture, a little at a time until blended, pour into pan
  7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean
  8. Allow the cake to cool, then poke it with a fork or toothpick to create small holes
  9. Whisk together the whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk, then pour over the cake
  10. While the milks are absorbing into the cake, whip the heavy whipping cream, 1 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla together until thick (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down)
  11. Spread the whipped cream over the cake and decorate as you like. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then enjoy!

img_0761

The Harder, More Authentic Way:

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Grease a 10×15 baking pan
  3. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form
  4. Gradually add the sugar until the mixture is glossy
  5. Add in the egg yolks one at a time, until thoroughly combined
  6. Gradually add in the flour, baking powder, milk, and vanilla until combined
  7. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean
  8. Allow the cake to cool, then poke it with a fork or toothpick to create small holes
  9. Whisk together the whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk, then pour over the cake
  10. While the milks are absorbing into the cake, whip the heavy whipping cream, 1 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla together until thick (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down)
  11. Spread the whipped cream over the cake and decorate as you like. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then enjoy!

img_0757

Chocolate Tres Leches (not traditional, but delicious!):

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate milk
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  2. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan
  3. Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar together until smooth (about 5 minutes)
  4. While the butter and sugar are mixing, sift the flour, baking powder, and cocoa together
  5. Add eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla to the butter and sugar, and combine thoroughly
  6. Add flour to the mixture, a little at a time until blended, pour into pan
  7. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean
  8. Allow the cake to cool, then poke it with a fork or toothpick to create small holes
  9. Whisk together the chocolate milk, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk, then pour over the cake
  10. While the milks are absorbing into the cake, whip the heavy whipping cream, 1 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla together until thick (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down)
  11. Spread the whipped cream over the cake and decorate as you like. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then enjoy!

 

*Thanks to Ed Lima for the use of his music in the video. Check him out at edlima.com

Featured Wine of the Week – Mumm Rosé Brut

Mumm Rosé Brut – what a delightful way to celebrate! ⁣

It has cheerful golden pink bubbles with rich, creamy red berry flavors created in the Méthode Traditionnelle process. I drank this over the weekend to celebrate my anniversary, but there were other reasons to celebrate: a socially distant visit from dear friends and the beginning of life slowly returning to normal as stores and restaurants open once again. ⁣

Mumm has been a long-time favorite of mine since visiting their stunning winery in Napa years ago. While their sparkling wines are the main attraction, the fine art gallery at the estate with historical photos of old Hollywood stole my heart. ⁣
⁣⁣
⁣⁣

Ice Wine

Let’s talk ice wine.

Ice wine is a style of dessert wine where the grapes are harvested when they become frozen on the vine. Since only the water in the grape freezes, the sugars and other components of the fruit become concentrated. This produces a wine with exceptional sweetness and flavor.

I’ve heard that winemakers are one part artist, one part mad scientist, and one part gambler. I think this could be even more true for the producers of ice wine. They allow the grapes to hang on the vine longer than typical, usually well after other grapes have been picked. Then, when the grapes freeze, they need to be harvested within a few hours. It’s an extremely risky operation, and whole crops can be lost.

That said, the result is lovely when all goes well. The wine is high in acidity and has bright, complex flavors. It’s the perfect digestive and pairs well with an assortment of desserts from cheese to ice cream.

This week, I did a side by side tasting of two different ice wines. Both were made with the Vidal Blanc grape, which grows well in cooler climates and is known for its high acidity and sugar content. Both ice wines were from North America. One was from Canada, which is known for ice wine, and the other was from Ohio, which is not known for wine at all. While this may not seem like a fair comparison, they were surprisingly similar and delicious.

Now on to the tasting!

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

The first I tasted was a 2005 Chateau des Chames Vidal Ice Wine, VQA, from Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada. This bottle has been in my collection for several years, and it has aged nicely. Auburn in hue, it had great acidity and a lingering finish. Floral notes along with honeyed raisins and caramel apple flavors were prevalent. There was a slightly musty taste, which makes me think there may have been some Botrytis* when harvested (*wine nerd alert – this is a fungus that removes the water in grapes in some dessert wines, like Sauternes and Tokaji). While this is unusual in ice wine, it can be present.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

The second wine was gifted to me by a friend a few years ago: 2013 Debonne Vineyards Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from Grand River Valley, Ohio, United States. Not knowing much about Ohio wine, I didn’t know what to expect. Grand River Valley is on the edge of Lake Eerie, so it has similar climate conditions as the first wine I tried from Niagara-on-the-Lake. This wine was delicious and definitely comparable to the first! It was golden brown with a bright sweetness, good acid, and long finish. There were flavors of poached pear, grilled pineapple, and caramel.

Cline Cellars – 2011 Live Oak Zinfandel

I’m finding this time in quarantine to be a wonderful time to drink those wines I’ve been holding on to. This week I finally opened up a 2011 Cline Cellars Live Oak Zinfandel from Contra Costa County.

I love Cline wines and I love what they do. They practice their own sustainable farming they have named “The Green String Method.” With minimal human intervention, they use sheep and goats to clear the weeds from the vineyard and cover crops to feed the soil. They reuse all organic waste and compost it, then introduce it into the vineyard through the drip irrigation system. Volcanic rock is crushed to add minerals to the earth and owls are used for pest control. Furthermore, 100% of the energy used on the farm is solar.

These sustainable practices are not only good for the environment, but the wines are also absolutely fantastic! I used to belong to the wine club because I love every one of their wines and their winemaking style. Big, bold, delicious!

The 2011 Live Oak Zinfandel has been in my collection since its release, and it did not disappoint.  Dark garnet in color, there were lovely aromas of candied violets, boysenberry jam, and toasty baking spices. There was a good amount of acid on the palate with well-balanced tannins. Honeyed dates, stewed black fruits, cinnamon, and Turkish Delight flavors lingered in a long finish on my tongue. Delightful indeed!

I would have liked to enjoy this with braised lamb shank or a nice grilled rib-eye, however, I did manage to have it with a luxurious chunk of gorgonzola cheese. Cheers to deeply pleasurable moments and wines during this time!

Baking with My Three-Year-Old and Lemon Loaf

I’ve been baking lately. A lot. I know we’re all supposed to be on the straight and narrow after the holidays, so I’m not sure what’s come over me. Except that my three-year-old keeps making requests.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

It would be one thing if he constantly requested cookies, but he doesn’t. He wants muffins and different types of loaves. I’m not sure where this is all coming from, but then he wants one more thing: to make them with me. Well, how am I supposed to say no?

Baking with my three-year-old is a challenge, to say the least. I would love to tell you that he has natural skills in the kitchen, but he doesn’t. He just wants to do this with me because he sees me in the kitchen all the time. So, I’ve had to figure out what he can do. He likes to stir – it seems this is the basis of baking all things, and that is where I’ve started.

dba5f609-1dc2-41b6-9ce7-2f466030e4a4I’ve discovered that baking with my toddler is very different from my usual time in the kitchen. It is slow. It is messy. It is, at times, frustrating. He wants to do more than I want him to do, more than is safe for him to do. While I want to encourage him to continue enjoying his new-found culinary skills, I also want to be sure he is not harmed in any way. This might seem like an obvious thing to say, but my little guy is enthusiastic, eager, and stubborn. Oh, he’s so stubborn. He simply wants to do it all!

I know at this point, you want a recipe, and it’s coming…but I’m writing this to ask for advice. I love that he loves to be in the kitchen with me, and I definitely want to nurture it. What are tasks you would or have given a toddler in the kitchen?

Now, here’s something I made with Mr. Alex, my toddler, last weekend: Lemon Loaf! (*Recipe borrowed and somewhat altered from averiecooks.com)

INGREDIENTS:

Loaf:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Zest from 1 large lemon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Lemon Glaze:

  • The juice from 1 large lemon (minus the tablespoon used above)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, and sour cream until thoroughly combined.
  3. Whisk in the oil.
  4. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir until it is just combined – don’t overmix. There will be some lumps.
  6. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Allow the loaf to cool for 30 minutes before turning onto a rack to cool completely before glazing.
  8. For the glaze, in a small bowl, pour in the remaining lemon juice and whisk the powdered sugar in 1 tablespoon at a time until it is the consistency you want. Drizzle over the top of the bread.

Featured Wine – 2018 Ampelos Viognier “Phi”

Yesterday was such a bummer. I moved my wine collection and found a couple of mystery bottles that I thought would be fun to blind taste.  However, I quickly found out they had gone bad. So, I decided I needed to open up a bottle of wine I’ve been saving: Ampelos 2018 Viognier “Phi”.

First, let me start by saying, I have a very high affection for Ampelos. They really take the environment seriously and have certifications in organic, biodynamic, and sustainable farming. Their website states, “In growing grapes, we believe in taking care of and respecting the environment and that our vineyard needs to be in balance with nature…” From that, they have produced some extraordinary wines, and this Viognier is no exception.

Fresh and aromatic, the 2018 Ampelos Viognier has intoxicating aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine with orange marmalade, melon, and papaya. The first sip is greeted with bright acidity and notes of stone fruit and white flowers. It’s a luscious wine that immediately makes me feel like I’m running through a field of wildflowers; the perfect wine to greet Spring and the warming weather. This Viognier is voluptuous. I thoroughly enjoyed it on its own, but it would also pair well with creamy cheeses, an assortment of fruit and berries, and it is bold enough to hold its own with red meats.

Amp Vio Wine Diamonds

Check out the Wine Diamonds at the bottom of the bottle!

Details:

  • Ampelos
  • 2018 Viognier “Phi”
  • 13.9% Alcohol
  • Santa Barbara County, CA
  • USA

Featured Wine of the Week – Solminer 2018 “Rubellite”

Happy New Year and welcome to our first Featured Wine of the Week for 2020! Today we’re drinking a wine from Sominer called “Rubellite.”

This wine is 72% Syrah, 27% Grenache, and 1% Riesling. It’s from Santa Ynez Valley in California. If you’ve been following me, you know this is my type of wine. I love wines from this region, and especially Syrahs. So, let’s dive in!

Solminer is a labor of love between a husband and wife team. They were Certified Organic in 2014 and Demeter Certified Biodynamic in 2018. Their focus is on natural wines. They use chickens, donkeys, sheep, bees, fruit trees, native plants, compost, and herb teas(!) to encourage the health of the vineyard. The most notable varietals they planted were the Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch, which have flourished. Solminer even makes a skin contact “orange” Grüner!

The Rubellite Syrah/Grenache blend we’re drinking today is described as “an experiment gone incredibly well.” It was fermented with natural yeast and spent seven months in neutral French oak. It is unfined and unfiltered. Solminer recommends chilling and drinking it when the weather is warm.

At first glance, this wine was not the typical dark purple color we see in most Syrahs from Santa Ynez region. It was a deep ruby red in the glass. There was the usual cracked black pepper on the nose, followed by cherry pie and grapefruit. As the wine opened up, aromas of candied violets and sweet spices emerged. The cracked black pepper continued on the tongue, along with unripe plum, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, ginger, clotted cream and strawberry jam. English tea, anyone? There was great acid, with a medium finish and balanced tannins.

All in all, this was an interesting wine to taste. It was a combination of the expected and traditional with a few surprise twists. It definitely piqued my curiosity, and I will be trying more from Solminer.

Details:

  • Solminer
  • 2018 “Rubellite”
  • 72% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 1% Riesling
  • 13% Alcohol
  • 7 months neutral French oak
  • Santa Ynez Valley
  • California, USA

Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie

With the holidays in full swing, I have pie on my mind. It’s the only time of year I actually make pie.

It started when my mom and I would tandem in the kitchen to prepare Thanksgiving dinner. I would find a recipe for some new dessert each year. One year it was caramel apple pie, the next year was chocolate pecan pie, and so on.

Then one year I was invited to dinner with my extended family and asked to bring a pumpkin dessert.  As usual, I couldn’t make just a regular pumpkin pie, so I found an enticing recipe from Epicurious for a Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie. Unknown to me at the time, this would become my new tradition.

As it turned out, I’ve spent almost every Thanksgiving since with my wonderful extended family, and have brought that pie every time.  However, the pie has evolved!

The Pumpkin Mascarpone pie I make now changes slightly each year, depending on my mood. As usual, I never stick to a recipe for long, and this one is no different. I’ve tried a variety of alterations, but this year, I think I found a combination that I might keep for a while. So, here it is:

Ingredients:

Marshmallow Fluff:

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 3 large egg whites (room temperature)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Pie Crust:

  • 2 cups crushed ginger snaps
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Pie Filling:

  • 1 8oz can pure pumpkin
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (golden or dark)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 8oz container mascarpone cheese (room temperature)

Directions:

Create the Marshmallow Fluff first, then put in the refrigerator until it is ready for use. 

Preheat the oven to 350

Marshmallow Fluff:

  1. Place the water, sugar, and corn syrup in the pan and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. While the sugar water is cooking, blend together the eggs whites, vanilla, and cream of tartar at medium/high speed in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until soft peaks begin to form. If the egg whites are ready before the sugar, stop beating them until the sugar is ready.
  3. Cook the sugar until it reaches a temperature of 235°F (or 113°C), then gently pour it into the egg white mixture while it is still blending. Try to keep the flow of the sugar water down the side of the blender. Turn the mixer speed to high and mix until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down without the meringue moving).

Pie Crust:

  1.  Place the gingersnap cookie crumbs and butter in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly combined (note: this might be a little dry, but the pie will soften it while baking).
  2. Press the mix into your pie plate or tin. Don’t be afraid to really pack it!

Pie Filling:

  1.  Mix together the pumpkin and brown sugar until thoroughly combined.
  2. Add in the eggs and lemon juice until combined.
  3. Add in the cinnamon, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and vanilla until combined.
  4. Blend in the mascarpone cheese (note: it might be a little clumpy when you’re done blending – that is normal).
  5. Fold the mixture into the pie plate.

Baking and Finishing the Pie:

  1. Bake pie at 350°F for 55 minutes, or until the filling is mostly set.
  2. Remove from oven and let cool.
  3. Once the pie is cool, spoon the Marshmallow Fluff over the top and create peaks and ridges with the spoon.
  4. Use a kitchen torch to sear the Marshmallow Fluff.
  5. Keep refrigerated.

 

Elegance in a Glass – Left Coast Estate 2016 Latitude 45 Estate Pinot Noir

By now it’s no secret how much I love Left Coast Estate. Family owned and operated, the wines are lovely.  They are well crafted, delicious, and often surprising!  Left Coast Estate is certified sustainable through LIVE, and has even partnered with the US Department of Fish & Wildlife to restore the oak forests in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  A majority of the Estate is solar powered. They walk the walk.

A few weeks ago, they sent me a bottle of 2016 Latitude 45 Estate Pinot Noir – just in time for the holidays! Sure enough, this is the perfect wine to sip during this season.

The deeply hued garnet color of this wine is unexpected since Pinot Noir is usually a lighter color. The nose is intoxicating, with a bright, aromatic bouquet of flowers: roses, candied violets, and lilacs. Luscious, earthy flavors tickle the tongue: mushrooms, freshly plucked thyme, red bursting berries, and forest floor. The mouthfeel is finessed with a silky/satiny beginning and a velvety finish.  It is elegance in a glass.

This wine would pair very well with any food at the holiday table. The herbaceousness of it would complement stuffing and turkey, while the acidity would be lovely with buttery mashed potatoes.

If you’re interested in watching the actual tasting experience, please check out this light-hearted video: Holiday Review of 2 Left Coast Estate Wines