Latest Posts

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