I like to consider myself a wine aficionado, although I am probably closer to being a wino. . . I mean a wine lover.
While I was in culinary school, one of my favorite classes was an intensive wine course we were required to take. This class was a combination of lectures, tastings and wine pairings. My school was located in San Francisco, so we were able to take field trips to the Napa and Sonoma Valley for tastings and meetings with local wine makers. Although I enjoyed wine before, I had no real understanding of wine. This class opened my eyes, and my palate.
In California, you can find great wine being made from the Mexican border all the way up to the Oregon border. I have been to wineries all over this state, and learned through tasting what my favorite wines are. But, while California has many varietals to choose from, the reality is that wine is produced all over the world and has been since biblical times. And learning about wines from other countries can be daunting, especially if you aren’t required to take a class, as I was.
That is where The 24-Hour Wine Expert written by renowned wine critic Jancis Robinson comes in. This pocket-size book makes choosing the right wine so simple, even if you are a wine novice. This book is written for everyone, with no wine snobbery or language that is not accessible.
About the same size as a Kindle or other tablet, this book easily fits in your purse or bag, so taking it with you when you go wine shopping is easy.
Are you having a dinner party? Consult the chapter about Matching Wine to the Occasion.
Don’t know a thing about European wines? Read Wine Regions You Need to Know About – A Cheat Sheet.
Not sure how to store and serve your wines? How to Handle Wine and Essential Hardware are the chapters you need.
From learning about each grape variety to choosing the right bottle, The 24-Hour Wine Expert breaks it all down for you in an unfettered, simple to understand style.
To learn even more about wine and Jancis Robinson, visit her website, where you can find articles, tasting notes and more.
Find links to purchase The 24-Hour Wine Experthere.
Full Disclosure: This is a sponsored post from Abrams Books and the Abrams Dinner Party. I may receive compensation in the form of monetary compensation or product compensation in exchange for my review. I believe in reviewing only products that fit my brand and will be beneficial to my readers. All the opinions are my own.
This was originally posted for two wonderfully wacky ladies who had a podcast and website called Get Mommy A Drink. They no longer have the site or podcast, so I decided to post this refreshing White Sangria Recipe and the story of the tea party here. The tea party guests are all six and seven years old now, and all of us mommies are still drinking!
How do you have a tea party for a group of four year old girls and not want to run screaming down the street? One word – sangria.
I try to be a good mom. I have done the room parent thing at my daughter’s preschool. I have schlepped to the zoo, the park, and more birthday parties than I care to remember. But I am so not the artsy/crafty type of mom, who can sit for hours on end making precious keepsakes. I know those type of moms exist, but they must have much better prescription drugs than I do.
The one thing I can share with my girl is food. People always remark about how well she eats for a young child, but I have believe children will eat all sorts of things if they are introduced early, before they have time to make up their mind against it. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of stupid Happy Meal toys in my child’s room. A lot. But when mommy is not being a slacker my daughter eats fish, salads, a variety of vegetables and lots of fruits.
My daughter decided she wanted to have a real tea party with her little preschool friends, whom I have dubbed “The Pink Posse.” Now, this was something I could do! No paint, glitter, or construction paper. Since the group is still very young, no need for the fancy stuff like finger sandwiches and petit fours. Fresh fruit, cheese and an activity is all they needed.
The one concession to craftiness I made was to bake some sugar cookies for the girls to decorate using food coloring pens. They could draw a masterpiece and then eat it! To save time and energy, you can even buy a couple of rolls of Pillsbury sugar cookie dough.
But the moms needed more. While the little ones squealed and played princess, we moms sipped on a lovely white sangria and noshed on lentil salad with tomatoes and goat cheese.
A good time was had by all, but the key to success was that I did not stress about little details. The kids don’t care if it’s not fancy, and if the mothers do then you are friends with the wrong mothers! And be sure to serve a delicious cocktail. It’s not a party without one, is it?
Recipe: White Sangria
16-20 strawberries, sliced
4 ripe peaches, pitted and sliced
2 oranges, halved and sliced
3 750ml bottles of white wine, preferably Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay
Place the fruit into a large glass container or stainless steel pot. Pour the wine over the fruit, then stir to mix well.
Place the sangria into the refrigerator to marinate at least 4 hours to overnight.
I just hosted my first Underground Dinner Party! Sounds so illicit doesn’t it? Bootleg whiskey and gangsters (more on them later) is what comes to mind when I think underground. But that wasn’t really the case at all!
This Underground Dinner Party was hosted by Foods From Chile, and took place in five cities across the United State at the same time. Along with my little soiree in Pasadena, there were other dinners in Los Angeles, as well as New York, Washington DC, Miami and Chicago. The best part was getting to invite some of my blogger friends to enjoy some of the fantastic foods grown by the Chilean people.
Jackie from Domestic Fits, Greg from Sippity Sup, Chef Louise from Geez Louise, Lana of Bibberche, Cathy the ShowFood Chef and Allison, who has one of the coolest new food porn sites Fridgg came to enjoy the food. And last but certainly not least Phu Son Nguyen, Allison’s boyfriend, who tirelessly took incredible photographs of the entire party.
I love this picture of Greg because he has a glass of wine in one hand and a spoon in the other. Why? Because he’s a food blogger! We do that kind of thing! And no, I am not wearing shoes. I am not a big shoe wearer at home, even when I am hosting a party!
I love Allison’s smile. So open and beautiful. She is a gem. Unless she is flashing gang signs. . .
That’s actually Cathy flashing the gang signs, the Fridgg gang that is! If you love to look at pictures of food, which I assume you do since you read food blogs, head over to Fridgg. You’ll find lots of food porn over there!
Chile is located at the bottom of South America, in the Southern Hemisphere. While we are enjoying our winters here in North America, Chile is experiencing their summer. That is why they are able to import fresh summer fruits and vegetables, so we can enjoy them year round. Our dinners featured fresh raspberries, clementines, blueberries, cherries, avocados, almonds, walnuts and Chilean olive oil. All these items are now being harvested in Chile. The salmon fillets I cooked for dinner were flown overnight from Chile right to my doorstep. Talk about fresh!
The Endive Salad, made by my sous chef for the evening, Chef Louise, was so pretty, with endive leaves filled with fresh clementine pieces, raspberries, Chilean goat cheese and micro kale. It was then drizzled with Chilean olive oil.
That’s Chef Louise serving her lovely salad to Lana and Cathy below.
The Chilled Avocado Soup was one of the favorite dishes of the evening. Avocados are always in my fridge, though I usually just slice, salt and eat them. Now, I will be making this chilled soup with them.
The fresh fruit salsa was colorful and bright with flavor, the perfect compliment to the rich salmon.
The salmon was served on top of the black rice, which made for a beautiful presentation! Almond accented bread crumbs covered the intense pinkness of the salmon covering the intense blackness of the rice. And it was good.
My guests enjoyed Chilean wines along with their dinners. I am a casual kind of hostess, so I made the dinner buffet style, instead of a formal sit down dinner. Everyone served themselves, and we ate, drank and were merry as could be!
See the lovely lady in the cool skirt above? That’s my friend Michelle, who I have known since we were 12. We met a music camp, were I played violin and she played clarinet. Yes, I embrace my geekiness, and wear my nerdette hat proudly! She doesn’t write a food blog, but is a very talented interior designer. Next to Michelle, in the lovely rose blouse is Jackie, who has this recipe for candied bacon on her blog that makes me cry tears of joy. Seriously.
We even had entertainment during dinner. She isn’t exactly Alicia Keys, but my baby girl played a piano composition for us! She was so proud of herself when she heard the applause! She even took a bow!
We enjoyed our sweetly juicy Cherry Berry Crisp along with more Chilean wine and conversation. The good people at Food From Chile provided my guests with lovely parting gifts stuffed with Chilean goodies, including wine, olive oil and Chilean Merken spice.
A good time was had by all, though that could have been all the Chilean wine.
If you would like the recipe for the Avocado Soup, Endive Salad or Cherry Berry Crisp, please visit the Foods From Chile website. I’ll give you the salmon recipe in my next blog post, so stay tuned!
Sometimes vegetables get the short end of the stick. They are an after thought, if even thought of at all. Many vegetables are not familiar to people, so they will not buy them and cook them. I count eggplant and fennel among those.
See those lovely Japanese eggplants in the photo above. I am proud to say I grew them all by myself! My little backyard garden has been providing my family and I with fresh herbs, Tuscan kale, cucumbers, sugar snap peas and eggplant this summer. There really is nothing better than picking something, rinsing it and eating it all within moments. And I know there are no dangerous pesticides on my vegetables, so I can feel good giving them to my family.
I recently planted some yams which had sprouted in my kitchen. I was a bit slow cooking them, so when they started growing some nice roots, I figured I may as well plant them and see what I get! I may plant some other potatoes too, since I can eat potatoes daily. Must be the Irish ancestors influence. . .
Speaking of potatoes, I received a sample bag of potatoes from The Little Potato Company, called the Terrific Trio. There were red, yellow and blue varieties mixed together. I had just picked some of the ripe eggplant, and wanted to cook them as soon as possible. Potatoes and eggplants together sounded tasty.
And then this arrived at my door. . .
Is this not the most gorgeous pot? It’s a Martha Stewart Collection Enameled Cast Iron 6 quart Dutch oven. Seriously, I have been dreaming of an enameled cast iron pot forever. Mind you, I have enough pots and pans to open a cook’s store, but I still coveted this particular piece of cookware. Like some people dream of a red sports car, I dreamed of a red Dutch oven. Oh, and I’ll take a red sports car too.
Now I could cook my eggplant in style, with the additional of the fancy potatoes and some fennel. And wine. Lots of wine. As I always say, don’t cook with a wine you will not drink. I would recommend a lighter, fruity wine for this dish, one that is not too acidic.
Once the vegetables are cut, most of the work in done. The shallots are slightly caramelized, the fennel is softened, then everything else goes in to simmer.
Cover the pot, set the timer and walk away.And then you get this. . .
A colorful, flavorful and fabulous vegetarian main dish or side dish. Don’t be afraid to use vegetables with different textures and different colors. They will hopefully become staples on your dinner table.
Recipe: Tri-Color Potatoes, Japanese Eggplant and Fennel in Wine Sauce
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Japanese eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 1/2 pounds small potatoes
2 cups white wine
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and the olive oil over medium low heat in a large, deep pot.
Cook the shallots for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized.
Add the fennel, salt, thyme and pepper.
Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the fennel is softened.
Add the eggplant, potatoes and wine, stirring to mix well.
Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid.
Cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and cooked through.
Remove the pot from heat and stir in the remaining butter.
Adjust the seasoning if needed.
Preparation time: 15 minute(s)
Cooking time: 40 minute(s)
* I received my dream enameled cast iron pot as part of a promotion sponsored by GigaSavvy Marketing
Valentine’s Day is here. Have you gotten something for a loved one? Is it the same old thing you always get your loved one? Why not try something new, and maybe get a little spice and romance out of it?
I saw a news report recently stating that the average amount spent for Valentine’s Day is around $80. If you are on a strict budget you may not have that much to spend, but still want to do something special. Here is a great idea for Valentine’s Day on a budget, or anytime for that matter. I went to my local Smart & Final store, and with a budget of $25 I started shopping.
Cooking a meal with someone, then sharing that meal can be so romantic. Stirring the pot, licking the spoon, feeding each other the lovingly created meal by candle light while gazing deep into each other eyes. Ah, romance.
But not everyone is comfortable in the kitchen, or may have very limited culinary skills. Those with skills sometimes get overambitious and get in way over their heads in the kitchen. Keeping it simple is the way to go. And one of the simplest, but most loved meals is pasta.
While cruising the aisles of the store, I saw a promotion that was perfect for this meal. Buy a bottle of wine, and get a free bag of pasta. Into my cart went a bottle of merlot and a bag of penne. To save time I then grabbed a bottle of tomato- basil marinara, so there would be more time for the romance part. No need to simmer the marinara for hours, just open the jar. I headed over to the cheese section and got a very nice three cheese blend, to garnish the pasta.
Now for dessert. Since it is Valentine’s Day, I had to buy the traditional heart shaped box of chocolates! Come on, it really is not Valentines Day without one!
And those beautiful red roses pictured on the box made me feel like I got flowers too!
And the grand total for all my purchases? $18.31. I LOVE THAT! That is a Valentine’s Day gift that will not break anyone’s budget.
Remember, cooking together shouldn’t just be for a holiday or special occasion. It can be done anytime. And if you have children, get them involved and make it a family affair!
*I received a gift card from Smart & Final to buy these items, because I am a member of Collective Bias. In full disclosure I am being compensated for this post, but my opinions are my own and cannot be bought.