Now That’s A Good Pairing!

Currently, I live in Hawaii and it is hot – especially in the late afternoon, say around 5-6pm when dinner preparation should be going down. Supposedly, I live on the “windward side” of the island but of late the winds have not been so forthcoming so I’m very interested in any recipe that does not include cranking up the oven.

This evening I decided to try a recipe I stumbled on through Facebook. It was originally published by Jennifer Fiedler of Wine Spectator utilizing the quintessential pairing of goat cheese and sauvignon blanc. Jennifer also included a tomato salad stating the wine stood up to the raw tomato. I’m not so sure my taste buds agreed so I’ll just focus on the sandwich which paired beautifully with the wine.

Jennifer suggested a high acid, citrusy sauvignon blanc but I didn’t do my homework before purchasing and ended up with a 2011 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand. In my opinion, it paired very nicely.

 

This is the perfect dinner if you’re looking for something simple, loaded with flavor and perfectly paired. It definitely put me in my happy place.

Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich
Servings: 2
1 zucchini
3 TB butter
2 pieces of flatbread
6 oz goat cheese
1/4 c. minced green olives (don’t be scared they add the perfect subtle tang)

~Using a vegetable peeler, slice long ribbons of zucchini lengthwise
~Split each flatbread into two slices (4 pieces total) and butter both sides
~For each sandwich, spread the goat cheese on the inside of each piece of bread.  On the bottom slice, spread 1/2 of the minced olives and a thin layer of zucchini. Cover with top slice.
~Heat a grill pan on medium-high heat on stove top. Place sandwiches in pan and press down using a can
~Cook until the butter has browned (around 2-3 minutes) and then flip carefully with a spatula
~Cook until the butter has browned on the second side and the interior is heated through
~Slice in half diagonally and serve immediately with a chilled sauvignon blanc of your choice.

Enjoy!

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Everything but the kitchen sink!

It’s time for me to go grocery shopping.  I’ve procrastinated a little longer than normal so have minimal food in my fridge.  As I stared at my options trying to dream up something for dinner last night I stumbled on a rather tasty recipe.

It all started with Israeli couscous.  I bought some the last time I went grocery shopping just because it was so fun looking.  I’m sort of on this new kick of trying new and interesting items to expand my palate.  If you’ve never seen Israeli couscous before think of hail – looks very similar.  To me it is the Israeli equivalent to orzo. When cooked, they plump up into nice little gushy balls that make a great accompaniment to almost anything.

So I placed all the miscellaneous food from my fridge on my counter and went crazy.  I came up with a hit – especially to my husband who went back for seconds and deemed it “comfort food.”  Give it a try and have fun – use whatever you have around that you like and need to use up.

Kitchen Sink Couscous

3 cups water

2 cups Israeli couscous

2 Italian chicken sausage, cut in rounds

1 cooked chicken breast, cut in chunks

1/2 white onion, cut in chunks

1 clove garlic, sliced

1/2 cup cremini and button mushrooms, sliced

1 tomato, cut in chunks

1/2 cup baby zucchini, sliced in half longways then in half longwise again

1/2 cup leftover roasted fennel, carrots, and thin sliced lemons

4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

1 TB cilantro, chopped

olive oil

salt and pepper

Boil water in medium saucepan.  Stir in 1 tsp. salt and cous cous.  Turn heat down and simmer until liquid is evaporated, stirring occasionally.  Cover to keep warm.

Put 1 TB olive oil in large saute pan.  Saute sausage.  Throw in chicken and onions and saute until chicken is heated through and onions start to turn color.

Toss in the mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes, zucchini, and roasted veggies.  Cook until veggies are cooked through.  Add couscous and stir to combine.

Take off heat, stir in cilantro, feta and salt & pepper to taste.

Put in a beautiful serving bowl, drizzle high quality olive oil over top, pour a glass of wine and enjoy!

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Picnic On The Beach

My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary.  It is amazing to reflect back on a life that started as a couple, grew into a family and now is in the thick of tag teaming raising a child.  We’ve shared such a full, fun-packed ride.  But this is not a Hallmark card so let’s move on….

I was looking through a MINI Cooper magazine my father gave me when I came across an article on picnics – what foods to take, what wine to drink, etc.  It inspired me to buy a picnic basket and take my husband on a beach picnic to celebrate our many happy years together.  I thought it might be a fun twist to the typical “get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant” type celebration we usually do.

I searched the internet for the perfect picnic basket.  It had to have wine glasses, real plates (plastic was out),  silverware and have an overall cool look about it.  I was surprised to see so many sites devoted just to picnic baskets but the options became narrower the more I looked.  I ordered one but sent it back for poor quality (the challenges of internet shopping) but then I found a second one that was perfect!

Our date started by going to our wine cellar and selecting a special wine.  We chose a 2004 Brunello di Montalcino from Il Palazzone. This is a winery I stumbled on too late in our Italian adventures to visit  but sent our current landlords there on a recent Italian vacation.  Laura Gray*, the estate manager, gave them the red carpet treatment and our landlords in turn brought this bottle of Brunello back for us!  Il Palazzone is a very small winery producing only 8,000 bottles of wine a year.  Although American owned Laura and her husband, Marco Sassetti, an indigenous Montalcinese live on and run the estate.  After enjoying our bottle, I can assure you the wines of Il Palazzone are exquisite and a perfect reflection of why Brunello di Montalcino is a prestigious DOCG wine worthy to be the center of any special occasion (see “Boots And Brunello In Montalcino”).  Our Brunello was bold, balanced and complex with a beautiful bouquet of dark cherries and plums along with notes of leather.  It was really quite decadent.  We were surprised and sad to see the bottle empty so quickly.

Since my husband is into food almost as much as I am, we decided to include shopping for the picnic as part of the date.  We went to Boney’s Bayside Market – a quaint market that has healthy and gourmet foods all perfectly wrapped up into one.  We spread our blanket on beautiful Coronado Beach and enjoyed our picnic fare as we watched the fog roll in and the dolphins gracefully swim by.  It was one of the best anniversary celebrations yet…and we even got to wear flip-flops!

I encourage you to pack your own picnic and spread out a blanket on the beach or a grassy knoll.  In fact, I’ll give you our menu as a sample to spark your gourmand within.  Don’t forget your wine opener.  Now go out there and have fun!

Menu

2 Demi Baguette (perfect size for the basket)

Crackers

Black Peppered Crusted Brie

5 Year Aged Canadian Sharp Cheddar

English Cotswold

Thin Sliced Proscuitto, Coppa & Genova Salame

Pork & Chicken Liver Mousse With Black Truffles

Seafood Pate

Roasted & Marinated Red Tomatoes

Fresh Sliced Strawberries, Blackberries & Blueberries

Chewy Date Nut Bars

Pellegrino And A Great Bottle of Wine

*To make reservations to visit Il Palazzone in beautiful Montalcino, Italy contact Laura Gray at laura@ilpalazzone.com or Tel. (0039) 0577 846142 and tell her Julie from Deep Red Cellar sent you – I guarantee the red carpet will be rolled out for you too! 🙂

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Go Raw?

Eating raw is not my way of life although I did try it once on a bet with my lovely friends, Bo and Leah.

My husband and I had already decided we wanted to try eating raw so Bo and Leah bet us that we couldn’t stick to a raw food diet for 6 weeks while they tried a pescatarian diet.  Bo thrives on harmless bets and  will turn anything into a competition.  As a matter of fact, this was one of many bets we got sucked into in the couple years we lived near them.

Although I didn’t fully adapt it to my way of life, I felt incredibly healthy eating this way – and not just your standard, loose weight on a diet healthy but healthy from the inside out.  My body actually got rid of some of that stubborn fat that is oh-so-hard to loose.

I learned some really good tips along the way too that I still use regularly.  For instance, I now buy raw cheddar cheese for the simple reason that it is delicious!  I often serve it to guests and cannot tell you how many times they ask what kind of cheese it is.

Another staple that has become a mainstay in my routine is raw food smoothies.  These guys are packed full of all things good and my body actually feels like it is thanking me as I pour one down.  I use frozen fruit which makes the smoothie refreshingly cold and thick along with a combination of greens. Sometimes I use more than one type of fruit but cherry is my all time favorite!   You can play with the combinations to find your own favorite.  It’s a really easy way to bring healthy eating into your life without a lot of fuss.

In case you’re wondering, we tied the bet as both parties managed to stick to their guns – no doubt too stubborn to let the other win.

Raw Food Smoothie

1 banana

1 cup mixed fresh greens (kale, chard, collard greens, wheat grass, spinach, etc.)

1 cup frozen fruit (blueberries, blackberries, peaches, raspberries, cherries, mangos, etc.)

1 cup cold water

Toss it all in a blender and blend until smooth and thick.

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A Sentimental Wine For A Sentimental Night

Last night as I sat down to dinner, I was exhausted.  Movers had left after 3 days of packing up my home (I say home because the building is only a house – the home part went away in boxes and crates).

A few hours earlier, I had stopped by my favorite caseficio to pick up a few goodies.  Since my time in Italy is getting short, I am filling myself with as much of the local products as possible.  Tonight, I shopped for mozzarella di bufala, proscuitto crudo, bresoala, and rustic bread. I added a few ingredients from my nearly bare cupboards to throw together simple and delicious antipasti.  I’ll give you the recipe for bresaola salad at the end – it is one of my favorites!

My wine collection shipped back to the states a few weeks ago but my husband had enough foresight to set aside a few special bottles for the end.  We have been working hard the past few days and are aware of our limited time left  in Italy so decided to open a sentimental bottle for dinner. We chose a 2003 Piedirosso DOC from Cantine del Mare. This bottle was sentimental for several reasons. The vintage, 2003, was the first year Cantine del Mare produced wine. The winery is in our quaint, little town of Monte di Procida. Our dear friend, Pasquale Massa, is one of the owners and was generous enough to give us this bottle to enjoy.

The wine was medium bodied, ruby red and really lovely.  The bouquet was quite light.  My husband put it well when he said it was like a Pinot Noir with a little tannin.  There were aromas of plum, black cherry, raspberries, leather and earth.  The tannins were smooth verifying the wine’s age.  Upon sipping, I tasted raspberries, strawberries, cherries, a hint of leather and a hint of spice.   As I ate, drank and wound down from the week, I was impressed with what a delightful addition this wine was to my candlelit meal – even if it was on a patio table in the middle of my empty living room.

Bresaola Salad

2 servings

6 slices bresaola

1 handful rucola (arugula)

6 shavings of parmigiano reggiano

1/2 lemon

olive oil

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

On a platter, spread out the handful of rucola.  Drizzle with olive oil and the juice of the lemon.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Place bresaola slices on top arranging in a circle, then parmigiano reggiano.  Enjoy!

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Delicious And Healthy!

Although I love great wine and decadent food, I actually eat quite healthy in my home.  I stay away from refined foods, trans fats and bad carbohydrates.  I eat whole grains, healthy fats & carbohydrates, and fresh, natural ingredients.

Like me, you’ve probably heard for years that you can eat healthy and not feel like you got jolted out of great taste…then a plate of sand-paper is set before you.  It’s not a very positive argument to go down the healthy road.  But I have found as I’m not getting any younger, my desire to take care of my body and live a healthy lifestyle has increased.   With that determination, I’ve found that it is possible to eat healthy and have food packed full of flavor.  Here’s my simple method to accomplish this.  I look at a recipe or food that I like but may not be healthy and replace the bad with the good (i.e. white flour for whole wheat flour, fatty meats for lean ones, white sugar for natural sweetners, etc.).  It’s quite simple but has big dividends.

This leads me to one of my favorite healthy recipes – chocolate muffins!  Yes, you read correctly – chocolate muffins that are actually healthy…good for you no less!  I eat them for breakfast with absolutely no guilt.  One of the key ingredient changes in this recipe is flaxseed meal in place of the fat (i.e. butter).  I hope you try the recipe as it’s written but if it sounds too scary, you can lighten it up a little by using a combination of flaxseed meal and coconut oil.  I encourage you to try the recipe and if you like it, then go ahead and turn over a new leaf.  Replace the bad ingredients in foods you love with good, healthy ones.  You will see just how easy it is to make these small changes resulting in satisfying eating that your body will thank you for!

Chocolate Muffins

1 1/2 c. high quality semisweet chocolate chips or pieces

1 c. whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt

1 tsp. pure vanilla

2/3 c. skim milk

1 1/2 c. flaxseed meal*

1/2 c. Splenda brown sugar mix**

2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350F

Line muffin cups with foil liners (foil works best but paper liners or spraying is fine).

Melt 1/2 cup of the chocolate pieces in a double boiler (or just a plain bowl set over a pan of simmering water), cool.

Whisk vanilla into skim milk and set aside.

Whisk flour, baking soda and salt together.

Beat flaxseed meal with Splenda brown sugar mix and eggs until pale.  Add the melted chocolate and stir to incorporate.

Stir in the flour and milk mixtures until combined.

Fold in the remaining 1 cup of chocolate pieces.

Divide batter among the muffin cups and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

*You can use 1 cup of flaxseed meal and 3 tablespoons of coconut oil for a lighter texture

**if living in America, I’d use fructose or agave nectar for the sweetner

Serve warm with Adagio Teas

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Buying Gourmet

Shop igourmet.com
This weekend, I was making a vinaigrette for a salad and as I was doing so, it dawned on me……”Hey, the ingredients I’m using are authentic – the “real deal” – from the places that made them known.

My ingredient list consisted of Dijon mustard that I actually just purchased a week ago in Dijon. Olive oil that I picked up from a small Tuscan town by the name of Scarlino. Lemon juice that was extracted from the lemons I picked on the tree behind my little Italian villa and herbs grown in the backyard.

As I pondered how awesome this predicament I found myself so gloriously in was, I thought about my blog and how this would be a perfect way to share with you a great website I found – igourmet.com. It’s a wonderful site to buy gourmet food from around the world (i.e. Dijon mustard from Dijon, olive oil from Italy, etc). I found igourmet about 5 years ago. I was living in Kansas and absolutely “Jonesing” for a tasty cheese I had at a bed & breakfast in Kinsale, Ireland several years ago. My biggest obstacle was that I knew the cheese was from only one area of Ireland and nowhere else. I started searching the internet and reigned victorious when my search led me to igourmet.com. I purchased the cheese and was estactic when it arrived and tasted as good as I remembered.

Another time, I spotted a way cool salt cellar in a pricey mail order magazine. I really wanted it, but just couldn’t justify the cost – a whopping $89 for the cellar with some fancy, grey salt. By chance, I was shopping through the internet pages of igourmet looking for something else when I stumbled on the exact same salt cellar I was envying from that other place. The great news, this one didn’t come with the fancy salt, but it was only $10! I’ve been enjoying my $10 salt cellar ever since. 🙂

So, as you can see, this is a great site full of the ordinary and extra-ordinary! I highly encourage you to scour the internet pages of igourmet.com. If you’d like, you can click on the banner on the right side of my blog and receive a 5% discount. By the way, most of the items I mention on my blog are available on igourmet.com so keep this in mind if you’re “Jonesing” for something gourmet. Have fun!

In case you’re interested, here’s the recipe for the vinaigrette:

Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette
Juice of 1 lemon
1 TB basil
1 TB parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4-1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together lemon juice, herbs, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper. Gradually add the olive oil until combined.

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Insalata Caprese


It was 1992 and I made my maiden trip to Naples, Italy to visit my husband when I stumbled on “Insalata Caprese.” What – this is a salad? Who knew there could be variations.

As a child, I was used to salads consisting of that pale green and yellowish stuff called iceberg with maybe some carrots, radishes, a few tomatoes and trans fat laden bottled dressing. I had no idea something so fresh and yet so simple could be so good. That first bite of mozzarella di bufala was almost an outer body experience. It was like nothing I had ever tasted and just seemed to smoothly run down my throat. The contrast of the sweet, fresh, tomatoes that the Campania region is famous for along with sprigs of fresh basil, olive oil and the perfect amount of salt was what has kept me on the quest for more.

Fast forward to 2007 when I found myself moving to Naples and ecstatic at the prospect of tasting all the wonderful food (and wine 🙂 ) Italy has to offer.

Of course, I returned to the quest for more caprese and found that there are even slight variations on this salad…..some come with oregano instead of basil, some with a squeeze of fresh lemon, some chunk the tomatoes and mozzarella, and some slice them. The key ingredients – tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala – remain the same.

So, after living here for almost two years, I not only have my favorite way of making “Insalata Caprese,” I can actually tell the difference between good mozzarella di bufala and bad. Now, before I get the Italians mad at me, let me clarify. By bad, I don’t actually mean it is indigestible, I mean, it is not my preference. Because what I’ve also learned from living here is that many people have different opinions about what makes good mozzarella di bufala. Some prefer it slightly firm, some think salt destroys it, some only buy it from the town they live in or even more specific, from the same vendor they’ve been buying it from for years (because so-and-so’s brother owns the caseficio).

I can’t say I’m much different because I have tried almost all the shops that sell it in my town and can even tell who makes it slightly firm, with little or no salt, etc. Now, many Italians would probably think I’m crazy (although admire me for sticking to my personal quest for the best) but I don’t buy my mozzarella from any of the shops in my town. Instead, I drive to a nearby town and buy mine from a local Caseficio which, in my opinion, produces the most perfectly balanced, melt-in-your-mouth, mozzarella di bufala I have ever tasted. Add the freshest tomatoes, ripped (not cut) basil, enough salt to compensate for the exquisitely sweet tomatoes, top quality extra virgin olive oil and that, my friend, is what the love of food is all about! My quest has come to a very happy end!

Recipe: Insalata Caprese

2 servings
1 large ball mozzarella di bufala
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 large leaves basil
extra virgin olive oil
kosher or sea salt
Cut mozzarella in half then each half into 4 pieces. Place on a serving dish with the tomatoes. Rip fresh basil over the insalata and drizzle extra virgin olive oil on every piece of mozzarella and tomato. Sprinkle salt to taste making sure you generously sprinkle on the tomatoes if they are sweet. Serve immediately.

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