Friday, December 30, 2016

Ready to Stock the Bar and Fridge? Here are my latest finds

I hope your holiday season is going as well as mine. I have been spending lots of time with family and friends.

Get out the basket…We’ve all seen those standard fruit, cheese, and meat baskets passed around during the holidays and other occasions throughout the year. The cheese is simply “cheddar,” or something just as generic. I was happy to hear from Murray’s Cheese about their selections, which are anything but ordinary.

They sent me The MVP: Most Valuable Player. It includes: tasty Murray’s Gruyere, tangy Humboldt Fog, mild and delicious Grazier’s Edge, and hearty Point Reye’s Bay Blue cheeses, as well as an excellent Prosciutto San Daniele and a lean Creminelli Wild Boar Salami. The Pistachio Cranberry and Olive Oil Crackers were a perfect accompaniment, and the buttery Marcona Almonds are addicting.  

One of the other things I love about Murray’s Cheese is that they let you build your own basket from all these interesting ingredients. Definitely give them a try for your next gift giving.

Grab the Little Black Dress…If you haven’t tried LittleBlack Dress Wines yet, you should. I sampled and enjoyed their Diva Red. It was quite fruity and not too dry. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is also a bit less dry than most, retaining its dark raspberry notes.

A different kind of red…
Pinot Noir is far from my favorite wine, but I did a double-take when I tasted the 2014 from AdlerFels. It’s unlike any other I’ve tasted. This Monterey, California, selection is light and filled with blackberry, cassis, and other dark fruit.

International wines…
Some wines from around the globe I would definitely recommend you stock up on.

Astoria Caranto Pinot Noir carries the more traditional oak and dryness of a pinot noir, but it’s smooth enough that you don’t need a big steak with it.

La Cana Albarino is an easy drinking white, with light citrus and a bit of acid.

Luna Nuda PinotGrigio is something I could drink all the time. It’s very fresh and filled with fruit.  

One 8 Distilling…I didn’t have a chance to visit One8 Distilling on my trip to Washington, DC, but they sent me a box full of samples of their spirits to try out. The company’s name comes from it’s opening date, January 8, 2015. Despite only being open two years, they have quite a selection of gin, vodka, and whiskey.

I’m not a huge fan of barreled gin (I think the spirit should have enough flavor on its own, as their Ivy City Gin does), but the One 8 Untitled No. 1 had a fairly short (3-10 months) aging in old bourbon barrels so it doesn’t lose its juniper and spice. I also recommend their White Whiskey, and their District Made Vodka, which is made from rye and uses Russian Distilling.
Experiment with cocktails…
There’s more to life than gin & tonic, Captain & Coke, and Bloody Mary’s. You need to mix it up a little and why not do some mixing with something healthy?

Natalie's Orchid Island Juice Company has a selection of all natural juices that mix very well with your favorite spirits.

We paired the sweet Honey Tangerine with tequila, the tart Strawberry Lemonade with vodka, Orange Beet with gin. Their newest flavor, Pumpkin Apple Spice, was excellent with whiskey. And, of course, you can mix the Orange or Lemonade with endless possibilities.

What a great combo…I was excited to try Belle de Brillet Pear Liqueur, which is a blend of cognac and fresh pears. I was not disappointed. This is a perfect after dinner drink with or without ice, or mix it in some cocktails such as these:

Spiced Pear Affair.75 oz. Belle de Brillet Pear Liqueur           
1.5 oz. Premium Reposado Tequila 
1 oz. Lime juice 
.75 oz. Agave nectar        
Dash cinnamon and cayenne     
Cinnamon and sugar, for garnish
Shake with ice and strain into martini glass, rimmed with cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Snowy Pear Lager
1.5 oz. Belle de Brillet Pear Liqueur
4 oz. Winter Lager
1 oz. Apple cider
.5 oz. Lemon juice
Apple slice and cinnamon, for garnish
Shake together Belle de Brillet, cider, and lemon juice. Strain the mixture into a glass. Add beer. Garnish with the apple and a shake of cinnamon.

Healthy frozen vegetarian…I’ve tried and enjoyed cedarlane frozen meals before. They had sent their delicious breakfasts to me in the spring. This time I was able to taste two of their gluten-free vegetarian options, the Three Layer Enchilada Pie and the Chile Relleno. Both were flavorful and very filling, and under 400 calories for a complete meal.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Don’t Forget These for your Holiday Season

It’s that time a year when entertaining includes indulging in not only food, but wine. Check out these finds for your holiday table.

Apple Pie in a Glass…
Who says apple pie is just for dessert? Not Oliver Winery. They’ve released an Apple Pie wine this year which doesn’t take like fruit wine or cider, it takes like apple pie! They fresh press tart apples and mix it with all your pie seasoning favorites, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, so it’s not a super sweet wine and is refreshing before, during, and after holiday dinners.
My kind of Pinot…
Some mean Noir, but with me it’s usually Grigio. I found two to love this month and they’re both within everyone’s budget.

Mommy’s Time Out Pinto Grigio is a delicious treat. It’s fruity and light, and under $15. Have a few bottles around for the holiday as your go-to white.

In the same price range is Astoria Alisia Pinot Grigio. This one is also good, but with more lemon notes if you prefer a more citrusy pinot.

Have some Popcorn with that…
I happen to love popcorn, even when it’s plain, but I found a few that have outdone themselves this month.

If you live in Chicago – or have ever travelled through it – you certainly know about Garrett’s Popcorn. They make some superb flavors, the most popular of which is their original CaramelCrisp®.  I had the chance to try their new Buffalo. Like the chicken wings, it has quite a kick. It’s a nice change from the sweet and the tin went pretty quickly during the tasting.

I confess that I personally usually go for the sweet over savory. Popcorn Indiana sure had me pegged when they sent samples of their latest, Dark Chocolate Peppermint and the Dark Chocolate Fudge Drizzled. I’m not much of a binger, I usually have a bit of a treat each day, but neither bag lasted the night! Pick up some for the holidays and you’ll forget about the candy canes.

Don’t forget the Snacks…

When I start cooking feasts I often forget to eat myself. That’s why it’s good to have some quick snacks around. GoMacro sent me a sampler of their new Thrive Bars and they are a healthy treat with organic ingredients, such as hemp, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and natural sugars. My favorites are the Caramel Coconut, Blueberry Lavender, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Drinks for our Fall Nights

Fall Finds at Captain Morgan…
Captain Morgan has two specialty rums for the fall you can’t miss and they both come in collector bottles. The Cannon Blast is sweeter than the Captain Morgan Rum you are used to, with hints of maple and vanilla. It doesn’t need a lot of mixing. Just add in some soda – even plain seltzer – or juice to Cannon Blast. The company recommends cranberry juice for a Crannon Blast and I agree.

Jack-O-Blast is the perfect pumpkin accompaniment to your fall bar. I’m ready to continue it through the winter, leaving egg nog behind and sprinkling a little cinnamon and nutmeg on the chilled cordial. (It’s also going to keep me warm at night in coffee or hot chocolate.)

A New Perspective from Locations Wine…
Winemaker Dave Phinney decided to prove that one winemaker could bring out three different wine regions by working a little different than most wineries. He decided to represent the actual location of the wine, rather than a specific grape or winery. The end result is three wines: AR, E, and F.

The AR represents Argentina and it is a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon it comes from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, just outside the Andes Mountains.

The E is from Spain (EspaƱa). It mixes Grenache, Tempranillo, Carignan, and Monastrell and is from five different regions, but all taken from low-yielding old vines.

The F blends is Syrah, Grenache, and an assortment of Bordeaux varietals. These grapes came from three of Frances top regions, Bourdeaux, Rhone, and Roussillon.

I enjoyed the complexity of all these wines. It was not surprising that the A is my favorite, as I do tend to lean toward the fruitier, less dry Argentinian blends. The Spanish wine is a good accompaniment for nearly any dish as it’s subtle flavors will enhance a meal. The French will satisfy those looking for the pepper and spice of a dry wine, whether or not there’s a steak involved.

The Dave Phinney Location wines are all under $20 and a great find to stock up on in the fall.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Wide Range of Food and Spirits

I had lots of food and drinks to taste over the last month and it was time for a party.

Delicious Meals with Popkoff’s…
The email I received grabbed my attention with throwing a “Pierogi Party.” I love pierogis so I definitely wanted to try it out, but as soon as the freezer box came, I knew I had so much more.

Popkoff’s makes a selection of Eastern European frozen items, all quick and easy to make. While the basic premise is a pierogi-style dumpling, they are so much more.

I invited some friends over, melted some butter, made a marinara sauce, and had a lot of fun! No one went home hungry either.

The Pelmeni are a cross between ravioli and tortellini. The ones I received were stuffed with chicken and beef. The beef were very tasty and filled with meat. The chicken weren’t quite as flavorful.

Vareniki are almost identical to pierogis and Popkoff’s are delicious. The Potato Onion are my new favorite pierogis and the Farmer Cheese was excellent, sort of a sweet ravioli.

My Kind of Beer…
I’m not a big beer drinker, but I found some out of the ordinary choices that I’m more than satisfied with.

Moscow Mules have become quite popular and with them bars have made it a habit to stock ginger beer. I’m a fan of anything ginger, but I love the idea that Crabbies.makes ginger beers that have their own alcohol so you don’t need to mix the mule.

Their basic alcoholic ginger beer is terrific, and they also make good ones in orange and raspberry, though the raspberry is a lot sweeter than the norm.

More Ginger…
If you are like me and can’t get enough ginger, give the Big O a try. I admit to being skeptical when I first got the bottle. After all, what do you do with ginger liqueur? The answer --- just drink it! The Big O doesn’t need anything fancy. It’s flavorful, but not very sweet. Pour it over ice, into any cocktail you want to give a zip too, or just over a baked apple. It’s a must try, especially for the fall.

For Your Bloody Mary…
I’m not sure that I could find a lot of other things I’d like it in, but you can’t go wrong with Khortytsa Pepper Hot Vodka in a Bloody Mary.

It will spice up your drink before you even get to the tabasco.

More Great Sicilian Wines…
I’m never going to stop talking about the great time I had in Sicily and am happy to say the wineries I visited are still making wonderful, very affordable wines. Here’s three that arrived on my doorstep that you must keep in the house for any time of year.

2014 Tasca D’Almerita Grillo
This full bodied white has lots of flavor but from fruit not oak. It will go with just about anything you serve.

Donnafugata Grillo Sur Sur
This Grillo from Donnafugata is a bit lighter than the Tasca D’Almerita so it’s good for sipping without food. Bring it to a picnic, on your patio, or just serve it before dinner.

Donnafugata Nero D’Avola
This is my red. It’s bold and full of dark fruit, but not too dry. I love to sip this Nero D’Avola with any meal. It’s the perfect “meatballs and spaghetti” wine!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Best Day of the Year!

It’s hard to argue with me about what the best day of the year is. July 24th is not only my birthday, it’s National Tequila Day!

This year I received some appropriate presents in the mail and, of course, I had to give them a spin on this special day.

Three bottles showed up on my door from Herradura Tequila, Reposado, Anejo, and Silver. In case you don’t know, these tequilas are classified by how long they were aged in wood casks. The Silver is not aged, the Reposado was aged 11 months and the Anejo was aged for two years.

Aging tequila, as it does with wine, whiskey and other spirits, changes both the color and taste as it picks up a bit of the characteristics of the wood. In the case of Herradura, I preferred the Reposado. It didn’t have an overpowering oaky flavor, but did pick up the characteristics of vanilla and a bit of sweetness.

The Herradura Silver was my next favorite – tequila in its purest form – while the Anejo was a bit more for whiskey lovers, who would say they appreciate the finest things in life.

Herradura wasn’t the only one sending me birthday tequila. Sauza’s 901 Silver, co-founded by Justin Timberlake, has quite a story. It’s said to be triple distilled, from agave that is at least seven years old. It’s also gently extracted and steamed, to get out all of the flavors.

I confess that this all seemed a bit over the top to me. Although it’s hard not to trust JT, I had to try it for myself. The truth is, it’s the best 901 Silver is the best tequila of its kind I have tasted. 

It retains the agave fruit and goes down smooth as silk. I could sip this, preferably over ice, all night long. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Snacks, Drinks and Organic Beauty

I've received samples of lots of stuff for summer. Here are some I really liked and I'd like to pass along.

Sam Adams Beers of Summer…
I gathered some beer lovers to test out the Sam Adams Beers of Summer variety pack and they weren’t disappointed. The variety includes six very different brews, with something guaranteed to satisfy everyone in your group so it’s the perfect addition to your summer barbecues, picnics, and other events.

Sam Adams Boston Lager
This light beer is a bit sweeter than bitter, making it a light drinking summer choice.

Sam Adams Summer Ale
You’ll find lots of citrus, from lemon to orange, in this summer ale, which also has a bit of spice. Even better than last year’s version.

Sam Adams Whitewater IPA
Lots of wheat and hops in this complex beer, which combines fruit and spice. Might be a bit much to have more than one on a hot summer day.

Sam Adams Got to Gose                                                                           
This is a real beer lovers’ beer, easy on the fruit and spice, but heavy on the bread-like malt.

Sam Adams Belgian Session
For something completely different, give this Belgian beer a try. It’s quite yeasty, but you’ll also get some coriander spice.

Sam Adams Heaven or Helles
“Helles” in German means light and blonde, and that’s what this slightly sweet and floral beer is.

Fittingly, it was the Summer Ale which was the overall favorite.

Looking Good with Truly Organic…
I received a big bag filled with Truly Organic products and I am hooked. Their shampoo, conditioner, soap, super lotion, face lotion, and serum are all amazing. They make my skin and hair soft and the smells are incredible.

Truly Organic uses fresh, organic ingredients such as coconut and olive oil. Check out their selection, and their automatic delivery system.

mifold Booster Seat...
I love hanging with my friends’ kids when I get a chance. We’ll often go to the park or a museum. Since I don’t have any small ones of my own, there is no need for me to permanently keep a booster seat in my car so I am excited about mifold.

This booster seat is compact and easily portable, but it holds the kids in safely (they recommend 40-100 lbs., age 4 and up). It takes up so little room it’s perfect for people who transport kids, whether it’s a friend or relative. It’s even small enough to pack in your suitcase so you are all set for your rental car.

elit by Stoli and Blue Ice Vodkas…
These two vodkas are about as different as you can get, but I happen to like them both for different reasons.

elit by Stoli Elit is a special occasion vodka that’s an ideal gift for a spirits lover and something you should have on your bar (the bottle also happens to be beautiful). It’s super smooth and tasty, having been filtered with charcoal in similar fashion to bourbon. You’ll love mixing elit by Stoli in all your favorite drinks.

Blue Ice American Potato Vodka is a gluten-free option made from Idaho Russet Potatoes, but you won’t be tasting spuds. Thanks to a five stage filtration process, Blue Ice is sweet, smooth, and even has a bit of spice.

Books for Healthy Meals…
I’m always looking for new, healthy recipes to try out so I was excited when I got these two books.

The Quick Six Fix: 100 No-Fuss, Full-Flavor Recipes by Stuart O’Keefe includes recipes with six ingredients that only take six minutes of pre and six minutes of cleanups. He includes a pantry list and I like the way the recipes are broken down. Instead of “breakfast, lunch, and dinner…” his chapters are “Soup, Salads, Pasta…” The recipes are interesting too. My only complaint about this book is that the majority of the recipes have a lot more than six ingredients, not fitting with the theme. On further reading, you’ll see that it’s supposed to be six key ingredients.

Lose Weight by Eating by Audrey Johns supports a theory of mine by not suggesting a specific diet and not starving yourself. Johns simply does recipe makeovers for clean eating. I like her suggestion, especially the salad chart that breaks up dressings, greens, crunch, fat, and protein.

Patriotic Popcorn…
Whether it’s for July 4th, Labor Day, an election party, or just fun with friends, you need to check out The Patriotic Popcorn Tin at or The popcorn is red, white, and blue – cherry, kettle corn, and blueberry. The flavors are delicious and you’ll definitely want to hold on to the King of Pop canister 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Healthy and Tasty Treats

Bathing suit season has started and we're all trying to eat a little lighter and healthier. Fortunately, I've had some deliveries to help me with that goal and I'd like to pass along my favorites. 

The Ideal Breakfast…
I gave up on frozen breakfast many years ago. I tend to eat a lot of vegetarian so omelets are a big part of my diet, but it’s one thing I would not attempt to make extra and freeze.

Given these facts, I was quite leery when approached to try CedarLane Natural Foods Egg White Omelettes, but they won me over. I don’t know how they did it, but those omelets are as delicious as if they came straight from my pan – with 20 grams of protein and 300 calories or less.

I was also surprised to find the Green Chile, Cheese & Ranchero was my favorite. It was not at all spicy, but full of flavor and real cheese, the Spinach and Mushroom and Garden Vegetable & Mozzarella were also fantastic. The Turkey Bacon is good choice for meat eaters.

Healthy Snacks to Pack…
Whether you are hitting the road on your summer vacation, packing the kids up for camp, or taking your lunch to work, you need to check out the frozen treats from Earth’s Best. These definitely come under the “Why didn’t I think of that?” category.

Earth’s Best makes organic frozen fruit cups and peanut butter chocolate bars. The idea is that you keep them in the freezer and then pack them up for later. They keep everything else in your bag cool while they defrost.

They sent me the Frozen Peanut Butter Bars with Cocoa and the Frozen Nutty Bars – which are peanut, cashew, and almond, as well as the Frozen Fruit Berry Blend. Both are low calorie, healthy treats which are delicious.

More from Garden Lites…
Garden Lites Blueberry Muffins already passed my test for healthy and tasty treats. Now, I’ve had a chance to taste the Chocolate Muffins and I am enjoying those too. \

They are only 120 calories and filled with the health benefits of zucchini and carrots, but they certainly don’t taste like you are eating vegetables.Just like the blueberry ones, Garden Lites Chocolate Muffins are dairy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free. I recommend keeping the Garden Lites muffins in the freezer and heating them in the microwave just before eating.

Don’t forget the MealEnders…
I’m one of those people who love dessert. It may be a cookie or a hot fudge sundae, but if it were up to me, I would have dessert at every meal. I’ve also been known to eat a bit too fast and not realize how full I am.

I was excited when I received four bags of MealEnders. They did not disappoint. I highly recommend you go out and buy some. All the flavors are great, but I’d say the chocolate mint is my favorite.

The way it works is that you suck on this lozenges. It’s made so it takes a good 10-15 minutes to finish it and the result is two-fold. First, you’re giving your body a chance to digest your meal and signal that you are full, rather than continuing to eat. Second, it’s sweet and tasty so you feel like you are having a bit of dessert. The best part about MealEnders? Each one is only 15 calories so you have very little to lose by trying them. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Celebrate with Spirits…

It’s the season for graduations, weddings, and summer parties. As much as I love a good cocktail, they are work. If you are hosting an event, here are some things you might want to pick up. All they’ll require is a little ice – if you want—and are filled with fruit.


Cruzan Blueberry Lemonade Rum
The possibilities on this flavorful rum are endless, but you can keep it simple with a little ice tea, lemonade, or water if you don’t want to work too hard. You’ll love this latest favor from Cruzan, Blueberry Lemonade Rum.

Plantation Pineapple Rum
Make a quick pina colada, or just enjoy it is as. Plantation Pineapple Rum is as juicy as the ripe fruit.

It’s difficult to find liqueurs that are full of fruit and not just sugar. That’s why I love the collection from Mathilde. I sampled Peach, Framboise (Raspberry), and Pear. 

I don’t think I could pick a favorite – they were all great. Best of all, none of them are heavy so you can just add a little ice, water, or soda, and bring it out to your poolside lounge chair.

Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
Forget what the label on this bottle says, there’s nothing dry about it. It’s perfect to keep on hand for a mixer or a sipper. The flavor on the Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao is mostly orange, not to bitter not too sweet. Keep them in your fridge for a chilled treat.

Alize Peach Vodka
This tasted much more like a cocktail in itself than a vodka. The bottle went pretty fast when I put it down in front of my friends. After the tasting, we put one ice cube in the glass and enjoyed. One interesting note on the Alize Peach Vodka, the coloring is natural, from the cochineal, but it certainly doesn’t look or taste like it has bugs in it.

Mercer Malbec 2014

Mercer Wine of Washington has quite a collection. I sampled one this week that has something for everyone. The 2014 Mercer Malbec can be match your barbecued steak to a tea, with just a hint of smoke and a whole lot of jammy fruit. On the other hand, if you’re like me and prefer to bring out that dark berry mix, keep it cool and enjoy the sip. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Gluten Free Treats and Special Spirits

The variety of items for this months is quite wide! I think there’s something for everyone, so keep reading.

Gluten Free…
I had the opportunity to review a box full of gluten free food. I turned to my friend, Stacy, who can’t eat gluten, but before I turned everything over to her, I kept some Garden Lites Blueberry Muffins to myself.  I’m glad I did because they are delicious! They are made with zucchini, but you’d never know about this nutritious ingredient. I'm anxious to try some of their other flavors

As for the other items, here’s Stacy’s full report on her favorite items:

Garden Lites Blueberry Muffins-You can keep them in the freezer, individually wrapped, so you can take it to work and zap it for 30 seconds in the microwave. It is warm and moist. It has a pretty good consistency since it is vegetable based, like zucchini bread. The Garden Lites Veggie Blueberry Muffins are not dry and "crumbly" like so many gluten free items. I enjoyed these!

Snackin Free
Laura Savinovich was desperate to find some tasty foods which were free of artificial ingredients, dairy, gluten, grains, peanuts, soy, and yeast, so she decided to make them herself. Snackin Free is the result.

Paleo Granola-Crunchy, but could use other ingredients to add to the flavor, such as fruits.
Nacho Chips-The texture is odd for these as chips, but the spicy finish might  be good crushed as a crumb crust for chicken.
Cheddar Crackers- These have the same odd texture as the chips, but because these are nut based they are high in protein and lower in carbs, so that is definitely better than regular chips.
Pasta Sauce-This is good with a dark rich color and snappy flavor, very much like a good tomato paste. It would be good as a pizza sauce, but season to taste as a pasta sauce.

Special Spirits…

Smithworks Vodka
It turns out music isn’t Blake Shelton’s only talent. Blake knows vodka too. The country music star is touting Smithworks Vodka.

Like Shelton, Smithworks is a product of America’s Heartland. It’s made from corn harvested in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas, and water from Lake Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Smithworks Vodka is smooth and corn sweet, making it easy sipping or blending, if you are looking for a cocktail mixer.

Boulard Calvados VSOP
This spirit is the best of both worlds as an apple brandy and a fine after dinner treat. Boulard Calvados VSOP is aged at least four years and bears resemblance to fine cognac, with the hints of vanilla, oak, and even tobacco, but the apple is an unexpected addition.

At 80 proof this isn’t going to be something that becomes your go to drink, but it’s an easy sipping way

Greek Mastiha Liqueur
This liqueur is probably the most unusual I have ever encountered. It’s one that should not be dismissed at first smell, as the nose of Mastiha is nothing but evergreen trees. Get past your sense of smell and give it a sip, cold or over ice. It’s sweet and licorice like, a bit like Sambuca, but not as sticky.

Greek Mastiha Liqueur is definitely not going to last long on my bar – even though that initial smell had me running for my Christmas ornaments!