Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ready to Stock-Up for the New Year?

Nothing says a New Year like some bubbly. Here are three I like that are inexpensive and tasty.

Bring out the bubbles…
Côté Mas Jean-Claude Cremant de Limoux Brut is a fruity sparkling from France which you can pick up for around $10. It has a bit of sweetness, mixed with citrus. I would not take too much notice of the “Brut” (dry) on the label.

For something very different, the Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé (also a sparkling) is delicious. It’s very light and filled with strawberry and raspberry notes.

Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio is a standard in restaurants. When people ask me about an easy to fine, inexpensive white wine in a restaurant, it’s a go-to. That’s why I was happy to try their sparkling, I quickly agreed.

The Santa Margherita Prosecco Superiore is also one you can count on, whether it’s at home. It has a bit of apple sweetness, and floral notes, that make it easy drinking.

Straight up or in cocktails…
With the Santa Margherita Prosecco, I received some Sparkling Ice, a zero calorie, naturally-flavored sparkling water. It comes in many flavors. I’ve tried a few before, but not the Peach Nectarine Crisp Apple or Lemon Lime.

I’ve included some recipes below for sparkling cocktails. While I think the flavor profile of the Sparkling Ice is fantastic and delicious in drinks or by itself for a non-alcoholic beverage, I didn’t really like it used with the prosecco. I think it’s a bit too much of a bubble overload.

Green Tea Toddy
1 ½ oz whisky or apple brandy
1 teaspoon honey

Coat the bottom of a glass coffee cup with honey.
Add whisky or brandy to cup.
Heat Sparkling Ice Crisp Apple in a small pot.
Pour hot Crisp Apple Sparkling Ice into the glass.
Stir to combine ingredients.
Garnish with cinnamon stick, allspice cloves, and apple slices.

Autumn Peach Mocktail
4 oz apple cider
Large sage leaves
Apple slices for garnish
2 pinches of freshly grated nutmeg

In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, combine 2 of the sage leaves and the shrub and muddle to release the flavor of the sage.
Fill the shaker halfway with ice and add the apple cider and nutmeg.
Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with the last sage leaf.

Seattle Scorcher
1 Jalapeno
Homemade Sour Mix
 (Optional) A Shot of Tequila

Mix ingredients in shaker with ice.
Pour into a glass.

Garnish with lime wedges.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Holiday Finds to Give, Keep or Serve

It’s time for holiday shopping and entertaining. Here’s a few things which have come across my door that I think you’ll enjoy.

The perfect food basket…
Last year, Murray’s Cheese NYC sent me their Most Valuable Player basket to check out. This year, I got La Dolce Vita and it was fantastic. 

What a great selection of meats, cheeses, and accompaniments it is. There’s enough to serve at least eight, making it well worth the $120. I also love that the cheeses are each different, from spreadable to aged.

• Fontina Fontal Cheese (a favorite of everyone)
• La Tur Creamy Cheese
• Pecorino Calabrese Sheep Cheese
• Gorgonzola
• Murray's Sopressata Salami
• Murray's Speck (similar to prosciutto)
• Castelvetrano Olives
• Sandimiri Crostini Bread

On a personal note, it was the first time I’ve had a true (and delicious) Italian salami since leaving New York!

Check these chips for a cause…
Honchos Chips by Deep River Snacks are a must try for two reasons: they taste good and they do good.

Founder Jim Goldberg, whose son is afflicted with Primary Sclerosing Cholangtis and Crohn’s Disease, supports the Chris Klug Foundation, to raise awareness of organ donation and education.

Goldberg’s Honchos Chips are USDA certified organic, gluten-free, and made with non-GMO ingredients in the U.S. 

They come in three flavors, Nacho Cheese, Ranch, and Peach Habaneros. They are all very good, but the Peach are outstanding.

Deliciously Inexpensive Wine…
Stock up for the holidays on Aimé Ruca Malen, a Argentinian Malbec that’s under $10 a bottle. It’s filled with tasty notes of black raspberry, cassis, and even a hint of chocolate.

For the Gluten-Free…
If you are looking for something to serve a gluten-free friend or relative, or someone on a strict diet, you might want to pick up some Skinny Pasta

They don’t have the same substance as pasta, but there’s no cooking involved, just heat and serve with your favorite sauce. I don’t recommend their rice (too mushy), but the rest will work for someone who can’t eat regular noodles.

A little chutney on the side…
Chut-Up is a unique brand of healthy condiments. They started with three kinds - ketchup, chutney, and hot sauce.

The Beet Ketchup is sweet and delicious, The Chutney, with apple and carmelized onion, was the crowd favorite with its sweet and sour mixture. As for the Hot Sauce, it’s really hot, and only for real spice enthusiasts.

Coffee or cocktails, you need this…
Most of the time when I bring out a bunch of wine and spirits for sampling, we only get through some of the bottle. This was not the case with Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream in Pumpkin Spice Latte. I barely got a small glassful when I turned around and the bottle was empty!

This sipping cream has the smoothness of Bailey’s with distinct pumpkin flavor, especially cinnamon and ginger. It’s delicious straight, in coffee, hot chocolate, or anything else you can think of. You can’t go wrong with this one from Sugarlands

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Spooky Cocktails and Fun Finds

It’s Halloween week, which means it’s time for parties – and partying. Here’s a few things you’ll want to check out.

Let’s Get Monster Smashed…
It’s the perfect title for this book: Let’s Get Monster Smashed, Horror Movie Drinks for a Killer Time. It’s put together by Jon and Marc Chait, and the book is as colorful as the drinks.

It all starts with a great breakdown of liquors and liqueurs, everything from vodka to Lillet Blanc. You’ll also find a section listing all the tools you will need to make these deliciously monstrous drinks, as well as “Satanic Syrups” you need to know how to make.

I highly recommend adding this book to your bar. Here’s a few of my favorites: Monkey Brain (peach brandy, cream liqueur and grenadine), to drink during Faces of Death; Pazuzu’s Puke (brandy, dark rum, milk, vanilla sugar, green food coloring and corn flakes), to go with a night watching The Exorcist; and Big Fishbowl Punch (white rum, blue curacao, lemon lime soda and shark gummies), a perfect accompaniment to Jaws.

You can pick up a copy of Let’s Get Monster Smashed on Amazon (and have it delivered by Halloween if you get  Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial).

A little special rum…
Rum is one of those spirits that mixes well with anything, or with nothing at all. Casa D’Aristi released a collection of unusual rum-based liqueurs from Mexico that will add a little twist to your bar. I was able to sample three of them.

If you like black licorice with a hint of mint schnapps, give Casa D’Aristi XTA a try. While the anise stands out the most for me, it actually starts with honey from the Xtabentun flower, only found in the Yucatan, before the anise is blended in.

Casa D’Aristi Huana is rather hard to describe as there’s quite a bit of flavor in there. I wanted to say chocolate covered pineapple, and I wasn’t far off. The Guanabana fruit is a combination of strawberry, pineapple, and coconut.

The Casa D’Arista Kalani is my favorite. It’s a mixture of fresh coconut milk and pure Mexican cane rum. That said, it is rather sweet, so sipping it alone might be a bit too much, but all I would need would be some pineapple juice for a quick pina colada. Unlike other coconut rums, it has that rich milk feel that mixes well.

Check this out…
I’d like to give a shootout to The Uncommonwealth, who sent me this adorable tank top. Check out their website for more cute items.

Stick this in your bag…
You don’t have to worry if you get a stain on that shirt if you have Dryel in your bag. I really like this easy to carry stain remover with the little brush top. It’s a must for travel. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lots of New Wine, Spirits and More

I had a lot of sampling to do this month and actually had to leave some for next month. It’s harvest season for wine, plus there are some great new spirits out there. Here are some of the things I loved this month.

A very special scotch from Glenfiddich…
What do you get when you blend together 20 single malt whiskies? Something especially delicious. Glenfiddich Project XX is a treat for any scotch lover. It’s full of vanilla and oak, with a bit of apple, and a cinnamon finish.

Try these wines…
I’ll never forget when I was in Burgundy, France, and we headed to Chablis to taste some of its namesake wine. It was the first time I had tasted true Chablis and I fell in love with the wine. The William Fevr Chablis brought that memory back. It’s buttery, but not heavy, has a touch of vanilla and a bit of lemon.

When I saw the “sweet” on the label of Aime Sweet Moscato, I saved it for dessert. That wasn’t necessary as this wine is less sweet than most moscatos. It’s an excellent summer sipping wine, with lots of tropical flavors and a touch of sweetness.

I also fell for the Chateau Rollan de Medoc Bordeaux. It’s my kind of red, not too heavy, light on the pepper with a burst of berries.

My friend Lisa prefers her reds drier, so she really appreciated the 2014 Meli Maule Valley Carignan, with lots of spice and dark berries.

Another Van Gogh to try…
It’s hard not to enjoy Van Gogh Vodkas. They really know how to bring flavors alive. This holds true for  Van Gogh Cool Peach. It’s bursting with peaches, but not too sweet. I could definitely sip this over ice, or in one of these cocktails…

2 oz. Van Gogh Cool Peach Vodka
2 oz. Iced Tea
2 oz. Lemonade
Add all ingredients to a tall glass filled with ice and stir well.
Garnish the cocktail with fresh raspberries.

Created by Jonathan Pogash, The Cocktail Guru
 1-1/2 oz. Van Gogh Cool Peach Vodka
3/4 oz. Elderflower Liqueur
3-4 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

Created by Sue Pietoso, Mixologist at Jasna Polana, Princeton, NJ
2 oz. Van Gogh Cool Peach vodka
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
3/4 oz. sugar free sweetener syrup
1 oz. peach purée
2 basil leaves
1 oz. club soda
Shake all ingredients, except basil and club soda with ice.
Pour into a glass.
Top with club soda.
Garnish with basil leaf.

Big Red and Big Blue
I’m not a big soda drinker, but I was curious when I was presented with the opportunity to try Big Red and Big Blue. It turns out Big Red has been around a while and has quite a fan base among my friends. I too enjoyed the vanilla cream soda which, for adults, goes great with whiskey. As for Big Blue, there were a few who enjoyed it, but it was a bit too bubble gum-like for me.

Nothing like a good marinade…
Moore’s had sent me their buffalo marinade a few months ago and it was delicious on chicken. They followed up with a bottle of Zesty Garden Herb. I marinated boneless pork chops in it, then brushed more on during grilling. It was delicious. I could also see this on chicken, or even a grilled Portobello if you are looking for a vegetarian meal.

Monday, July 24, 2017

National Tequila Day and More

I’m known for the fact that I like variety. I eat and drink different things every day, at every meal. There’s only two things you can always count on: I’ll have some form of yogurt each day, and I’ll always celebrate National Tequila Day.

The reason for the latter goes beyond my obvious love of spirits. July 24th also happens to be my birthday.

My latest tequila…
Given these two facts colliding on one day, I usually receive quite a bit of tequila just before today. This year, three arrived, and they are all quite special.

Casamigos Tequila is the brand created by George Clooney and Rande Gerber. The two celebrities were not looking for a money-making scheme. Instead, they were looking for a great tequila to drink while the friends vacationed in Mexico.

They say some people have the power to turn everything they touch into gold and these two are proof. Their little project was recently sold for nearly a billion dollars to spirits giant Diageo.

According to Clooney and Gerber, who signed the bottle, “Our idea was to make the best-tasting, smoothest tequila whose taste didn’t have to be covered up with salt or lime. So, we did.”

I love the suggestion to try cucumber with the Casamigos Tequila since I have a citrus allergy. It’s delicious.

I must agree. You can immediately smell the sweet agave when you pour a glass and the taste doesn’t let you down. It’s smooth and floral, for me, loaded with honeysuckle and a touch of vanilla. At around $40 a bottle, the Casamigos Tequila Blanco is also reasonably priced.

The other tequila of the day is quite different from any I have tasted. Viva XXXII Tequila Joven is a blend of unaged silver and three-year-old anejo tequilas, made in small batches. The blend is then put in oak.

The result is Joven Tequila, a spirit which is super smooth and very easy-drinking. I get more sweet, butterscotch undertones here than floral, and even a bit of pepper. It’s quite delicious and also priced at around $40. In addition, 10% of the net proceeds are donated to animal abuse prevention.

Tequila Corralejo Reposado is yet another tequila that’s deliciously different. 

Corralejo has been making tequila for nearly 300 years. The use handpicked 100% Blue Weber agave, from Guanajuato, Mexico, slow cooked in stone clay ovens. This reposado is aged for four months, in French, Encino, and American oak.

The resulting Corralejo Reposado Tequila has a gentle cinnamon spice, with lots of vanilla, and a touch of caramel.

Don’t like your tequila plain? Try these cocktails:   
Casa Chilled Coffee
2 oz Casamigos Blanco (or Reposado if like it more oaky)
2 oz Bailey’s Liqueur
1 Espresso Shot
.5 oz Agave Nectar
2 Dashes Orange Bitters

Combine all ingredients into tin shaker with ice.
Shake vigorously for 8-10 seconds.
Use a fine strainer to strain into coupe glass.
Garnish with one-star anise.

1 oz Casamigos Blanco Tequila
4 oz Prosecco
.25 oz Vanilla Bean Simple Syrup*
2 Dashes Lavender Bitters

Combine all ingredients into tin shaker.
Dry shake without ice.
Pour into champagne flute.
Top off with chilled Prosecco.
Garnish with an edible flower.

*Vanilla Bean Simple Syrup
Make a standard simple syrup. Break open and stir in whole vanilla beans. Let simmer over very low heat for an hour and strain.

VIVA Crisp
2 oz VIVA XXXII Joven Tequila
3 fresh slices of Cucumber
2-3 fresh slices of Jalapeno (deseed to control spice factor)
.75 oz Agave Syrup

Place all in a tin and lightly muddle.
Do not crush ingredients, just press to express oils and flavors.
Add ice and give a short and soft shake.
Pour all into a Double Old-Fashioned Glass.
Garnish with some something fresh and fragrant.
Use a lime peel and cucumber wheel, or a large basil sprig.

VIVA Tourist  
2 oz VIVA XXXII Joven Tequila
.25 oz Mezcal
.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz Fresh Pineapple
.75 oz Fresh Orgeat (Almond Syrup)
2-3 fresh Jalapeño Slices

Place all in a tin and add ice.
Give a long hard shake.
Double strain the cocktail into a single Old-Fashioned Glass.
Garnish with a Jalapeño slice.

Note: VIVA recipes created by Chris Kramer of 
The Larchmont (5750 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038)

Viper's Fang
2 oz of Tequila Corralejo Reposado
.25 oz Laapsang watermelon syrup
2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash of aromatic bitters

Stir ingredients together.

Serve on the rocks with a lemon twist.

The SirtFood Diet by Aidan Goggins and Glen Matten…
The word “diet” is not in my vocabulary. When I feel I’m putting on a few pounds, I’ll cut back a little on sweets, add a little more exercise, and change my way of life. This book had me curious, though, so I thought I’d give it a read.

The premise is, “Eat your way to rapid weight lost and a longer life by trigger the metabolic super powers of the The Sirtfood Diet” and lose “7 pounds in 7 days.” To back up these claims, a 5-year study on 7,400 people is introduced

I was immediately turned off by the start of this diet, which has you living on 1,000 calories the first three days, before going on two phases that bring you to three Sirtfood rich meals, one sirtfood green juice, and 1-2 sirtfood bites.

The thing is, while I’m not going to endorse the specific diet, a lot of what is in the book makes sense.  Most of the 20 foods that belong to a group of plant foods called “sirtfoods” and are said to activate genes called sirtuin have been shown in various studies to help with weight loss:

Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine
Red onions
Green tea
Medjool dates
Red Endive

A lot in The Sirtfood Diet reminds me of the Flat Belly Diet! as well as the nutritionally known diets in India and the Mediterranean. While I don’t personally believe anyone should be on a restrictive diet unless advised specifically to do so by a doctor, I do think this book is worthwhile to learn more about some of the best foods to add to your daily meals. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer Items to Taste and Wear

It feels like summer has been here forever already, but it’s only the start. This heat makes me think of comfortable clothing, cool drinks, and barbecue.

Comfortable Pants for a Good Cause…
I will be wearing these One Tribe Elephant Harem Pants a lot this summer. They are cool and comfortable. At first, I was looking at them to just wear over my bathing suit, but I got so many compliments on them I’ll be wearing them out.

As if the comfort isn’t enough, there are other reasons to purchase from One Tribe. Products are made in Thailand by local workers paid a fair wage. Also, for every pair of elephant pants sold, the company makes a donation to the Elephant National Park in Chang Mai, where they rescue endangered animals.

The Best Burgers in the Country…
In the 2017 Harris Poll, Five Guys dethroned In-N-Out as America’s Favorite Burger Chain. It’s the burger that’s the star here and that comes from Schweid & Sons, a family run ground beef company now in its fourth generation.

Schweid & Sons sent me a selection of their burgers (Brisket Blend, One Percenter, and Sliders) to try out for myself and I can definitely see how they won the top spot. The Brisket Blend, moist and flavorful, even well-done, was my favorite, but they were all delicious.

If you’d like to cook these burgers yourself instead of going to Five Guys, you can buy them at these stores

A Red Wine to Pick Up…
If you are looking for something to drink with those burgers, my summer red is Chilcas Single Vineyard Cinsault 2014. This Chilean wine is tasty, fruity, with a bit of dry oak. It’s also under $20 a bottle.

Low Calorie, Gluten-Free Vodka…
You won’t find a shortage of vodka in the liquor aisles, but not many are gluten-free. Devotion Vodka are gluten-free, as well as under 100 calories.

They sent me the Devotion Blood Orange and the Tiki to try. I brought them out to a pool gathering. The Blood Orange was an instant hit, straight, with Coca-Cola, and sprite. The ideas for cocktails were flowing from all my friends.

The Tiki (Black Tea) was not what we expected since most tea vodkas tend to be sweet. This one is much stronger and more tart than sweet. It worked with a sweetened iced tea (if you want to do a little spiking), or a citrus soda. Lemonade is another option, if you don’t like sweet drinks, but this isn’t a vodka I’d enjoy straight.

My Favorite Wine this Summer…
I’ll occasionally drink a glass of moscato, most likely as dessert. When Oliver Winery sent me their Cherry Moscato, I thought it would be even sweeter than the ones I already consider dessert. I was wrong.

Oliver Cherry Moscato, which you need to serve well-chilled, is my perfect summer wine. The 2016 Indy International Wine Competition winner is filled with fresh cherry flavor, which actually brings down the sweetness of the moscato. At $12 a bottle, this is the wine you should bring to every picnic and barbecue. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wine, Pierogis and Buffalo Chicken

My friends are used to me putting together some unique tasting parties, but I certainly got strange looks when I invited them to a selection of seven different wines, pierogis, and Buffalo chicken wings.

It always starts with the wine…
The 2014 Montes Alpha Carrmenere may have a deep, dark color, but that doesn’t mean it’s powerful. The green pepper, cassis, and vanilla notes makes it an easy to drink red.

If you are looking for what you would expect to be a more typical red for your meal, an excellent representative of Sonoma is the 2014 Ferrari-Carano Siena. You’ll get more of the black pepper, dark fruit, and even a bit of tobacco in this one.

A favorite with two red drinking friends is the 2010 Yarra Yering Dry Red Wine No 10. This Australian blend goes for around $100, but if you’re splurging on the steak, you might as well go for the wine.

Save big on your next Beer, Wine or Liquor delivery. Use code: DRIZLYFIVE today!
I spent some wonderful quality time with the De Bortoli family when I was in Australian and I have followed (and loved) their wines ever since. The 2015 De Bortoli Wines Estate Grown Yarra Valley Pinot Noir is no exception. It’s got everything you want I your pinot, oak, vanilla, cherry, and a bit of raspberry.

The 2015 Rob Dolan True Colors Field Bend, is also from Australia, but it’s a white easy drinking mix with lots of citrus. It’s more tart than sweet, but a good summer sipper.

I claimed the 2016 Henschke Julius Riesling. It’s a bit drier than you might expect in a typical riesling, but soft and flavorful with a hint of kiwi and lemongrass.

If you are looking for a rose that is dry, but filled with fruit, the 2016 Ferrari-Carano Dry Sangiovese Rosé is the one. It has a nice strawberry flavor and will go well with anything.  

Pierogis with a twist…
Last year in was Popkoff’s Russian Pierogis and this year it’s a more typical Polish style with Peter & Pat’s Pierogis, but these are much more tasty than the ones I’m used to buying in the supermarket.

Peter & Pat have been in the catering business on the east coast for the last 20 years. Now they are bringing their pierogis to the market at Costco. These are filled with potato and four different cheeses, cheddar, farmers, swiss, and parmesan. I just boiled them and served them with butter and they were a big hit.

A versatile Buffalo sauce…
Moore’s Marinade Original Buffalo Wing Sauce is a great option for quick, easy, and tasty summer barbecue. Although it could be used on any chicken (or even meat), I poured it over wings in a crockpot and cooked for two hours. I put them on the grill for a few minutes for a little crisping, but they are still tender without.

The sauce has a bit of a zing, but definitely not super strong. Everyone loved it. You can purchase the sauce on Amazon

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pasta, Wine and a Contest

You know the saying, “When it rains, it pours?” Well, that’s the way it is around here when it comes to sampling. I went a few weeks without receiving anything, then it all starting “pouring” in. I’m going to try to get to everything ASAP. In the meantime, it’s always good to start with pasta…

 Delicious & Healthy Gluten-Free Pasta…
Explore Cuisine sent me two boxes of their gluten-free, vegan pasta, Black Bean Spaghetti and Chickpea Fusilli. I’ve never had anything like that before and was anxious to try them.  Of course, it’s always important to get an opinion where it counts, so I invited some friends to dinner – one of whom is gluten-free.

The consensus was all positive for these pastas. I served the Black Bean Spaghetti with a marinara sauce. This pasta has a whopping 25 grams of protein so it’s also a nutritional powerhouse. I thought it was a little sticky, but I was the only one. It was suggested that maybe the marinara was too heavy and a simple olive and garlic would be better.

As for the Chickpea Fusilli, it was wonderful and none of us felt you could taste the difference between this and wheat pasta. I presented it with my a la vodka sauce and there were few leftovers.

If you can’t find these in your local store, you can purchase them on Amazon.

Wine Time…
Pasta deserves wine and Locations Wine sent me two more bottles to try. These wines are created by Winemaker Dave Phinney based on the location of the vineyards.

These were my first whites by Locations and they were completely different. The Corsica was my favorite easy drinking wine, light and deliciously filled with light citrus and a hint of honeysuckle.

The California White was dryer and oaked, filled with vanilla and butter. It was a good white for wine drinkers who prefer red, for a meat (or black bean pasta marinara) meal.

Keystone Contest...
I wrote about Keystone canned beef and chicken a few months ago. I was surprised how authentic and natural these canned meats were. Now, it’s time to find out what you can do with them.

Keystone is running a recipe contest for their beef. You have a chance to win free beef for a year by coming up with a winning recipe in one of three categories: 5 Ingredients or Less, Family Tradition, or Lighter Meals.

Details for the Keystone Beef Contest are on their website. You have until May 31st to enter. I’m working on my entry.