Friday, July 25, 2014

California Uncorked Dinner at Mitchell's Fish Market

This past Thursday, I was lucky enough to attend the unveiling of the new California Uncorked menu at Mitchell's Fish Market at Westshore. The idea behind this menu is that through four courses, paired with wines from Kendall-Jackson, Matanzas Creek, Murphy Goode, and Freemark Abbey, you take a culinary journey through Northern CA. The selection of wines really showcased the unique characteristics California wines can develop due to different factors -- when grapes are grown in different soils, exposed to different amounts of sunlight, wind and varied temperatures. The menu was presented beautifully by Mitchell's Executive Chef Ben Bowman and included:
The appetizer course was a Shrimp & Vegetable Summer Roll with Classic Dipping Sauce, paired with Kendall Jackson, Vintner's Reserve Riesling (Monterey County.) This Riesling was just how I like it -- fruity but not too sweet, and a great complement to the fresh flavor of the spring roll. The dipping sauce was pleasantly spicy and different from your typical spring roll condiment - I really enjoyed it.
Next up was a Fried Goat Cheese Salad, with Boston Bibb lettuce, grape tomatoes, red onion, and lemon-thyme vinaigrette. I loved the earthy flavor of the goat cheese -- it was perfectly crispy on the outside, and warm and creamy in the middle. This course was paired with Matanzas Creek Winery's Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County.)  The wine was crisp and refreshing, and left us ready and eager for the entree course.
The entree was a Grilled Lobster Tail & Tenderloin Skewer with grilled summer vegetables and sautéed asparagus.  Paired with Freemark Abbey Merlot (Napa Valley) this was a flavorful and hearty main course. The full-bodied merlot stood up nicely to the bold flavors of the tenderloin and the tomato butter dipping sauce served with the lobster tail.
And finally, it was time for dessert: This  "Campfire" Brownie, with Marshmallow, Zinfandel chocolate sauce, and graham cracker crumbs was like a sophisticated S'more. I'm a lover of all things chocolate, and this dessert was as rich and decadent as you can get. It was paired with Murphy-Goode's Liar's Dice Zinfandel (Sonoma County). I am a big fan of Liar's Dice and this reminded me of my trip to the Murphy Goode tasting room last January...it seems like yesterday.  I don't have a vineyard vacation planned for this year, sadly. But in the meantime, this lovely California Uncorked dinner helped to fill the void. Seating for this dinner will be offered at $49.99, plus sales tax and gratuity per person.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wine Wednesday: Riesling and Thai

Not all wine pairings have to involve elaborate recipes that take hours of prep work. If you know me, you know I love to cook, but I feel that some of the best pairings can be made from coupling a great bottle of wine at home, with your favorite takeout foods.
Aside from summer rolls, one thing I often order when getting Thai takeout is Panang Curry Chicken.  
I love the complex flavors from the kaffir lime, garlic and fish sauce combined with creamy coconut milk. Another is Drunken Noodles, or pad kee mao, with beef, a glorious noodle dish full of tangy, sweet and spicy flavor with a punch of basil. These dishes are from Siam Thai in Tampa.
 

My favorite wine to pair with Thai takeout is Riesling. Why does Riesling pair so well with Thai?

  • Rieslings can offer a complex flavor profile, which stands up well to the complex flavors (like chile peppers, lime, lemongrass, cilantro, basil) found in Thai food.
  • Compared to other wines, Riesling is relatively low in alcohol, so sipping it between each bite is refreshing.
  • A slight sweetness in your wine is a nice balancing note to hot spicy food. Not all Rieslings are sweet, and in my opinion, the best Rieslings balance sweetness with acidity, which also is a nice contrast to the heat that comes from Thai peppers.

This past Sunday, we got back from a weekend of traveling what seemed like all over the state (read: lots and lots of driving.) I was exhausted and didn't want to cook, so as it often does, Siam Thai was calling my name. And a Dry Riesling from Chateau Ste Michelle was the perfect complement to the meal. It's a crisp, dry and refreshing style of Riesling, with flavors of peach, apple and mandarin orange, and ends with a clean finish.  It's a great one for those who are afraid that Rieslings are too sweet, and also an ideal wine for a hot summer's day. The fruit flavors tempered the heat of the dishes and complemented the meal perfectly.

Do you agree sometime the best pairings happen with takeout food? Which are your favorite wines to pair with Thai takeout? How about pizza?


Monday, July 14, 2014

Recipe and a Giveaway: Sundried Tomato Chicken Sausage with Mediterranean Quinoa

This healthy recipe is also versatile because it can be served hot or cold. If served hot, it makes a great dinner and can serve 4.  When served cold, it can be brought to a BBQ or family gathering as a great side dish for 8 people. 
 

If refrigerating to serve cold, double the dressing recipe so you have extra to add when  serving, as the quinoa soaks up the dressing.  The al fresco all natural sundried tomato chicken sausage is made with lean, skinless chicken meat, 70% Less Fat than Pork Sausage and has so much flavor that nicely brings together the Mediterranean ingredients. 
I truly like this dish served either way, but always (of course) with a nice glass of wine. For a wine pairing to accompany this particular recipe, you can look no further than the wine you use to make the recipe: Columbia Crest Chardonnay.   

Some tasting notes from the winemaker: "The Grand Estates Chardonnay opens with bright tropical fruit aromas that lead in to notes of soft oak and butterscotch. Ripe fruit flavors are bolstered by lively acidity, yet balanced deftly with a subtle creaminess." In my opinion, this is an easy-drinking white wine that is great for summertime. I enjoyed a chilled glass while I prepped my ingredients for the recipe below.

 Recipe: Sundried Tomato Chicken Sausage 
with Mediterranean Quinoa

Serves 4 for dinner or can be a side dish at family gatherings

Ingredients:
·         1 package al fresco all natural Sundried Tomato Chicken Sausage
·         1 cup Columbia Cresta Chardonnay
·         1.5  cups quinoa
·         1 8 oz. package of crumbled feta cheese
·         1 large handful cilantro, chopped
·         1.5 cups chickpeas
·         3 cloves garlic, minced
·         ¼ cup green onions, chopped
 I used a combination of vibrant red and yellow cherry tomatoes. 

Dressing ingredients:
·         ½ cup olive oil
·         ½ cup red wine vinegar
·         1 tbsp. honey
·         1 tbsp. mustard (Dijon or yellow)
·         ½ tsp. black pepper
·         1tsp. sea salt

Directions:


  • Cook the quinoa according to package instructions.
  • ·While quinoa is cooking, slice chicken sausage in small bite-size pieces. Cook in a pan on Medium for about 5 minutes, turning to brown both sides.
  • Add the chickpeas and garlic to the pan and continue to cook on Medium Low for 3 minutes. Add the Columbia Crest Chardonnay to the pan and turn heat down to Low and simmer for 2 minutes, allowing the flavor of the wine to really infuse into the chickpeas.
  • Remove the quinoa from the heat and place in a large bowl. Add cilantro, green onions, cherry tomatoes and feta.
  •  Add the sausage and chickpea mixture to the bowl.
  • Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, pepper and salt in a small bowl. Pour into the mixture and stir so the dressing flavor gets infused in all the quinoa.
  • Serve immediately (hot) or refrigerate for at least two hours to serve cold. 

THE GIVEAWAY:

Enter a comment below to enter. Just answer the question, "What's your favorite summer side dish?" and you're entered to win this grand Prize:  


  • al fresco coupons for (2) free products 
  • al fresco trivet
  • spatula 
  • grilling brush  
  • Columbia Crest wine opener and bottle stopper
Winner will be chosen at random and announced next Monday, July 21. As part of this national promotion you can enter to win an ALL-EXPENSE PAID trip to the Columbia Crest Winery in Washington State.
All you have to do is ‘Like’ al fresco on Facebook and submit the required form as directed!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Recipe: Easy Shrimp, Tomato and Spinach Pasta

Here's a recipe for an easy dinner you can whip up quickly on a weekend night. Lately, I've been spending quite a bit of weekend time on an important and time-consuming activity: marathons of Mad Men and Orange is the New Black. This is a healthy pasta dish I can throw together so I can get back to my binge-watching in 15 minutes flat...minus cleanup, of course, but that can wait until after a few more episodes!

 Easy Shrimp, Tomato and Spinach Pasta

 Ingredients: 
  • 1/2 lb deveined, cooked shrimp
  • 1 bag spinach
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 package Athenos crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 pkg pasta (I used whole grain spaghetti, but pick your favorite)
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Directions:
  • Boil pasta in a large pot of heavily salted water and about a minute before it's done, toss in the entire bag of spinach. Drain and put the pasta and spinach back in the pot on the stove on Low.
  • In another pan, heat the olive oil, sautee the garlic and tomatoes for about 1 min. Add the shrimp to the pan to heat, and season with salt and pepper.
  • Toss the shrimp/garlic/tomato mix into the pasta and mix it all up. Squeeze juice of half a lemon in and toss the package of feta on top. Voila, dinner is complete!
Wine Pairing: I served 14 Hands Chardonnay with this pasta and it paired really well. The tasting notes from the winemaker: "This Chardonnay offers bright aromas of apples and pears with a touch of caramel and spice. Elegant fruit flavors give way to hints of butter and vanilla, ending with a juicy finish." My go-to wine is Chardonnay, no matter how many delicious Pinot Gris or Sauvigon Blancs I may sample.
I love the label and the inspiration 14 Hands wines -- it's name comes from the time when wild mustangs once freely roamed the hills of eastern Washington State. The vineyards are grown using sustainable practices, the wine tastes delicious and it can be found at a great price point under $15 at the grocery store.

Do you serve white wines with pasta or only reds? Leave a comment below!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Local Event: WaterVentures learning Lab at St. Pete Museum of History

As part of Zephyrhills' 50 Things We Love About Florida Campaign, this Saturday, June 21, the WaterVentures traveling learning lab will be at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Visitors will have the opportunity to participate in museum-quality directed learning activities with on-site educators free of charge. 
The lab will let families take part in a variety of free, hands-on stations including watershed tables, recycling exhibits and a demonstration center, all of which are designed to educate visitors on how to be responsible stewards of Florida and make environmentally conscious decisions.
To join in on Zephyrhills 50th anniversary campaign, share your favorite thing about Florida on social with #FLfavorites. For every Florida Favorite collected, Zephyrhills® Brand will donate $1 to keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and Tampa Bay Watch, up to a total donation of $50,000. Visit Zephyrhills at www.zephyrhillswater.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/zephyrhillswater.

  
  *Photo credit: TripAdvisor

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wine Wednesday: Villa Maria Estate Sauvignon Blanc #NZSAVVY

Sauvignon Blanc is a great summertime wine, and some of the best in the world come from New Zealand. The explosive flavors of Sauvignon Blanc from this country have dazzled wine critics throughout the world, setting the international benchmark for this type of wine.  Next Wednesday, June 18, I'll be participating in a Twitter chat about two of these SB's, made by a sustainable New Zealand winemaker called Villa Maria. The two bottles we will be tasting and tweeting about:
 The 2013 Villa Maria Estate Cellar Selection Sauv Blanc   ($19.99)
Tasting Notes from the winemaker: Powerful and juicy, this is a pure expression of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, bursting with aromas of passionfruit, kaffir lime and gooseberry.
 The 2014 Villa Maria Estate Private Bin Sauv Blanc ($14.99)
Tasting Notes from the winemaker: Sourced from vineyards across the Marlborough region, this intense Sauvignon Blanc is alive with flavors dominated by gooseberry, passionfruit, fresh citrus and herbaceous aromas.
 
Please join us and participate in “First to Sip 2014 Villa Maria Sauv Blanc,” #NZSAVVY on June 18, 2014 at 5 PM Pacific/8 PM Eastern. We will be tasting and tweeting with Villa Maria wines @villamaria_wine and Master of Wines, Alastair Maling @alastairmaling.

I received these wines from Villa Maria in order to participate in the Twitter chat.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Red Diamond Wines for Father's Day

Father’s Day is just about a week away, and it’s no secret that Dads can be hard to buy for. I mean, you can only buy one man so many golf balls and ties. I recently came across a wine from Washington State that I think would be great to give as a gift, or serve on Father's Day. Red Diamond wines offer a balance of quality and value. 
These are food-friendly wines, designed for easy drinking -- and with a price of $10, they are also affordable. 
The Merlot has hints of blackberry, cherry and spice scented nose with a toasty oak background. In addition to the Merlot, they also have a Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and a Spanish Red Blend called Temperamental. What a great name for a wine, right?

Another way to treat Dad this Father's Day is mixing up the typical meal he'd be expecting. Sure, if he's a steak fan, grill him up a nice filet, but toss a new appetizer into the menu mix, like this red snapper ceviche. It's a favorite around our house for family gatherings. The recipe is below -- the spice and strong flavors stands up well to red wines, so this would be a great compliment to a bottle of Red Diamond.
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 lb. red snapper
  • handful of cilantro
  • One jalapeno pepper, minced with seeds removed
  • One tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 mango, chopped
  • 3 limes
  • sea salt and pepper to taste 
  • Corn tortilla chips for serving
Directions: 
  • Chop all ingredients into very small, bite size pieces and toss in a bowl
  • Juice 3 limes and mix the juice into the ceviche to "cook" the fish.,
  • Serve the ceviche with corn tortilla chips after 20 minutes of "cooking" -- and eat it within the hour. Any longer that that and the snapper will get overcooked and tough.
Cheers to all the dads out there. Enjoy your Father's Day celebrations!