Thursday, October 26, 2017

4 Wines to (Deliciously) Ward Off Evil Spirits this Halloween

While the kids are after candy, we adults know what Halloween is really about: costumes, booze, and debauchery (responsibly handled, of course).

I love good label art on a bottle of wine, especially this time of year. What's more important though is whats inside that bottle, so I have a few ideas for you folks who want something Halloween-themed or fall-themed but don't want to risk getting a truly bad bottle with a great label.

Via Armida Winery.
Poizin - California has done a lot for the wine industry worldwide. If there's one thing totally unique that California has done more than anyone else though, it has to be good, hearty, delicious red Zinfandel. The grape originated in Croatia - we think - and it didn't take it's slice of the international spotlight until the winemakers of California got their hands on it.

Poizin is a hard bottle to miss on the shelf. The black and red skull and crossbones, a widely recognized symbol of danger, graces the label and appears to be written in blood! As a professional wine buyer, I tend to be cautious of labels like these except at certain times of year. But I have kept this one on the shelf as long as I could more than one season.

Armida Winery makes this fantastically affordable bottle. Armida is located in Sonoma, California, the heartland for good Zin (and luckily they weren't damaged by the recent fires. They primarily source their wines from the Dry Creek Valley, when you see that designation on a bottle of Zin, it is most likely worth checking out.

This bottle represents the entry level of Armida's wines. I have seen it range from $15-$22 a bottle depending on the year. If you find a bottle of Zin from these guys that's not Poizin, don't hesitate to give it a try.

Via The Prisoner Wine Company.
Prisoner Wine Company - Formerly a product of Orin Swift Cellars, Prisoner used to be a little hard to get your hands on years ago. Now it's a little different, but readily available and still quite tasty. The gorgeous and eerie label art makes these wines a perfect glass to pour at Halloween.

The Prisoner, the flagship wine of this line, is a product of California through and through. The bulk of the blend is usually Zinfandel lent additional structure from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Syrah. It bursts with ripe berry flavor, with just the right balance of vanilla. All this is brought together with a soft, velvety texture.

The Blindfold is one of the white wines from this line. I find this one very interesting, not something I would drink all year round, but I really enjoy it!

This bottle shows some experimentation for a bottle out of California. It takes Chardonnay, a grape with a distinct style related to California, and blends it with flavors of the Rhone, one of my favorite wine regions in France. Roussane, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier are grapes we don't see everyday coming from anywhere other than the Rhone. Prisoner uses these to create something with a little of the body of California Chardonnay, that also has some of the crispness and aromatic qualities of white wines from the Rhone. It's one of those wines that I enjoy thinking about which part of the flavors represent which grape involved in the blend. Big points for creativity!

Via Charles Smith Wines
Velvet Devil - Charles Smith is one of the more unusual players in the wine business. He came from the music industry, and the label art of his wines has a distinct black and white style that make his bottles instantly recognizable. If you are looking for something inexpensive, easy drinking, that has a Halloween-friendly label art, this is a great choice.

Merlot has a less than stellar reputation with the general public these days because when it first gained ground in the American market, it took over. You could fill a lake with all the bad Merlot that was floating around. Since it's fallen out of favor and ceased to dominate the landscape, Merlot has become a much more solid choice in many cases. This is one of them.

Bold red currant flavors with notes of blueberry and soft tannins make this wine a great easy drinking option for around $12 a bottle. It won't change your life, but it will allow you to affordably serve a solid red at a Halloween party!

Even if you're not having a party, and are just staying in to watch horror movies and eat carbs and drink wine (our plan, btw), these are some great wines to try for Halloween!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cauliflower Fried Rice

This doesn't even feel like a recipe since we used leftovers, one pan, and a bag of pre-chopped veggies but it was so delicious we're not even sorry.

Cauliflower rice gets a bad rap's cauliflower. But hear us out.

It's way faster than regular rice.
It's a vegetable.
It tastes a lot like rice.
It tastes even more like rice if you put a bunch of other stuff in it.

So cauliflower fried rice (fried cauliflower rice?) is perfect for us because we really should eat more vegetables and we can throw whatever meat we have in it and then we can add eggs, and adding eggs is pretty much the best.

We also recently discovered bags of cauliflower stir fry, already chopped up, with cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots so that enabled our laziness even more!

Cauliflower Fried Rice
serves 4

1 bag cauliflower stir fry mix*
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp coconut aminos or soy sauce
Leftover steak or chicken thighs
2 eggs
Ground ginger
White pepper
Crushed red pepper
Scallions or green onions, chopped

1. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium high heat and add sesame oil.
2. Pour contents of stir fry bag into skillet and add pepper, ginger, white pepper, and red pepper.
3. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. While mix is cooking, mix eggs with a tiny bit of water and set aside.
5. Add steak or chicken and coconut aminos or soy sauce and stir.
6. When the meat is heated through, make a well in the middle of the pan and pour in the scrambled eggs. Let cook for a minute and then move them around. When they start to set, mix into rest of the mix.
7. Add salt to taste and serve topped with scallions!

*Of course you can chop your own cauliflower and broccoli and all that. But here is what we use:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Sorry it's been a bit scarce here and on our Instagram and Facebook - we had a super busy weekend and work weeks last week!

And that hasn't stopped, but we NEED someone else to love this dish as much as we do and make it soon.

Brussels sprouts get kind of a bad rap - they are weird looking and smell sort of strange and everyone had them when they were kids in the worst possible way - boiled.

But! Brussels sprouts are actually super delicious, they're good for you, and they go so well with so many things. Plus, we're huge proponents of the "add bacon and it will taste good" school of thought, so even if you're on the fence about Brussels sprouts, give this one-pan side a try!

Sorry for the raw bacon pic but look how pretty!
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
serves 4 as a side

1 to 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends cut off and halved
1 pound bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 sheet pan
Garlic powder*
Smoked paprika

1. Line a sheet pan with foil for easy cleanup and preheat oven to 425F.

2. When oven is heated, spread sprouts and bacon evenly in a single layer over the pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika (all to taste) over the entire pan.

3. Bake for 30 minutes or until bacon is crisp and sprouts are starting to get crispy dark edges.

4. Removed and let sit for 5 minutes, then serve!

Under Nom Nom Paleo's Cracklin Chicken on top of roasted garlic mashed potatoes!
We like this as a side, with roasted potatoes, with scrambled eggs, pretty much with anything. It's easy, hardly any cleanup is required - and you only have to chop 2 things! - plus, you're eating a delicious and under-appreciated vegetable! That's food karma right there!

*why garlic powder and not garlic? Garlic can get bitter if it roasts for too long, and powder works just as well here. If you're going to keep a really close eye on it, feel free to use minced garlic cloves!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

4 Portuguese Red Wines - That Aren't Port - to Try This Fall

When you think of Portuguese wine, the first thing that comes to mind is the big, sweet, rich wines of the Douro valley. Port has a special place in my heart for both it's complexity and interesting history, and Port is also really special to Amber - she's been to Portugal for academic conferences, and had some really great experiences there, many of which involved late night conversations over bottles of amazing local Port. But Port not the only noteworthy category of red wine made in Portugal.
Praca Dom Pedro IV, with São Jorge Castle in the background.

Eduardo VII Park in Lisbon, Portugal. Also, hello 2012 iPhone image!

Most every Port producer makes at least some kind of other red, usually from the same grape varieties used in Port production. These wines can be hard to navigate on a menu or in a wine store because the label doesn't show a grape variety most of the time. It may simply say, "Douro" sometimes not even highlighting the name of the producer.

Port is sweet because during the fermentation process, an unaged brandy (neutral grape spirit) is added. The yeast that turn the sugars in grape juice into alcohol can only live below a certain alcohol level. Just the right amount is added to stop this fermentation. These wines are what happens if you let the fermentation process finish and let the yeast create its own alcohol.

If you like a bold red that still shows a little restraint, these may be the wines for you. While there are many more serious, oakier, and pricier options, this is a good intro list if you want to check out what Portuguese table reds are about.

Quinta do Crasto is an old Port house with it's earliest mention on record dating back to 1615. The family that owns it currently has been at it for just over a Century. The table red they label Crasto is a bright, fruity, unoaked affair. It glows a bright shade of ruby in the glass and has aromas of fresh berries with a hint of violet. It keeps you sipping. It's a flexible choice for pairing with many types of red meat.

via Quinta do Crasto.
Altano - This wine comes from Vineyards owned by Symington, one of the largest producers in the Douro. This table red is one of the most price friendly options on the list as well. It is a bit lighter than some of the reds on this list with a nice acidic backbone.

via Altano.
Fonseca Domini - Fonseca's ports can be found on almost any wine store shelf in America. It is one of the oldest and most prestigious Port producers. Domini is the other side of that coin, and just a little harder to find. This dry red has notes of cherry, chocolate, and violet. It is soft and round on the palate. It's a perfect companion for pot roast or steak night!

via Fonseca.
Rapariga da Qinta - This is the outlier on this list. It's not from Douro (but the winemaker is), it is from Alentejano, a lesser known wine region of Portugal. I include it just to show some of the other great options Portugal has to offer. It is made by Luis Duarte, a winemaker and consultant known for helping push Portuguese wine into the modern age. Juicy black fruit, soft fine-grained tannins, and refreshing acidity make this wine a shoe-in for pairing with hearty fall stews and meats!

via Portugal Vineyards.

Anyone else have some surprising wine finds?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Roasted Salmon with Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes

Is anyone else feeling like this month is just flying by? October just started, and now we're almost halfway through!

We mentioned last week our intense love of easy, one-pan, low-effort dinners. This one fits the bill perfectly, and it's even better this time of year when it seems like there is never enough time. Being able to throw some stuff on a pan and leave it alone, then come back 25 minutes to a delicious meal, is so helpful when things get crazy! 

Loosely adapted from Molly Gilbert's Sheet Pan Suppers: 120 Recipes for Simple, Surprising, Hands-Off Meals Straight from the Oven - we're not super into pistachios, and salmon was on sale for cheaper than Arctic Char, basically. 

This is how we make cooking decisions, y'all.

Roasted Salmon with Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes
*serves 4

4 salmon fillets 
1 bunch asparagus, about 1lb
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Kosher Salt 

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Drizzle olive oil onto a sheet pan.

2. Cut asparagus bottoms off and then cut asparagus spears into thirds.

3. Place asparagus and tomatoes onto pan, spreading them into a single layer.

4. Make 4 spaces and place the salmon fillets, skin side down, on the pan.
5. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and then sprinkle kosher salt and pepper evenly over the entire 

6. Bake for 25 minutes, or until asparagus is firm but cooked, on the middle rack.

7. Broil for 1-2 minute to get a bit of char on the salmon.

8. Serve salmon pieces with some asparagus and tomatoes and enjoy!

This is a dish that is both a main and sides in one, although some garlic mashed potatoes wouldn't be terrible with it!

What's your go-to busy night meal?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Cookbook Review: Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert

We're all about easy dinners in our house, but we also really like eating really good food. Luckily, one piece of kitchen equipment makes it possible to do both.

Meet the humble sheet pan.

You can tell ours is well-loved - that's freshly cleaned, but we've used it so much it's burnished.
This is actually referred to as a half sheet, or half sheet jelly roll pan. The sides are higher than on cookie sheets, it's a little more solid, and you can generally fit two side by side in an oven. They're the most versatile thing we have in our kitchen for sure.

We'll be sharing a couple of easy sheet pan recipes soon, but if you're new to one pan cooking, have a cookbook problem like we do, or just enjoy easy but delicious recipes that don't require much hands-on time or cleanup, we've got the cookbook for you.

Molly Gilbert's Sheet Pan Suppers: 120 Recipes for Simple, Surprising, Hands-Off Meals Straight from the Oven is one of our favorite and most used cookbooks.

The best part about this book? It's by one of our favorite food bloggers, Molly Gilbert of Dunk & Crumble. Plus, it's not just suppers, all the recipes are easy and delicious, and it's been a lifesaver this summer when standing over a hot stove just wouldn't do. 

There are recipes for sides, desserts, mains, appetizers, breakfasts - you name it, you can make it with this book!

One of our favorite sections is, though, the suppers. We'll be sharing our (slight) variation on one of Molly's recipes next week, Roasted Arctic Char and Asparagus with Pistachio Gremolade.

Get. Excited. 

Seriously, this is a great cookbook to have if you like hands-off meals, like to roast things, like impressing people by making things on one pan, or, if you're like us, have a tiny kitchen and not a lot of time. Every recipe is stellar - this is a cookbook we'll go back to again and again!

*we don't get paid by Molly Gilbert - although she's lovely and told us we could share a recipe and post pics of her amazing book! - or by Amazon, although we recommend all the links shared here!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Beer Review: Victory Brewing Company's Dirt Wolf Double IPA

Amber made her fantastic taco bowls the other night, and my task was to find something that would pair nicely with the dinner. Dirt Wolf from Victory Brewing Company seemed to fit the bill nicely. Amber's taco bowl is a spicy affair with big flavor!

Heat and powerful flavors can present some unique challenges when trying to get an ideal pairing. The general rule of thumb, is that heat requires a little sweetness in the beverage as a counter balance. Another rule of thumb, which this choice violates, is that bitterness and heat don't play well together. If it's done right, my opinion couldn't differ more.

I chose Dirt Wolf based partly on how well it fit and partly on pure personal preference. In IPAs, I gravitate towards options with floral or citrus aromas more often. Dirt Wolf delivers there.

The problem with this is that most things that achieve what I like in aromatics lack the maltiness to stand up to heat. Those pickled jalapenos would beat up a less malty IPA.

via Victory.
Dirt Wolf has a rare combination of floral and citrus aromatics with a caramel malty backbone for balance. The aromas on the nose help bring out some of the more exotic flavors in the taco bowl, and as a whole the malty backbone of the beer lends just enough sweetness and body to match the heat. Amber - an IPA lover of the highest order - also described flavors of "fresh dirt, but in a really pleasant way." 

Dirt Wolf is a must try if you like IPAs and spicy food!

via Twitter.
Victory has been around a long time for a craft brewery. They started in 1996 with a brewmaster trained at Weihenstephan in Germany (one of my favorite classic German breweries).

With breweries opening and closing because of a boom in craft brewing all over America, mid-sized breweries like Victory are having a hard time staying where they want to be. Unlike many of the other breweries in this category who sold part or all of their business to Anheuser-Busch, Victory chose a less controversial route and merged with Southern Tier, another mid-sized brewery out of New York in a group called ABV. 

While its well established and more widely distributed than ever, I would still call their beer "craft." And whether or not it's craft, most of it is very good!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Spicy Taco Bowls

We try to eat what we call "healthy-ish" most of the time. We don't usually keep sweets or junk food in the house, we very very rarely eat fast food, and we both love vegetables, drink a lot of water, and, over the past year, we've done 4 rounds of Whole30, which is pretty life-changing, honestly. 

But sometimes, y'all.

Sometimes you need tacos. 

Luckily, this spicy taco bowl is easy to customize to however "healthy-ish" you need to be - you don't have to make it spicy if you don't want to, you can drizzle cheese dip over the top, you can eat it with chips, you can use cauliflower or traditional rice, and no one here will judge you for how many margaritas you have with it. 

After all, fruits are important too, and that lime wedge totally counts. 

This is the Whole30 version, but don't let that scare you away - remember the cheese dip - since it's a really delicious and makes enough for a crowd or for leftovers with minimal effort. 

Spicy Taco Bowls
serves 4 easily or 2 with leftovers

1lb ground beef
1 package cauliflower rice/1 head cauliflower, riced/2 cups leftover regular rice 
5-6 russet potatoes, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 red onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 can black olives
1 lime, cut into wedges
2 cloves garlic, diced
Crushed red pepper
Taco Seasoning*
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Place diced potatoes onto a baking sheet (line with foil if you want easy cleanup) and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and taco seasoning over the potatoes and toss to coat. Put in the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes, tossing them twice.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil, half the diced onion, and 1 diced garlic clove, as well as crushed red pepper to taste. Saute for 1 minute, making sure to stir often to keep the garlic from burning. 

3. Add ground beef and liberally season with taco seasoning, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. Break up into small pieces and cook until no longer pink. Remove to a plate when done.

4. Add cauliflower rice to pan and turn heat to high. Squeeze 1 or 2 lime wedges over rice and add taco seasoning to taste. With cauliflower rice, you want to saute 2-3 minutes in this step, with leftover rice probably 5.

5. Put the meat back in the pan with the cauliflower rice and turn heat off. Stir to combine. 

6. By this time, the potatoes should be pretty close to done. Remove from the oven and give them a good stir. 

7. Start layering your bowls - potatoes on the bottom, then meat. Top bowls with diced onion, with diced tomato, black olives, salsa (we love anything by Mrs. Renfro's and the Market Pantry Hot Chunky Salsa is a great and easy to find one!), and guacamole. Garnish with a lime and serve!

This recipe should make 4 bowls total, but is easy to double or half if needed. 

*We make our own taco seasoning but you can use your own or pre-packaged, although most pre-packaged ones are NOT healthy-ish. Here's the basic recipe:

3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

**Sometimes we get lazy and buy guacamole, but here is the only guacamole recipe you'll really ever need, originally posted here. You're welcome. 

6 ripe avocados
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 Serrano pepper, diced
1 red onion, diced
1/2 habanero pepper, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 tomatillo, diced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Juice from the other half of the lime used above
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper

1. Smoosh avocados - I cut them out of the peels and then use a potato masher.
2. Add everything else - season to taste!
3. Stir together with a fork.
4. Enjoy!