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Due to the past success of Dinner with the Megs: Cheese and Wine night, the Megs and I decided to have another go at it, this time with cupcakes and wine. Pairing drinks with desserts is not a new concept (digestif, anyone?), but it has become a trend in recent years.

We didn’t want to jump on any bandwagons, but we did want to eat cupcakes. And drink wine. At the same time. So, the Megs and I embarked on Pairing Dinner Volume II: Cupcakes and Wine.

The Rules: This time the cupcakes would dictate the wine we chose. We needed:
1 type of Savory cupcake (this was my responsibility)
1 type of Sweet cupcake that was NOT chocolate (Meg L)
1 type of Sweet cupcake that WAS chocolate (Meg H)

You also needed to bring a wine that paired with your chosen cupcake. As an added rule, we decided that the cupcakes could either be homemade or store bought (sometimes it’s hard to work cupcake baking into daily life, try as we might).

For the savory cupcake, I made Butternut Squash, Kale and Sage cupcakes, and topped them with a dollop of cream cheese (as a stand-in for frosting). You can find the recipe here. These cupcakes are a great savory choice, as the butternut squash adds an element of sweetness which contrasts the with saltier ingredients, such as the Parmesan cheese.

The wine that the helpful staff at Bottlerocket on 19th street chose to pair with this cupcake was Zaccagni il Castello (2008), a smooth Italian white that has a hint of bitterness that goes well with the sage in the cupcakes. I should note that this wine was VERY well received by everyone – many thanks to Bottlerocket for the recommendation.

For our Sweet but not Chocolate cupcake, Meg L procured some pastel-frosted Vanilla Buttermilk confections from Magnolia Bakery. The icing on these cakes was something to behold – as well as taste. Swirling mounds of lavender, mint green and pale cream frosting topped off light yellow cake.

For wine, Meg L chose a Blueberry wine from Alba Vineyards in New Jersey, which really did taste like blueberries. Almost purple in color, it presented a strong flavor contrast to its lighter, vanilla counterparts.

Finally…chocolate! Meg H traveled to the Cupcake Stop’s Limelight Marketplace outpost to bring us these chocolate cake/icing beauties. The dark chocolate cake was topped with two dollops of a lighter, creamy frosting, drizzled with a bit of white chocolate.

I think Meg H was unaware, but Brachetto D’Aqui is one of my favorite sweet wines. It takes all my restraint not to just throw a straw in the bottle and sip away. When Meg H unveiled her Pineto Brachetto d’Aqui, I squealed with delight (and started searching my cabinets for straws).
The Brachetto has a nice effervescence that, while still a red, gives it a lighter quality. It doesn’t overwhelm the chocolate cupcakes.

Finally, because we thought this meal might be a touch on the sugary side, we threw in a kale salad. And throw it together we did with the following ingredients and in the following manner:

What You Need:
1 bunch kale, rinsed, stems removed and chopped
2 cups roasted butternut squash (left over from the savory cupcakes)
Handful of sun dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
1 yellow zucchini, washed, cut into rounds
½ cup pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic Vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for dressing

What To Do:
Get out a big salad bowl and throw in your washed and chopped kale. Go on, literally THROW it in there. You won’t hurt the kale.
Add in your butternut squash chunks (more gently), the sun dried tomatoes, zucchini (resist the urge to throw these around your kitchen like mini-frisbees), and everything else.

Drizzle with as much balsamic and olive oil as you like and give it a toss to coat evenly.

Then promptly ignore this salad in favor of cupcakes.

No, it’s actually a very good salad. And since kale is essentially spinach with ruffles, it’s just fancy enough for a cupcake and wine party.

Cheers!

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This Sunday is my birthday! And unlike John who wishes to hide the fact that he is aging at the same rate as the rest of us, I don’t give a hoot about all that. I like my birthday. It’s fun. You get presents. And cake. Oh, how I love cake.

This year, however, the presents are for you! I decided that for my birthday I would like two things:

1. Wine.

2. More Twitter followers.

So I am running another giveaway (I’m really into these giveaways), with yet ANOTHER Italian prize. To win the prize, you can do one of the following things from NOW until midnight on November 7th:

1. Sign up to follow us on Twitter (click here to do so).

2. If you are already one of our loyal followers you should be rewarded for that as well, so just tweet “Happy Birthday” to me.

If you do one of these two things (or both) from now until midnight on November 7th, you will be entered to win the following prize that I brought back for you from Italy:

It’s a fun jar of very fancy sea salt combined with a medley of Italian herbs. It will make everything you cook better. Yes, even that. And this.

* John would probably say that this is a shameless plug for attention. Most likely it is, but I would like to remind you that it is a shameless plug for attention with PRIZES. So there.

** In the background of the first photo is my Aunt Lena. With a glass of Scotch. Nice.

*** If you want to send me wine, I would not be opposed to that. Just sayin’.

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Today I wanted to present to you a combo – something that is both simple AND pizza. I also wanted to depart a bit from the dinner time pizza and give to you – Lo and BEHOLD! – a dessert pizza!

WHaaaaaat? Pizza for dessert? What madness is this? It’s not madness, it’s good sense people. Even though it’s coming from me.

This is a great pizza to make for a simple dessert or even as a little appetizer for a brunch.

What You Need:

Pizza dough (made or bought)

Honey (you can use a flavored honey if you want – go nuts!)

Ground cinnamon (a healthy sprinkle)

Ground cloves (a smaller sprinkle)

What To Do:

Preheat your oven with pizza stone to 500 degrees for at least a half an hour.

While your oven is heating up, roll out your dough and place it on your pizza peel (that has been sprinkled with semolina flour or cornmeal for easy in-and-out-of-oven transfers). Drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Sprinkle with cloves.

Put it in the oven.

NOTE: This is going to smell incredible. Like cinnamon heaven. Resist the urge to open the oven door and put the piping hot pizza in your mouth. Whole. Because you will want to.

Remove pizza after about 10 minutes, or when the crusts are golden-brown and the topping is bubbling. Let it rest for a minute or two before you dive in: hot honey is HOTTTTT. Like really hot. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Prepare for amazingness.

But WAIT! To make it even more wonderful, drink this wine with it (thanks to our friends at Astor Wines for the recommendation):

It’s Sparkling Blanc “Ze Bulle”, Zéro Pointé – 2009, and if this appeals to you (I don’t see why it wouldn’t) you can find it here.

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I don’t know what I’m going to do when Pizza Month is over. Luckily for me (and you) we are only about half way through, because we’ve got some good ones for you. Including today’s feature: Roasted Pumpkin Pizza with Fried Sage and Toasted Pecans. And as a special treat – at the end of the post Astor Wines has again treated us with some wine pairings. So don’t forget to check those out.

So, by now I am assuming that you have roasted your wee lil’ pumpkin just like I told you to on Monday. If not, get to work, post-haste, because you are going to need those little golden nuggets of roasted pumpkin-ness right now. And go:

What you need:

Roasted pumpkin slices (use your judgment on how many)

A handful of whole pecans (more if you snack on them while you cook, like I do)

A small bunch of sage

1/3 cup heavy cream

2 Tbsp butter

Pinch of nutmeg

1/8 cup grated Parmeggiano Reggiano

salt and pepper

What To Do:

Heat up your oven (with pizza stone if you’ve got one) to 500 degrees. Prepare your dough. Maybe by now you’ve tried your hand at making some? At this point it should be ready to go, so get it ready by rolling it out and placing it on your pizza peel (sprinkled with semolina flour or cornmeal so your dough doesn’t stick) and set it aside.

In either a grill pan or a frying pan, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter. Then place your slices of roasted pumpkin in the pan to toast them. Give them a sprinkling of salt while they are in there.

Once you’ve got those pumpkin pieces nice ‘n’ toasty, set them aside in a bowl.

Now, get excited everyone, because we are going to make an Alfredo sauce – or a variation on it – for the pizza. Get out a frying pan (or wash and reuse the one in which you toasted your pumpkin). Melt the other 1 Tbsp of butter in there. Pour in the 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Add some salt, pepper and the dash of nutmeg and stir. You will want the cream mixture to start bubbling a bit. Keep stiring. You need it to thicken (so it doesn’t run right off the pizza and make a big ol’ mess, setting off all the smoke detectors in your kitchen….not that that’s ever happened to me or anything. I’m just warning you). As it thickens, you will notice that it will start to coat the back of your wooden spoon (or whatever stirring implement you happen to be using – I find a small squeegee works in a pinch*). Once you have the sauce at a nice thickness, remove from the heat and stir in your grated parm. Oh so creamy!

Ok, before we get too excited, let’s put all the pieces together.

Using a spoon, smooth that Alfredo sauce on your uncooked, rolled-out, fantastic-looking pizza dough. Then, place your roasted, toasted pumpkin slices on top of that, in a nice arrangement. Then, place some pecans on top of that.

How’s it going? Good? Good. Now, shimmy that thing into the oven and onto your pizza stone (which by now should be nice and hot) via your semolina-coated pizza peel.

Now, we are gonna need that frying pan a THIRD time. I know, it’s nuts. But it’s worth it. Heat a little olive oil in the pan. How much? 1 Tbsp? Just a bit. Take about 5-6 leaves from your bunch of sage, and once your oil is nice and hot, throw those little leaves in the pan. They should start to fry and get crispy. Once that happens you can take them out of the frying pan. And put them in the fire. NO! Put them aside (on a dish or paper towel).

Now I know you’ve been keeping an eye on your pizza that’s in the oven during this time. Please don’t forget about that. Take a peek at it and see how things are moving along in there. Is the sauce bubbling? Are the outer crusts turning golden brown? If so, you have my permission to remove the pizza (carefully) from the oven using your trusty peel. Once your masterpiece is out, place it on a serving dish and garnish with the fried sage leaves.

You’re gonna like it.

When we made this, we added a salad of spinach, purple figs and cucumbers with a honey dressing. Like this one:

Now, the obvious question remains. WHAT are you going to drink with this? To answer this question, I turned to the experts at Astor Wines in NYC. These guys are just so helpful. They seemed intrigued by this combination in a pizza and have offered 4 different wines. Below, I give you their recs with tasting notes.

1. Bourgogne Rouge “Le Chapitre”, René Bouvier 2006 (20558) – A pinot noir with nice red fruit, here you get rustic raspberries, again will work well with the pumpkin. This wine also shows a bit of herbaceous notes and is slightly earthy on the end making it a no brainer with the sage and pecans.

2. Lagrein, Muri Gries 2008 (45679) – Pizza/Italy/Italian wine – a natural choice for the type of dish but also will go beautifully with the ingredients. Like the pinot noir, it will offer some lush fruit, but as a relative to Syrah, it also offers some spice and herb qualities that can bring all the flavors together in a unique and delicious way.

3. Moscato Giallo “Vigna Giere”, Vivallis 2008 (20466) – This Italian white has a touch of sweetness on the palate that will actually play off the natural sweetness of the pumpkin, making this dish a touch more savory as a whole. The slightly floral aromatics will blend nicely with the sage. Watch to not over-chill the wine or you’ll miss out on the subtle orange aromatics.

4. Stuhlmuller Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2008 (22188) – Chardonnay that has a touch of oak influence will blend the creamy aspects, the pumpkin and cream. The food and the wine together will create a nice round feeling in your mouth and with hints stone fruit in this white the fruit will bring out the pumpkin flavor.

* We would like to note that a squeegee actually makes a terrible Alfredo sauce stirring device. We just really like the word “squeegee”. Squeeeeeeeegeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee… ok, sorry.

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Remember on Monday when we made caramelized onions? Your apartment/kitchen/house might be starting to lose the onion smell by now. DON’T PANIC!! You saved those onions, right? Ok, good. Now, we are going to put them on a pizza. With some gruyere cheese.

A few words about this pizza before we begin.

I LOVE it. Ridiculously. I look for excuses to make it. And I force it on others too. It’s very endearing, I’m told. I was first inspired to make this pizza when I had the caramelized onion and gruyere grilled cheese sandwich at the West Village watering hole, Wilfie & Nell. They are quite well known for this particular grilled cheese, and I think they do a bang-up job on it. I loved it. And it seems to me that anything that is good in grilled cheese form is also good in pizza form.

One of the wonderful things about this pizza is that the onions (already caramelized – you held back on the stirring them like a maniac, right?) get nice and crispy as they are baking in the oven on the pizza. Very much like thin cut onion rings. So when the whole thing is done, you get this amazing combination of gooey and salty (cheese) and sweet and crispy (onions). Pile that onto a nicely toasted pizza dough and I don’t know what else you could ask for. Maybe some wine (see the end of the post for Astor Wine’s recommendations).

John had this to say about it: I absolutely love this pizza. The sweet, nutty Gruyere, which is also a great melting cheese, maintains its flavor well even when scorched. It really kicks some tag team ass with the sliced, stringy and cooked onions.  It’s a powerful, yet not overwhelming combo. It also just looks and sounds like a million bucks, which has to add some value if you’re looking to impress somebody.

What you will need (to impress people):

Pizza dough (made or bought)

Gruyere cheese (I like a nice aged one, like THIS ONE from Murray’s Cheese – thanks for the rec, Murray’s!)

Caramelized onions (already made – recipe here)

Olive oil

Sea salt (or if you are feeling adventurous black truffle salt)

What to do:

Heat up your oven (with pizza stone or cookie sheet) to 500 degrees for about a half hour before you drop the hotness in there. While things are heatin’ up, roll out your pizza dough on a peel (utilizing a little cornmeal or semolina flour underneath so your dough doesn’t stick to the peel). Drizzle some olive oil on top of your rolled out dough. Throw on some Gruyere cheese (not too much!) and then top with your caramelized onions. Sprinkle with salt.

Pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes. This is a loose time estimate, though, so keep an eye on it. It will be done with the cheese is bubbling, the onions get really toasty and the edges of your pizza crust are toasting a nice amber color.

Take it out and let it chill for a minute or two (if you can) before you slice and eat!

What to Drink:

On a whim, I tweeted Astor Wines and asked them what you should all drink with this fabulous pizza. They have helpfully offered us three fantastic recommendations, and here they are:

1. Côtes du Jura Blanc, Jean Bourdy – 2005

2. Gewürztraminer, Elena Walch – 2008

3. P’tit Rouquin ” Les Vins Contés” VdT, O. Lemasson – 2009

I went with the Geurztraminer, both because it’s named after me, and it’s from Italy. Which means pizza, right?. Perfect recommendations!

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Hopefully by now you’ve either made sweet bacon or have spent the morning eating copious amounts of it. You might be thirsty by now. I know I would be.

Might we recommend the above: Rejadorada Temple? It pairs well with pork (and other meats). I know because I asked the helpful staff at the Chelsea Wine Vault where I encountered a free tasting last night. I admit to liking it so much that I impulse purchased a bottle.

Like the website says, it’s very rich and almost chocolately red wine. Gooooooood stuff. I would like to be drinking it right now.

Anyway, go get yourself some (and some more bacon while you’re at it). If you need some reading material while you are sipping your cinnamon and cassis aroma’d wine, please review the week here at Elana and John Talk About Food:

Elysian – tomorrow will be a great day to enjoy their outdoor seating.

Get ready for the Vendy Awards with Kelvin Natural Slush Co.

Last day! Post a comment to win honey.

Have a great weekend! More fun coming to you next week.

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