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Spicy Lamb Ragu and Barbera D’Asti

With this pandemic, everyone is cooking more. For me, that meant it was time to get creative. Spaghetti and meatballs are soooooo yesterday. I decided to kick it up a notch and do a spicy lamb ragu with pappardelle. Pasta is such a comfort food. The weather should be getting cooler soon and I am here for it; I love fall. It’s the basic bitch in me.

This dish is as spicy as you want it to be. I made it a little too spicy by going wild with the red pepper flakes, but it was so tasty that I pushed past the heat. I paired this with a Barbera D’Asti. Right off the bat, I was thinking that a spicy dish may not go with a red. I thought the wine would just make my mouth feel even more on fire. But no! It absolutely did not! The Barbera D’Asti paired so well. It was juicy and fruit-forward and the acidity of the wine really meshed well with the acidity of the sauce. The sauce is very tomato-y because of the concentrated flavor of the tomato paste. Finishing it all off with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley was perfect.

I think once we’re able to gather again, this is a dish you can scale up and make for a crowd. Or, this is a nice meal to enjoy by the fire. Yes, I’m willing it to get cold enough for fires!

You’ll need:

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of ground lamb
1 yellow onion, minced
1 cup finely chopped fresh cremini mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 3/4 cups of reduced-sodium chicken or beef broth
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup tomato sauce
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
2 small fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound dried pappardelle
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese,
plus more for serving
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions:

  1. Brown the lamb. In a non-stick frying pan large enough to hold the sauce and the pasta, heat the oil over high heat. Add the lamb and saute, stirring to break up any clumps, until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb to a plate.
  2. Saute the vegetables. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and return the pan to medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, and red pepper flakes and saute until the mushrooms have released their moisture and the onion is translucent and soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Finish the sauce. Return the lamb to the pan and add the broth, 1/2 cup of water, the wine, tomato sauce, tomato paste and rosemary. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer gently, uncovered until the sauce has thickened slightly, 25-30 minutes. Add the vinegar and cook for 1 minute longer. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm over low heat.
  4. Cook the pasta. About 15 minutes before the sauce is ready, bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil. Add the pappardelle and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes or according to the package directions.
  5. Finish the dish. Raise the heat under the sauce to medium. Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce, and toss and stir to combine. Add the 1/4 cup of Parmesan, the parsley and again toss to combine.
  6. Plate the dish. Divide the pasta among warmed shallow bowls and serve right away. Pass additional Parmesan at the table.

La Fête Du Rosé and Ginger & Cilantro Baked Salmon

Just go ahead and get the 3-pack. Trust me on this.

At some point in your life, you need to be able to put together a fairly healthy, flavorful meal.

This dish for me was one of the first really impressive dishes I learned to make. It’s a favorite of mine, though I hadn’t made it in a really long time. The other day, I began thinking about what would pair well with my new rosé. A lightbulb came on over my head and I pulled this old recipe from the hollows of my mind.

I should tell you that the recipe originally called for tilapia. I used salmon and pretty much always have. You can experiment with various types of fish if you’d like. I might even try this with chicken one day.

La Fête Du Rosé is an absolutely delicious French-style rosé, so it’s very dry. This wine has a deep pink color and I definitely thought I detected cherry on the nose. To be a rosé, this is a BIG wine. I mean, it really is very flavorful and hits your entire tongue with different flavors. I detected a bit of citrus.

The wine and fish paired very well. I can’t imagine a lighter rosé being able to stand up to big flavors of sesame oil and soy sauce and the like, so I definitely recommend this particular one.

Ginger & Cilantro Baked Salmon

Ingredients:
The ingredients, including a little jalapeno, hiding behind the cilantro.

1 pound of fish

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated (about 1 tablespoon)

1 jalapeño pepper, roughly chopped (optional)

1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Scallions, chopped for garnish

Extra cilantro, to garnish

Directions:
  1. Heat the oven to 475°F. Pat the fish dry, season lightly with salt and pepper, and lay in a 9×9-inch or 8×8-inch ceramic or glass baking dish.
  2. Combine the garlic, grated ginger, chopped jalapeño, cilantro, white wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a small food processor. Process until blended.
  3. Pour the sauce over the fish, rubbing it in a little. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily and is cooked through.
  4. Serve immediately over brown rice or orzo, garnished with the additional scallions and cilantro.
I opted to serve my fish over orzo finished with blood orange olive oil and steamed green beans.

Lemon Ricotta Cake and Moscato

Lodali Moscato d’Asti

Whenever someone mentions Moscato, I frown. I don’t even try to hide it anymore. Why? Because it’s been bastardized. What is actually a light, floral subtle wine has been served any and everywhere and with everything. Winemakers are adding tons of residual sugar, giving it a syrupy taste and really losing the beauty of the grape.

But, not all Moscato is bad. In fact, if you pick a good one and you pair it correctly, it can be a pleasant experience. It’s a dessert wine and works extremely well with summer desserts. Think berries and lemon. It doesn’t work with chocolate.

In my attempt to find a good Moscato, I came across Lodali’s 2019 Moscato d’Asti. I was specifically looking for something a little bubbly and this was it. Having never tried it before, I was just hoping for a good experience and that it would go well with the Lemon Ricotta Cake I was making.

It was PERFECT! This wine retails for less than $20 – somewhere in the range of $12-$16. It was effervescent without being too bubbly. Just enough to create some fizz in the glass. Lodali delivered on the florals typical of a Moscato, but also came with a slight citrus that cut through the sweetness. It played really well with the richness of the cake.

I almost never buy ricotta cheese, but I was making stuffed shells and had some cheese left. This recipe is so simple and doesn’t use a ton of special ingredients. It’s a great one to bring to any summer gathering.

Lemon Ricotta Cake

The ingredients, except for the topping

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (scoop and level to measure)

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 1/2 Tbsp lemon zest

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese

Topping

1 lb. fresh strawberries, diced or sliced

3 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided

1 cup heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter parchment.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream together sugar, butter and lemon zest until pale and fluffy.
  4. Mix in eggs one at a time (mixture will appear lumpy), blend in vanilla.
  5. Add in half of the flour mixture and mix just until combined, add ricotta and mix just until combined. 
  6. Add in last half of the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Gently fold batter to ensure ingredients are evenly incorporated. 
  7. Pour batter into prepared springform pan and spread into an even layer. Bake in preheated oven until cake is set (a toothpick can come out moist but no batter), about 45 – 50 minutes.
  8. Let cake cool 10 minutes then run a knife around edge to loosen any edges that may have stuck slightly, remove springform ring and continue to let cool.
  9. Once cool, slice and serve with macerated strawberries and whipped cream.

In Love With LVE

True love.

Every time you turn around, some celebrity is putting their name on a wine bottle. Everyone has a wine these days. So when I saw that John Legend had one too, I rolled my eyes, thinking he was just another one jumping aboard an obviously lucrative train.

It was at the aforementioned wine gathering that I was offered John Legend’s sparkling rose. I want to take a moment to tell you that I had full confidence in Legend and his rose. His wife, Chrissy, doesn’t seem the type to let him put out some shit. If it tasted bad, I imagine her telling him, “Babe, this tastes like backwash. Try again. This won’t do.” Behind every successful man is an amazing woman who calls him on his shit.

I have a thing for sparkling anything. Bubbles make me feel luxurious. This was no different. Right off the bat, I noticed that it wasn’t a light rose. It was a deeper peachy-pink compared to the other wines that were on the table. I took this as a good sign.

On the nose, it’s refreshing and sweet, maybe giving you notes of berries. You almost think the wine itself will be sweet. Thankfully, it’s not. It is bright, with a slight citrus note that makes this a winner for the summer heat. This sparkling rose is one that you can enjoy alone, but certainly has the heft to be paired with cheese and charcuterie.

I went back to the tasting table several times and I know I had to have finished at least half a bottle of this by myself. It’s that good! Even with all that I had, there was no headache. It was just a really smooth, delightful experience.

The best thing about this wine, besides the taste – it’s only $20. Affordable luxury. You have NO reason not to try it. The website doesn’t ship to every state, but check with your local Total Wine and see if they can get it for you.

The Wine That Gave Me the Blues

No, that’s not toilet water.

This past weekend, I went to a wine gathering of sorts. I won’t call it a festival, because it wasn’t that. That’s a story for cocktails when we can all get together again.

This shindig was supposed to highlight black-owned wines. I have personally been on a quest to try more, so I was genuinely excited for just about all of the wines.

One wine that stands out is a blue wine. Yes, you read that correctly, BLUE. Like smurfs. It was called Amour Geneve. I saw it and couldn’t imagine it tasting like anything other than a corner store quarter water. That . . . would have been an improvement on what it DID taste like.

It was supposed to taste like a white wine. You know – light, crisp, great on a hot day. Good with fish or chicken – all the things you come to expect of a white wine. So I took a sip. It was like a VERY bad white wine. At this point, I was convinced that my opinion was based on it looking like 2000 Flushes. I closed my eyes and tried again, this time imagining a wheat-colored wine. NOPE. Still bad. All bad. And now my tongue was a freaky shade of blue. A scarlet letter to let everyone know I had imbibed in the blue swill.

I know they say this blueness is naturally occurring, but it looked very unnatural. And the taste was overly bitter and had no complexity at all. I can’t think of anything I’d pair this with. Because typically if I don’t like a wine by itself, I think, “Well, if I pair it with . . . .” and then my mind starts conjuring recipes. There’s nothing that would save this wine. All in all, I’d say skip this one. If you just want something blue, get Boone’s Farm.

Winery Etiquette: How to Swirl & Sip With the Best of Them

The United States has really carved out its niche in the wine industry, with wineries popping up in North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Oregon, Washington, in addition to California’s long-established vineyards. For many people, wine is new and hasn’t been accessible beyond grabbing a bottle from the grocery store and hoping and praying it was good.


Going to wineries isn’t just for the rich and famous or the elite. Everyday people are flocking to local wineries. But if you are one that hasn’t been, check out these tips to ensure your first trip is lots of fun!


1. Do your homework. Check out the winery’s website for things like rules and hours. Do they allow children or dogs? Find out before you get there so you can make the most of your visit. Some wineries are very family-friendly, with grass for kids to run around and play in. Others are quiet spaces where they’d prefer you leave your kids and dogs at home.
2. Keep numbers reasonable. Thinking of grabbing a big group of friends to go to a winery? Perhaps you shouldn’t. If you have more than the amount of people that can fit at one picnic table, find another activity or split your group up. Also, some wineries actually require you to make a reservation if you have over six or eight people doing a tasting. It’s very hard for your wine educator to do a tasting for a very large group of people.
3. Listen and put down your phone. You may want to take a quick picture when you first approach the counter, but after that, really pay attention to the person pouring the wine. The educator is doing their job to educate you about wine. They can share a lot of wonderful, useful information with you. Ask them questions; have fun with them!
4. Tasting the vino. You’ll have about 1 -2 ounces to sip. Sip it slowly and don’t throw it all back at one time. If you like it, let the wine hit all parts of your mouth. If you happen to not enjoy the wine after first sip, swallow what’s in your mouth and pour the rest into the urn. DO NOT SPIT.
5. Tipping. If you learned a lot of great information and had a personable wine educator, tip them a few dollars. You’ll want to carry a few singles in cash for this purpose. You’re not obligated to tip, but it’s a nice touch.
6. Kinder Care. If a winery does allow you to bring your children, make sure to keep an eye on them. Now’s not the time to practice free-range parenting. And definitely never bring them up to the bar. And really never set your toddler up on the bar or counter. There is no wine – red or white – that will go with your child’s diapered butt. Be sure to bring coloring books or other child-friendly activities and snacks for them to enjoy.
7. Foodstuffs. Many wineries have items for sale like baguettes, crackers, cheese, and salami. Lots of places allow you to bring your own food. Be sure to find out if the winery allows outside food. If they do, this is a great time to pack a picnic basket full of goodies for your group to enjoy. I recommend chocolate, cheese, and bread.
8. Know your limits. After you’ve done the tasting and picked up a bottle or two to enjoy at the winery, be mindful of how much you’re consuming. Please don’t get drunk; don’t be THAT guy or gal. If you do feel a little light-headed, get yourself a baguette, drink some water and just chill out for a bit. There’s no shame in taking a breather.


A day trip to a winery can be lots of fun once you “get” the rules and culture. Whether you’re looking to do a girls’ trip or a day of family fun, a winery can provide you with relatively inexpensive entertainment. Also, you’ll be supporting a small business. A quick internet search should tell you where the wineries are. Dress comfortably and get ready for a day of relaxation and vino!

White Peach Sangria

Photo by Ian Baldwin on Unsplash

Nothing screams summer like a nice, white sangria. Since we’re almost there and the weather is heating up, I thought I’d share my very simple recipe. Also, there’s no better way to get completely tipsy when the weather’s hot.

I find that when I am having parties, it’s better to do a big batch drink. This peach sangria is my go-to. It’s a great combo of refreshing and relaxing. And, the fruit from it is a whole afterparty! Y’all know I don’t use real measurements, but this is really too easy; you won’t mess it up.

You’ll need:
-1 Jug of dry white wine (the cheap stuff)
-1 small bottle of peach brandy
-1 jar of peaches (jarred peaches taste better than canned)
-1/2 cup of sugar to start
-A few cinnamon sticks
-A few fresh mint sprigs

1. Soak your peaches in the brandy overnight and be sure to refrigerate your wine.
2. Add your peaches, brandy, and sugar to your pitcher or dispenser.
3. Stir it up and try to dissolve your sugar. You can add more if you would like.
4. Add in your wine and stir. Taste.
5. Muddle your mint and add it.
6. Add your cinnamon sticks.
7. Serve over ice!

*Remember those peaches you soaked? Warn your guests about them!





Party Up: Part 3 – Eats

Alright, so now that you’ve set the tone and it feels right, you need to feed your guests. There are a few ways you can do this.

1. Potluck. Full disclosure – as a host, I hate potlucks. You have no idea what you’re getting. I’d rather do it all myself. BUT, you can do a potluck if you’d like. If people ask what to bring, give them something simple, while you do the more complicated dishes. Also remember that not everyone will get there at the same time or even on time at all.

2. Catering. This is the more expensive option. If you know you won’t have the time or the inclination to cook, it’s perfectly ok to have it catered. Maybe your favorite restaurant has a few items that would travel well that would work for your party.

3. Cooking. I love to cook. Parties are a high-pressure situation that always add a few grey hairs to my head, but I’m always thrilled with my spread. You can be, too! Pick recipes that aren’t fussy. Ones that you can make ahead and just set out for your party. You don’t have to go crazy with your dishes. Decide just how much cooking you have the time to do well, and do only that.

4. Pre-made lite bites. The freezer section is full of wonderful little yummies that you don’t have to do anything for. You put them on a tray, bake them, and put them on a nice platter. Voila, that’s it! You can get things like mini quiches, brie en croute, crabcakes, etc. Trader Joe’s is really good for things like this.

So now, what do you serve? I recommend: 2 meats (one heavier, one lighter), a salad with 2 dressings, cheese and crackers, something sweet. That’s pretty easy. Here’s a sample menu of what I’d do for a party:

Meats – Shrimp Cocktail, Chicken Skewers with some sort of dip

Romaine with dates, sunflower seeds, goat cheese, and grape tomatoes. My dressings would be a homemade lemon vinaigrette and an Asian sesame dressing.

For cheese, I would go with Gouda, cheddar, and a mild cheese like Havarti. You can pre-slice and arrange them nicely. Crackers are pretty easy, as they have packs literally called “entertaining crackers”. Lay them out nicely with the cheese and you’re set.

If it was a birthday, then cake would be served. If not, mini cupcakes or brownies are always delicious. And you could put out fresh fruit if you wanted.

You can make this as high end or as plain Jane as you want, just don’t starve your guests!

Next, we’ll talk about drinks!

Wine Clubs: How to Pick One

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

Most wineries are considered small businesses. Personally, I like supporting small businesses and I want the ones I love to do well.

When it comes to wineries, one of the best ways to do that is through their wine clubs. Just about every winery has some sort of wine club. Most often, you sign up and the winery picks a few wines for you every month or every quarter and you can go get them or they mail them to you.

No lie, it took me and my husband 9 years to figure out which winery we wanted to have a membership to. We went to a lot of GREAT wineries! A good problem to have, I think. Hopefully, it won’t take you as long. Here are a few tips to help you to evaluate various wine clubs.

  1. Make sure you like at least 90% of their wine. Your wine club picks will come from their tasting menu along with a few that aren’t available to the public. If you only like one or two of a list of say 8 wines, that’s not enough for you to get a membership. Some wineries let you pick whites, reds, sweets, or a mix. The particular winery club we joined does a fantastic job with reds, which accounts for most of their tasting. Their whites are hit or miss. So we picked the “Reds Only” option and have been quite pleased.
  2. Quantity. How much wine can you drink? How often do they ship? If you aren’t drinking that much wine, make sure you have a good place to store it properly. I typically have about 6 or 7 bottles of wine on hand. Various kinds. If I am getting 3 or 4 bottles a month, I need to make sure I’m enjoying at least a few bottles every month.
  3. Pricing. While this is not super expensive, it’s a line item in your budget. It can be right around $100 a month. Are you willing to spend that every month? You benefit the most with a long, sustained membership. Some wineries let you skip months or hold the wine for a specific amount of time. Be sure to ask about that.
  4. Other perks. Besides the wine shipment itself, you get to enjoy other perks. Free tastings, exclusive member events, discounts on food and public events. Wineries are really getting creative with wooing members. They know that you can always take your business elsewhere, so they try to make membership very attractive by rolling out the red carpet.
  5. Ambiance of the winery. Do you want to hang out there? One of your perks might be a members-only area or discounts on food. If you like hanging out there, this can be a great place to entertain friends and family.

I recommend not deciding on a membership until you’re all-the-way sober. I worked at a winery and I can’t tell you how many people I sold wine club memberships to that were a little tipsy right after a 10-wine tasting (with generous pours!). You’ll want to evaluate the winery after you’ve gone home and had some time to think and sober up.

I know people that are members of several wineries. This is my goal. Hell, it took me 9 years to decide on ONE winery, give me time to pick other ones.

Money Matters

Money seems to be the last thing people want to talk about in polite society. You don’t want to offend anyone. It’s considered gauche to ask someone how much their possessions cost.

Can I get real here for a minute? It’s a HUGE pet peeve of mine when people talk about money. Now I don’t mean talking salaries and such with girlfriends or networking groups, because studies have shown that that’s helpful when salary negotiations come up. Also, that seems to be the appropriate setting. No. I’m talking about something TOTALLY different.

Look, whatever you spend on something is what you spend. I’m not in your pockets unless you’re asking for something out of mine. That being said, don’t worry about what I spend on things. I’m a bargain shopper. On my grave will likely be the words, “I have a coupon for that!” Because I rarely pay full price for anything. But even if I overpaid by a bajillion dollars for every single thing I own, it’s not anyone’s business.

I hope everyone is out there spending within their means. Sure, I would love a YSL bag. But the $3k+ price tag won’t cut it for me. I see plenty of my friends and associates with them. It’s not my business how they got them. They could have been gifts. They could have robbed a liquor store. They could have saved for it. Regardless, I like the bag and I’ll tell them that and say no more. Because how they obtained said bag has nothing to do with me.

What really blows my mind is how people will make flippant comments where you have to defend your spending. Story time. I was planning my son’s first birthday party. I knew it was going to be a big one. I knew I’d be going as “all out” as my funds would allow. Someone asked me about what I was doing, so I shared my plans. Their response was something to the effect of, “That’s so much! I would have just had some hamburgers and hotdogs at the house and invited a few people over to watch him smash a cake.” Ummmm, ok. There’s nothing wrong with that plan, but it wasn’t what I was doing and I shouldn’t have been put in a position where I had to defend what I was spending money on.

Money is one of those contentious topics one should be careful when speaking about. What I deem important, someone else may not. It’s just not my business what is a “must” line item in your budget where that same thing may be discretionary spending in mine. More and more, as people are prioritizing self-care, that may show up in very different ways. Spa, shopping, books, social events. Whatever it is, it’s theirs. Unless someone makes your budget part of theirs, do me a favor and “don’t care.”

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