Orzo-Mint Salad with Prosciutto, Figs, Pecans, and Goat Cheese

Fig: the name doesn’t quite befit this beautiful fruit, does it? Use black California Mission figs in a refreshing summer salad. ©iStockphoto.com/Ivan Mateev

Figs! When fig season is upon us, I freak out and buy as many as possible (short of troubling my digestive system), because we don’t really know how long it will last and how long they will be in the store (kind of like life, so seize the day and enjoy!).

Figs are so good for you! Did you know that figs are a great source of fiber and are highly alkaline? Alkaline means they reduce the acidity in your body, making it a hostile environment for cancer.

Here are some fun fig facts, for my fellow figophiles.

This pasta salad is yummy-licious! A friend of mine told me she made an orzo pasta with pecans, figs and mint a few years ago. I loved her idea but I upped the ante by rounding it out with some ham and cheese.

This pasta would be great with a white wine, maybe a Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, or Pinot Grigio. See? There’s my wine reference!

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market are the grocery stores I know of that carry the fresh California Black Mission figs regularly.

In fact, during the summer, you should be able to buy this meal completely at Trader Joe’s.

You will need:
Extra virgin olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar (I used lavender)
Salt and pepper
One 16 oz. package Orzo pasta (a full package is a lot, use half if you like)
One box fresh black California Mission figs, sliced into bite sizes (dry is not acceptable)
One package prosciutto, chopped (optional)
One 5 oz. log goat cheese, crumbled
One package unsalted dry roasted pecan pieces
Fresh mint leaves (to taste)

Prepare the orzo according to package instructions. Drain, run some cold water over the pasta to cool it off. Once the pot is cooled off, put the cooled pasta back in the pot and drizzle and toss with oil & vinegar. Add the figs, goat cheese, pecans, prosciutto (if any) and mint leaves. Mix well. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

If orzo pasta ain’t yo thang, substitute with cooked rice, couscous, or quinoa.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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What to Drink When You’re “Hot to Trot”

Reader, meet the smoothest red wine you’ll ever drink! Photo courtesy 14 Hands Vineyards. http://www.14hands.com

In honor of everyone who is engaged to be married right now, especially my sister. Congratulations Jocelyn and Conor on your romantic Irish engagement!

Being newly engaged can be hazardous to your health… at least it was for me. When the love of my life popped the question and subsequently put a gorgeous carat on my finger, I was inordinately obsessed with MY sparkly object. I would roll my car window down every time I drove, rest my arm out the window and gaze all gooey-like at the diamond, the summation of my happiness. I can’t tell you how many auto accidents I narrowly avoided in those early weeks. I’m still obsessed with my rock, but eventually I mellowed.

But isn’t it wonderful when you’re wallowing in the throes of “just engaged” bliss? When you’re “hot to trot” with the one you love, you’re caught up in a love whirlwind that thrusts you toward the altar with smoldering passion and whiffs of eternal commitment. It’s a red torrent of unflinching romance! With your eye on the prize, nothing can stop you. “Going to the Chapel” is on constant loop in your subconscience. Yes, you fit all the criteria; you’re hot to trot! Here is a celebratory red blend wine that epitomizes the recently engaged state.

I insist you try 14 Hands Hot to Trot Red Blend. For around $10, it will shock you. Everyone to whom I have introduced this wine has raved about it! The 14 Hands label, like Red Diamond, has quickly become a hot Washington wine buy, and for good reason. Smooth, fruity, yet poised and so drinkable. From the tasting notes: “This approachable and easy drinking red wine offers generous aromas of berries, cherries and currants. A plush framework of soft tannins supports the red and dark fruit flavors that leisurely give way to subtle notes of baking spice and mocha on the finish.” It’s a blend predominantly of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, with hints of Mourvedre and other select red varieties.

This wine goes down your gullet very easily… yeah, just be careful and don’t overdo it! Perfect to share with friends, and toast the future happiness of loved ones!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Say Oui (Wee!) to Pinot Gris

Gorgeous Pinot Gris grapes. Photo by Andrew Fogg.

Chateau Faire Le Pont Milbrandt Vineyards Pinot Gris 2009

I should just come out and say it: Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio is perhaps my least favorite wine. It’s like a limp handshake; it’s perplexing and doesn’t really do anything for you. Boring, disappointing, and uninspiring are all words that come to mind when I think of pinot gris. Why, you ask? Well, we’re all entitled to our preferences, and while I’ve gone into tastings with an open mind I still
don’t quite get pinot gris. It’s so light you can sometimes barely taste the flavors, or else it tastes like grass clippings, and not the pleasant variety. This is why I would tend to opt for just about any other white.

First of all, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio… the only difference is in the name. Pinot Gris is the French term and Pinot Grigio the Italian. It is a white grape that is a mutation of the red Pinot Noir grape. Don’t worry, they are not trying to confuse you on purpose.

So, as a Pinot Gris agnostic, imagine my surprise when I try a Pinot Gris I actually like! Sacre bleu, such a thing really exists?

It does!

Chateau Faire Le Pont, one of my favorite Wenatchee wineries, makes a knockout Pinot Gris. It has a body and focus with depth and persuasion — more like a French kiss than a limp handshake! Oooh la la, now we’re talkin’!

From the tasting notes: “Floral with just a hint of sweetness, our 2009 Pinot Gris exhibits intense peach, melon, apple, honey and almond flavors that sail on and on throughout the long, lingering finish.” Doesn’t this just transport you to the French Riviera? Note the rich fruit flavors, hint of sweetness, and mouth feel; these qualities give the wine more depth, dimension, and deliciousness than a typical pinot gris. Pinot Gris’ ancestral turf is the Alsace region of France, where the grape has been cultivated to exhibit more fruity and floral flavors than the dryer, more minerally Italian Pinot Grigio grapes. No reminders of cow cud with this wine!

Now if only I could drink this while actually lounging aboard a sailboat on the
Mediterranean, I think Pinot Gris could become my favorite wine ever! In the mean time, I can sip it on my deck in the sunshine, close my eyes, and drift away.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Oregon Strikes Back with A Creme De La Creme of Pinot Noirs

The battle rages on! Who will win, they’re both so good? Photo courtesy of http://www.nwsportsbeat.com

Hello, friends! I’ve been vacationing, drinking wine, cooking delicious things, soaking up summer sun and neglecting the blog… you might call it conducting research. Summer is a grand season for recreating and relaxing, and my view is the more we can peel ourselves away from technology when it’s lovely out (smart phones included!) the better off we’ll be. But I can’t keep you all chomping at the bit, can I? The last wine I wrote about we were in the midst of a fierce interstate rivalry, so now let’s pick back up where we left off. Commence Part Deux of the Battle of Pinot Noirs: Oregon vs. Washington! Draw your wineglasses!

What is the point of living life without a few extravagant indulgences? A life of perfect discipline and piety might be beneficial, but is it natural to maintain or joyful to live out? If you sense the spirit moving, it’s time to take a road trip to the Willamette Valley and purchase a decadent wine. While you’re there, don’t miss De Ponte Cellars. It’s one of the better wineries I’ve tried so far.

De Ponte Cellars Estate 2008 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills shows Washington why Oregon dominates the realm of superb Pinot Noir. It’s on the spendier side, but once you taste it, you’ll understand why.

This is easily the BEST Pinot I have had to date that hits all my requirements for a good Pinot; medium to full body for most expression, deep color in glass, aromas of fruit and smoke/ash (thanks to the volcanic Jory dust of the Dundee Hills AVA) and overall balance (everything works together in harmony in your mouth). Trust me, it is very well worth the price.

Pinot Noir is now my husband’s favorite wine. Pinot Noir is one of the more intriguing grapes out there; very finicky, mysterious, hard to control, but super expressive and
fascinating once you hit a good one that pleases your palate. As I’ve mentioned
before, this is also a factor in Pinot’s generally higher prices and tasting fees (or maybe Oregon is just resting on its laurels a little too much? Hmm, another thought for another day.).

And now, the tasting notes from the back of the bottle: “Nurtured by our rich Jory soil and our cool Oregon climate, our wines are handcrafted with uncompromising quality. Our goal is to produce memorable Old-World style Pinot Noir. It is our mission, our focus and our passion. This is a special limited bottling to showcase De Ponte’s unique terroir in the Dundee Hills. From some of our most prized blocks of the De Ponte Vineyard, this wine is a softer and more delicate expression of our traditional style. Floral with subtle aromas of raspberry, dark cherry and notes of vanilla. The ‘08 Estate has harmonious and silky texture while the tannins are soft and perfectly integrated giving this wine an elegant and graceful frame. The finish is long and fresh, full of red fruit and spices. Very approachable now though will develop much more complexity during bottle aging. It is the perfect example of the delicate nuances of the Dundee Hills.”

So, what is my conclusion, you ask? Which is better, Oregon or Washington Pinot Noir? Oregon’s climates tend to favor Pinot Noir, and thus they produce a lot of it and very well. Washington, while not sharing exactly the same climate as Oregon, may not be able to produce the same STYLES of Pinot Noir, but that doesn’t mean they don’t produce some very good ones that are distinct in their differences from their Oregonian counterparts. My conclusion is to treat each bottle of wine, be it from Washington or Oregon, with an open mind and an open mouth!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.