A New Favorite: Bacovino Sangiovese + Recipe

Bacovino Winery: Creating Beautiful and Bountiful Wines that are Truthful Expressions of Washington Terroir

If you’ve been drinking wine long enough, and tried a good handful of varieties, you get it – we all have certain wines that are not at the top of our favorites list. I’ve mentioned a time or two that I could care less about Pinot Grigio (ugh, even saying it gets me annoyed, ha ha). Well, the red wine equivalent of that for me has tended to be Sangiovese. When doing a red wine tasting, no matter where, the Sangiovese is often my least favorite wine. Yes, sometimes they’re OK, but I’m not usually compelled to purchase a bottle like I would a tried-and-true Cab or Syrah.

But that all changed at Bacovino Winery. My typical aversion to Sangiovese toppled when I tried this particularly wowing wine.

Bacovino Winery opened its tasting room in November 2021 in Tukwila, Washington, which is literally the first city bordering Seattle to the south. Owner and Winemaker Randy Brooks is an ardent fan of Washington grapes (me, too!) and is committed to honoring the character of each grape variety through the highest quality winemaking. You can read more about his winemaking philosophy and practices here.

I have been in the tasting room several times now and every time I have gone in I am treated extremely well by friendly, knowledgeable people, and I enjoy some truly special and delicious wines. The wines are outstanding examples of Washington terroir. My personal favorites are their Viognier, Merlot, and – whoddathunkit – Sangiovese (I will post on these other favorites in the future!). In fact, their Sangiovese might be my favorite of their wines, and it is definitively one of the best Sangioveses I have ever had.

So how does one of my lesser favorite red varieties hop to the top of my “MUST DRINK” list?

This is not a typical Italian/Old World Sangiovese with sky high acidity, brisk/coarse tannins, and even a touch of bitterness. This is Washington/New World fruit that has been made into a very pleasing and drinkable wine. It’s got the lightest amount of sweetness, round and present fruit and spice notes, and balanced acidity, alcohol, and tannins that make it exceedingly food-friendly. As a native Washingtonian it probably comes as no surprise this is my preferred style.

Hooray, I finally found a Sangiovese I LOVE!

Here are my impressions and some details of the Bacovino 2018 Signature Sangiovese:

  • $32/bottle
  • Medium garnet color
  • Medium body
  • 15.05% ABV
  • Aromas/Flavors: Cherry, Currant, Fig, Tomato Leaf, Brown Sugar, Vanilla, Licorice
  • Moderate acidity: just right!
  • Tannins pleasantly robust and blend perfectly with the rest of the wine
  • Lovely finish

This wine is distinct and fabulous on its own, but I wanted to challenge myself so I decided to research a great food pairing for this wine, and I found one. Eating Well’s Cheesy Marinara Beans taste like something you’d order at your favorite Italian bistro but are quite easy and affordable to make (plus vegetarian and gluten-free, if you prefer such things) – all bonus virtues right now with inflation!

Here is the recipe. This dish went GREAT with the wine!

A great food and wine pairing tip to remember is that Sangiovese is an ideal mate for foods with tomato sauce.

Go do a tasting at Bacovino, get some of this Sangiovese, make this recipe, and you will be one very happy camper. Don’t be surprised if you discover some new favorites yourself! 🙂

Speaking of cheese, Bacovino offers a veritable plethora of community events and classes, from live music to paint nights to floral arranging workshops to CHEESE classes! Haven’t you always wondered how to make all the different types of cheese (while eating them, no less)? I personally have not taken a class yet but it is on my to-do list. 🙂 Definitely check out these wonderful classes for a fun activity.

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Charcuterie with my Cuties and Wine for Valentine’s Night

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope however you are celebrating today that you are feeling the love. ❀

If you are thinking “I’d like to make this day a little extra Valentine-y” but don’t want to go down the usual routes; if you need inspiration for a dinner that is delicious, interesting, fun, and relatively inexpensive (it’s utterly flexible), and is also something slightly fancy for the love holiday, look no further. It also does not require a reservation, parking, dressing up, and the like. It’s great for one person, for a couple, or for as large or small a group as you desire. So if that’s you this Valentine’s Day, I’ve got you covered.

One of the great things about wine is the special company it keeps with food. And the illustrious charcuterie board (a.k.a. Lunchables for Grown-Ups) has become the golden standard for enjoying with wine. In case you need enlightening, a charcuterie board is simply several types of prepared meats served with various cheeses, crackers, breads, nuts, olives, fruit, assorted condiments like mustard, jam, etc. all presented together on a large serving platter.

During the pandemic, when we were not eating out because restaurants were only offering to-go, I decided to throw together an epic smorgasbord with anything and everything charcuterie-related: several types of cheese and crackers, a couple salamis or other meats, sliced pears, berries, grapes, nuts, etc. I also bought several bottles of wine to pair specifically with the cheeses I had selected. We dined al fresco.

The kids LOVED it, because they got to eat cheese, crackers, and salami for dinner, and put what they wanted on their plates. I loved it for obvious reasons and also for the rare praises instead of moans and complaints from the picky eater cohort.

We did this a couple times and since it’s been a while, I decided it would be fun to do it again for Valentine’s night.

I slaved so hard in the kitchen… opening up packaged stuff and putting it on a platter, I’m exhausted… 😉

I’ve got a cheese collection from Costco (the Kirkland Signature Cheese Flight they sell around the winter holidays) which features the following cheeses: cow’s milk cheese from Belgium, aged cow’s milk cheddar from England, goat’s milk cheese with honey from Spain, sheep’s milk pecorino cheese with truffles from Italy, and cow’s milk cheese with tomatoes, onions, and spices from the USA.

When you make a charcuterie board, you can use whatever cheeses you like, but to keep it interesting, aim for:

– three to four (or more!) different cheeses
– a mix of soft, semi-soft, and hard cheeses
– a mix of different types of milk (e.g. sheep, cow, goat)

For wine, I went with a black pinot and a white pinot (literally Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc) from different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas – unique designated wine grape growing areas) in Washington and Oregon. According to Erin Doman, all Pinots (Noir, Gris, Blanc, Meunier, etc.) are mutations of the same variety.

We’re drinking Skagit Crest Vineyard & Winery Pinot Blanc from Washington (specifically the Puget Sound AVA) and River’s Edge Winery Barrel Select Pinot Noir from Oregon (specifically the Elkton AVA, one of Oregon’s newer AVAs). You can pair almost any wine with various cheeses (more on that later), but for this article’s sake I am just focusing on these two elegant beauties.

Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc grapes both make lighter bodied wines with moderately strong acidity (makes your mouth pucker) so they work especially well when paired with creamy cheeses. Some wines are great on their own and some are meant to be drunk with food. These wines are delightful each on their own and they shine bright with the cheeses.

The River’s Edge Pinot is bursting with juicy, plush aromas of dark cherry, blueberry, spices, and something woody. My favorite cheese match with the Pinot Noir is the Italian pecorino with truffles. The truffle notes in the cheese really complement the mushroom notes in the Pinot Noir. So earthy and complex, I love it! This is a great Pinot Noir for wine drinkers who like full flavors and good substance (like me, ha ha). 🙂

Skagit Crest’s Pinot Blanc is an exceptional companion to cheese! It is like smelling a springtime wedding: flowers hugged by some robust honeycomb, lime, grapefruit, and a little gravel. On the palate there is excellent acidity with no astringency or harshness, moderate alcohol and flavors of stone and citrus fruits. It’s very similar to Pinot Gris/Grigio (same grape, just French and Italian names), but I love this subtly different and refreshing change from typical Pinot Gris. For cheese partners, the Belgian cheese and the Spanish honey goat cheese were both great with this wine.

I am hoping to do more food and wine pairing recommendations in the future, but for now would highly encourage you to seek out these particular wines and enjoy them with some cheese. Bon appétit!

Daze of Wine and Roses: An Indulgent Pairing of Chocolate Truffles and Sparkling Wine for Valentine’s Day

It’s no secret I love February — it may still be winter, but at least for me it is a short month filled with a whopping three big holidays of ultimate feminine spoiling: my birthday, Valentine’s Day, and my wedding anniversary all happily fill this month of love. February is cozy, sweet, dreamy, and I love all 28 days of it! 🙂 In the same way Christmas lights and decorations help lift the gloom of dark December, so Valentine’s

Gettin’ ready for Valentine’s Day with premium chocolate

Day (in all its cheesiness) makes February more fun and gives us a great excuse to enjoy some chocolate and drink some wine! Although none of us here NEED an excuse for that. 😉

But the world of chocolate and wine pairing, though. Yikes. It’s like stepping into a flavor minefield if you don’t have good direction. A pairing can either send your taste buds into flavor ecstasy or quickly banish them to foul pairing hell. So what to do if you would actually like to try and achieve flavor bliss?

First, think of your food and drink like paints on a palette or musical notes — you are composing specific “works” based on the combined qualities of your ingredients. In a nutshell, food and wine can either create complementary pairings (where the weight, textures, and flavors complement or agree with each other) or contrasting pairings (where the weight, textures, and flavors have opposite characteristics and create  exciting dynamics through contrast). An example of a complementary food and wine pairing would be ribeye steak with Cabernet Sauvignon (heavy, rich, full-bodied). A contrasting example would be pad thai with Riesling (both light, but spicy against acidic and sweet). 

But for now, let’s just keep it simple with a delicious complementary pairing that will delight both wine noobs and experts alike.

You’re just too good to be true… can’t take my eyes off of you….

Let me introduce you to Banfi Rosa Regale, an Italian sparkling red wine from Piedmont, Italy. It is made from a red grape known as Brachetto. Yes, it is sweet and bubbly like soda pop, BUT it offers great structure, fine perlage (tiny bubbles equal higher quality in sparkling wines) and enough acidity to make it elegant and sophisticated and oh so enjoyable. The aromas of red berries, orange, and rose are hypnotic, and the sweet but slightly tart flavors of strawberry and raspberry that unfold on your palate with drive you crazy and keep you coming back for more. I first tried this wine at a business networking event when I worked at a chamber of commerce, and it was pretty much all I could think about that evening — how utterly amazing this wine is! I still feel that way, and that is why I think you should get thee to Total Wine (or wherever you can find it – wine.com has it, too) and stock up for Valentine’s Day!

(goes to pour herself another glass because it’s too… freaking…good…)

Heaven, I’m in heaven…

Now, that wine was amazing on its own, but wait, things are about to get even better when it meets its sweet match! This wine will get along VERY well with milk chocolate. I would personally applaud your choice of Seattle Chocolate Milk Chocolate Truffles (which is what I paired with) but you could also have great success with other brands of milk chocolate you enjoy. The creamy sweetness of each are tantalizingly divine together. I literally taste vanilla whipped cream. Wow! 

Speaking of chocolate, the aforementioned Seattle Chocolate Company has some of the best-tasting chocolate in the world (prove me wrong) and they have a great factory tour which is a fascinating education in all things chocolate. I even got to touch fresh, raw cacao fruit before the beans get roasted. Since I especially love exploring subtle flavors and aromas in wine, I really enjoyed blind tasting through several of their delicious chocolates and trying to guess the flavors and ingredients. Their store also carries a number of fun pairing ideas of their chocolates matched with various Washington wines. Do check them out if you’re in the greater Seattle area!

So there you have it: milk chocolate with Brachetto for the Valentine’s Day win!

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweet readers! ❀ 

Eat Your Sweetheart Out: Snickers Cheesecake

Eeeeeeeee! It’s the season of sugar! (You really can’t make weight loss resolutions until after Easter, seriously). Valentine’s Day is today, and I sure hope your pancreas is ready for what I’m about to dish up. 🙂

It started with the urge to make a decadent cheesecake for my mom’s birthday.

When I googled snickers cheesecake, I came up with results that showed cheesecakes with swamps of Snickers bar chunks on top. This seemed like a good idea (and it’s not bad, I’ve had it at the Cheesecake Factory before), but not quite what I was hoping for, as far as great flavor and texture are concerned. Instead, I decided to pay tribute to the spirit of a Snickers bar, with roasted, salted peanuts, hot fudge, caramel, and whipped cream on top. I think I’ve created a winner! Snickers Cheesecake

If you’re looking to make dessert this Valentine’s Day (or any celebration, for that matter), you’ll appreciate this cheesecake recipe. It’s not too hard (considering) and it tastes way better than shoving mutilated candy bars in your cheesecake batter. 🙂

Ditch the box of chocolates, Forrest Gump… you and your Valentine will die and go to candy heaven with this recipe.

Ode to Snickers Cheesecake
(Heavily adapted from a recipe for Irish cream cheesecake from Favorite Old-Fashioned Desserts by Pat Dailey)
By Brenna Arnesen

CRUST
1 – 9 oz. box Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
4 T unsalted butter, melted

FILLING
1 c. plus 2 T granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 lbs. (4 – 8 oz. packages) cream cheese, softened
1 T cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla extract

TOPPING
Hot fudge sauce
Caramel sauce (I used jarred for both, quick & easy)
Roasted salted peanuts, coarsely crushed
Whipped cream (from a can)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Crush the cookies into fine crumbs in a food processor or blender. Add the butter and mix well. Transfer crumbs to a 10-inch springform pan and press them into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Bake until the crumbs are set, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the filling, mix the sugar and eggs in a food processor or with an electric mixer for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cream cheese in batches and mix until thoroughly smooth. Add the cornstarch and vanilla and mix well.

Pour the filling into the crust. Bake until the cake is just set in the center, about 35 – 40 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and cool for 5 minutes, but leave the oven on.

Take your crushed peanuts, approximately 1 – 1.5 cups worth, and sprinkle on top of cheesecake. Return cheesecake to oven and bake for 6 minutes or so, until peanuts set and get slightly toasted. Cool to room temperature. Drizzle with room temp hot fudge sauce and caramel sauce to your liking. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours before serving, and then serve with whipped cream.

And snicker at how easy this dessert was to make! 🙂

Have a sweet Valentine’s Day! What are you eating and drinking tonight?

Love,
The Rambling Vine

What to Drink When You’re Expecting Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s challenging being a pregnant wine-lover. While very light drinking – especially after the first trimester – is probably not going to harm the baby, science still cannot tell us how little alcohol it takes to cause damage, and that’s just not something I’m willing to risk. My guilt wouldn’t let me anyway: I sneak thimble-sized sips of wine or beer from my husband every now and then, and I still panic a tiny bit. It’s just not worth it to me, although once I’m in my 8th or 9th month I may be so uncomfortable I’ll be willing to risk a glass of wine once a month. 🙂

However, there’s still “in the mean time.” It’s now June, and I am in my 21st week, or about  month 5. Still 4 more months of good behavior in store.

More than enjoying a glass of wine on its own, I have missed wine the most when I’ve had a very rich meaty or cheesy dinner and I don’t have those precious few sips of wine to wash it down and ease the digestion of fat. It makes a huge difference now in my ability to digest and enjoy a meal. Certain dishes like rich, buttery, cheesy pastas or marbled cuts of beef with velvety sauces are unbearable now without a glass of wine!

One night not too long ago, I went out to eat with my girl friend and in the spirit of yea-I’m-celebrating-with-my-out-of-town-friend-I-should-live-it-up I ordered macaroni with three cheeses and kielbasa sausage (makes me sick just to read that now!). What the heck, I thought. I never order this sort of thing, it will be a treat. The dish came, and it was wonderful and addicting, but then I began to fear the power of all that oily cheese and butter and the havoc it would soon wreak on my GI tract. There is a reason I never order this sort of thing without wine! What have I done, I thought to myself with the same disgust and self-loathing of someone who’d just signed up to run a marathon through Death Valley on a July noon. We were about to go see a movie after dinner… would I miss most of it because my body insisted I stare at bathroom wall art work instead?

But then I remembered what I could do! Although I didn’t have a tasty glass of wine with which to complement my mac and cheese, I recalled hearing about Italians from Modena, the region famed for prized aged balsamic vinegars. I had bought a fine bottle for my dad as a birthday present, and remember reading the tag on the bottle that listed how the people of Modena enjoyed their vinegar: over strawberries, over parmesan cheese, or – gasp! – even by the spoonful after a meal. Huh, that’s nifty, and makes sense, I had thought to myself. Vinegar is highly acidic and breaks down fat molecules, thus helping you digest. Taking a spoonful of rich balsamic vinegar after a meal is like a tonic or digestive aid, more medicinal in purpose, but if you select a sweet, dessert-y balsamic, it’s more pleasant than a harsh, cheap, low quality vinegar. The Latin and Greek roots of the word balsamic even mean “balsam-like” or “restorative” or “curative.”

With this snap revelation from Bacchus the Italian wine god, I asked our server if he could bring me some balsamic vinegar. After his first failed attempt of bringing me malt vinegar (the kind Brits put on their fish & chips – not something to slurp on its own!), he did manage to find some better balsamic and brought it to the table (someone got an education in vinegar that night). My friend had an empty condiment cup from her nacho toppings, so we emptied it and I filled it like a shot glass and slammed that baby down without too much puckering.

Praise the Lord, I had no issues! That shot of vinegar did the trick in helping me digest some mighty rich food. I think it probably worked better than a glass of wine because of how much concentrated acidity is in balsamic vinegar as opposed to a single glass of wine. Who knew, huh?

The restaurant balsamic was OK, but definitely not the finer, aged, gourmet kind you can savor on its own, with its dark, rich, syrupy smooth sweetness. Sometimes those bottles will run you $30, $40, $50 even, depending on how long it has been aged, and also the name brand.

If you want a fabulous, authenic, aged balsamico from Modena, with great texture and smooth, complex aromatics, have I got a sweet little secret! It’s even less than $20. You must think I’m crazy, right? Ha, check this out….

The sweet little secret is Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegar from Tsillan Cellars in Lake

Nectar of the gods, aged balsamic vinegar. Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

Nectar of the gods, aged balsamic vinegar. Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

Chelan, WA. You know it must be good if we’ve downed most of the bottle, right? We bought this 8.45 oz. bottle for only $12 when we were wine tasting at Tsillan (pronounced Shuh-lan) Cellars last summer. This balsamic vinegar is from Modena, Italy and “is aged up to 18 years in wood casks. Its sweet yet subtle character makes it the most famous vinegar in the culinary world.”

Tsillan Cellars is a gorgeous Tuscan-style villa overlooking the lake. I could totally die happy there. I’ll definitely blog about some of their other wines down the road. For now, trust me when I say that they make fantastic wines and an astonishingly awesome balsamic. I don’t see this vinegar for sale on their website, so you may just have to plan a trip out to Lake Chelan soon for some wine tasting. Darn! 🙂

This vinegar is scrumptious on its own (I’ve enjoyed a couple spoonfuls since being preggo) or mixed with a fine olive oil to drizzle onto roasted veggies or in which to dip big hunks of rustic rosemary bread. For a special treat, drizzle over strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and mint with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar. Or, for an even more ridiculously special treat, stuff some medjool dates with bleu cheese, wrap with bacon, and roast in the oven until cooked through, dark and crispy, then drizzle balsamic over the top. Freaking. Unbelievable.

There’s something mysterious yet appealing about balsamic vinegar’s whole “sweet and sour” routine. It’s complex and satisfying, which is apparently something preggos crave a lot, like pickles and ice cream. Don’t worry, I haven’t gotten to that stage yet, at least not eating them together. Balsamic vinegar is a whole new paradigm, like parenthood.

So, if you’re like me, an abstaining preggo who may get herself in trouble from time to time with rich dinners, make it your Mary Poppins mantra that “Just a spoonful of balsamic vinegar helps the indigestion subside… in the most delightful way!” 🙂

Decadent Toasts: Dessert for Breakfast

Goodbye boring breakfast toast, hello fancy indulgence! Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

And now, a movie scene, concerning the luxury of toast….

Kate: You know something? Nobody gives a rat’s ass that you have to push the toast down twice. You know why? Because everybody pushes their toast down twice!
Leopold: Not where I come from.
Kate: Oh, right. Where you come from, toast is the result of reflection and study!
Leopold: Ah yes, you mock me. But perhaps one day when you’ve awoken from a pleasant slumber to the scent of a warm brioche smothered in marmalade and fresh creamery butter, you’ll understand that life is not solely composed of tasks, but tastes.
Kate: [mesmerized] Say that again.
Kate and Leopold, Miramax Pictures, 2001.

Kate & Leopold may not have been my favorite Meg Ryan chick flick (trust me, it wasn’t!), but you do have to agree with Hugh Jackman’s sentiment here… that our lives should not be measured by how efficiently we completed tasks; rather, its quality and richness is derived from the slowing down and enjoyment of color, depth, texture, flavor. I like this thought, and this is why I purposely make cooking a hobby and priority in my life: it’s important. Until we slow down and show our food a little more reverance in its preparation and savoring, we will forsake our health, quality of life, and enjoyment of life.

It was this thought of warm, oozing, pleasurable toast that led me to trying a couple of fun different toast combinations. I actually don’t eat much sandwich bread anymore… when we buy bread we get the kind without preservatives, but since we can never finish a loaf that fast, it always starts spoiling and we can’t finish it. Probably best for a couple of daily desk-dwellers to not be so heavily reliant on bread, but we do have it a little bit. These toast recipes are for when you’ve got a fresh loaf on hand and want to enjoy some toast at breakfast or brunch. Could even work for an afternoon tea!

Whole Grain Toast with Strawberries and Nutella

9 grain and seed bread, toasted medium
Butter, or healthy spread
Nutella
Fresh, super ripe strawberries

The strawberries I used were so ripe they were heavily fragrant and practically jam. Decadent! Enjoy with a pot of French press coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Like eating a chocolate covered strawberry for breakfast!

Topping Option #2:

Whole Grain Toast with Blueberries and “Mascarlade”

9 grain and seed bread, toasted medium
Butter, or healthy spread
Mascarpone cheese
Orange Marmalade
Fresh Blueberries
Cinnamon

Marmalade is highly underrated. It is, however, very very sweet, and a little goes a long way, especially when you have sweeter blueberries, too. Mascarpone is a fancy Italian version of cream cheese.

A toast to noble, yummy toast, and it’s unlimited versatility! What are some other deliciously unusual ideas for toast?

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.

Butternut Squash Quesadillas

Ooey, gooey, melty, yummy, they’re calling your name! Photo by Brenna Arnesen.

It’s time, ladies and germs, for another respite from vino… off on a culinary excursion! Whet your appetites, it’s gonna be really good! 🙂

I love to cook, and I love the final, tasty fruits of my efforts even more. Apart from learning basics like spaghetti and scrambled eggs from my mom, I learned how to cook real meals using recipes. Rachael Ray and her pink cookbook
get huge props for helping me beef up my skills to master chef status, especially when I lived on my own before getting married. I still tend to prefer using recipes when making meals, but as I gain more confidence, and the realization that not all recipes make perfect sense, I bravely make my own modifications and start trusting my own burgeoning culinary instincts… which is super important for every cook.

I’m maturing as a cook because lately, more than in previous years, I am now making up my own recipes. This is a huge step for a girl who is a cookbook maven (they are piled by my couch all the time for leisurely perusing and inspiration) and who has stuck to recipes much like a religious dedication to algebraic equations. I didn’t veer far from cookbooks, partly because I wanted to train myself by learning to follow a recipe verbatim and educating myself on process and terminology. But now I’m taking creative risks in the kitchen, and this is helping not only my cooking, but my whole outlook on life. Every time I cook, even though I’m using the same ingredients, it’s a new experience and new result every time. That’s the art of cooking.

One of the best ways to let your creative juices flow and have fun in the kitchen is to invent your own recipe. Not out of thin air, mind you, out of the inspiration you’ve gleaned from any fantastic eateries you have frequented. It only makes sense to borrow from the best and riff on them in your home kitchen. Most restaurants have their menus posted on their websites in PDF format, so you can refer back to the ingredients, or you can jot them down/take a picture with your phone when you’re dining there.

One such recipe I vowed to recreate at home and did — successfully, and even upped the nutrient quotient! — is butternut squash quesadillas from The Matador. Just uttering the phrase “butternut squash” puts me in a very happy place, so much so that I will order whatever item that is on the menu that has been blessedly paired with the saintly squash. It’s one of my favorite foods, obviously.

And this has become a new favorite recipe — made in a cinch, loaded with fiber and nutrients, and heartily filling. I just added the black beans and kale. You can find precut butternut squash at Trader Joe’s and if you would rather save time than money, this is well worth it. Of course, it’s not hard to prep an actual squash, but again, this requires planning ahead.

Purchase the quantities you need… this recipe paints in broad brushstrokes.

Butternut Squash Quesadillas
Tortillas
Sweet Onions
Kale
Can of black beans (try to make your own if you can, or scope out low sodium beans)
Cooked butternut squash chunks, perhaps a 12 oz. bag from Trader Joe’s
Goat cheese
Shredded pepperjack cheese

Slice or dice the onions (your call) and caramelize in olive oil (high heat first, then lower heat to saute). Add pieces of kale and saute. Add the cooked squash chunks and the rinsed black beans and warm through with the other ingredients. Move your filling to a separate dish. Take two flour tortillas; on one spread some of the filling and then crumble over some goat cheese and pepperjack cheese to your taste. Top with the second tortilla to make a frickin’ rad quesadilla, plop in a medium warm skillet to melt the cheese and heat through the middle, then flip to finish off the cooking.

Buen provecho, mis amigos!

Chai This Out: Oatmeal Cookie Makeover

Give humdrum oatmeal cookies a hint of the exotic with pure milk chocolate and chai spices.

Give Your Oatmeal Cookies a Theo Chocolate Makeover

OK, yes, this blog is primarily about wine, but I am one who hates to be defined or labeled, so from time to time I might branch out (I am the rambling vine, after all) and go down a different path for fun. Gourmet cookie mavens, lean in, I’ve invented a diabolically delicious cookie!

While some may consider it a cardinal sin to corrupt as perfect a classic as the oatmeal raisin cookie, I appreciate a good, creative “remix”: it pays homage to the original in a way that enhances it, not completely changes it.

If you love Quaker oatmeal raisin cookies as much as I do, but prefer chocolate to raisins, and enjoy high quality fair trade organic chocolate and piquant spices, this cookie has your name written all over it. 🙂

Here is Quaker Oats’ immortal “Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookie” recipe, but with my substitution. Leave out the raisins and instead include small pieces of a broken up Chai Tea Milk Chocolate Bar.

In order to make this recipe, you must secure four Theo Chocolate Chai Tea bars (be sure to get at least one to eat straight).

The Rambling Vine’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chai Tea Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened (1 cup)
3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla (preferably the gourmet kind from Mexico)
1.5 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
3 c. Quaker oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 c. Theo Chocolate Chai Tea bars, cut into small pieces

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and chocolate; mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown. My cookies are usually larger than a literal tablespoonful, so 12-15 minutes might be more accurate.

Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered. Yields 4 dozen cookies.

How’d you like them?

Cooking with White Wine Debunked: The Whys and the Wherefores

When flipping through cookbooks, scouring Pinterest, or browsing cooking blogs as you plan out meals, how many of you deliberately avoid recipes that involve wine, simply because you have no idea what type or brand to buy? Don’t be ashamed, it’s not like this is something we are taught growing up or even attributable to natural intuition. I learned how to cook through instruction and practice (heck, I’m still learning, and I love it), and the same goes with learning which wines work well to cook with. Except I am going to cut out some of the trial & error for you by giving you a solid recommendation! You no longer have to be intimidated by cooking with white wine (I’ll touch on red soon)… aren’t you excited? Keep reading….

Cardinal rule of cooking: the wine you cook with should be something you would want to drink. Do not cut corners by buying icky, cheap, vinegar-like wines
 they will only ruin your dish. And also, I forbid you, NEVER buy the bottled cooking wines in the condiments section of the supermarket. Just don’t. Trust me, they’re abysmal. It would be better to just omit the wine entirely if you’re going to go that route. But you’re not, because you are a culinary god/goddess who wants to be an expert on cooking with wine! Read on!

When cooking with white wines, you’ll typically want to select dry whites, such as chardonnay, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. When you add white wine to a savory dish, the alcohol will cook off and the remaining flavors will complement and enhance your dish, imparting dimensions of rich taste that you wouldn’t get by leaving it out. The enzymes and other compounds in the alcohol are playing a role on the chemical level, too, breaking down the food as it is heated, but since I never had to take chemistry in high school (I opted for college-level anatomy & physiology instead, overachiever that I was), this is not my area of expertise. Since what you’re really after most of the time is just good flavor and the right acidic content, this wine has all the flavor you need at a price you’re willing to pay.

Columbia Crest Two Vines Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to bottle when I need a good, reliable dry white for cooking and accompanying the subsequent meal. Priced oh so reasonably at less than $10 a bottle, it’s the equivalent of keeping a good soy sauce or other quality condiment in your pantry. The flavors are good, but not so overpowering that they throw the balance off of your dish.

From the tasting notes: “This fresh, lively Sauvignon Blanc opens with aromas of lemon zest, honeydew melon, dried herbs and a hint of freshly cut grass which are typical notes of the variety. Juicy flavors of melon, gooseberry and kiwi end with a lengthy, bright citrus-like finish.” Now, doesn’t this sound like something you could sip on with dinner, or sample while you’re cooking?

I prefer cooking with Sauvignon Blancs or Pinot Grigios as opposed to Chardonnays, because with Chardonnays there are the more pronounced issues of “oak” (Chardonnay is fermented in steel or oak, and this will greatly affect the taste of the wine) and that can interfere with your recipe. You’ll have hardly any losses across the board with Sauvignon Blanc – chicken, fish, etc. all stand up well with this wine.

Just for fun, here is a recipe you can try that calls for a dry white wine such as this (shucks, whaddya know?). This is modified slightly from Rachael Ray’s 365: No Repeats, one of my favorite cookbooks that I used to teach myself “finer” cooking beyond basic things like spaghetti and scrambled eggs. Bon Appetit! 🙂

Sweet Sea Scallops in a Caper-Raisin Sauce
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh parsley (I use dried, it’s easier, though fresh will taste way better)
3 T capers, drained
3/4 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. golden raisins
16 sea scallops, drained and trimmed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 T unsalted butter

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add the shallots, cook for a minute or two, season with salt and pepper, then combine with the parsley and capers. Add the wine and golden raisins. Simmer until wine is reduced and the mixture is at the consistency of a thick, chunky sauce. Transfer the sauce to a bowl, reserve.

Wipe out the pan and return to the heat, raising to high. Season the scallops with salt and pepper, add a little olive oil to your skillet, add the scallops and sear them for two minutes on each side. Once cooked through, lower the heat a bit and add back the sauce to the pan, along with the lemon juice. Cook for a couple more minutes. Remove the scallops from the pan and arrange on a serving platter. Remove the pan from the stove, add the 2 T butter and melt it in the pan with the sauce, and then pour over the scallops.

Serve with crusty bread, a green salad, and a glass of Columbia Crest Two Vines Sauvignon Blanc!