posts may contain Amazon affiliate links, which earn me a small commission when you buy (but doesn't cost you anything extra). Occasionally I receive free products and/or run sponsored posts—this will always be stated clearly in the post. Thank you for supporting this blog.

This website contains some quotations, excerpts, and screen clips from copyrighted material. These uses fall well within the copyright doctrine of "Fair Use".
Monday, June 29, 2009

June Wine- Merlot

I can hardly believe that June has already passed by so quickly...why does every year go quicker the older I get!? Summer is in full swing and shows no signs of stopping. This month I've been tasting my way through Merlot, both at home and at the Bakespace Virtual Wine Tasting Club. This was actually my choice. I was tossing around a few different varietals in my head, but decided that re-visiting one of the original wines that starting me drinking wine would be a good idea. Pinot Grigio (last month's choice) was the white I started on...Merlot was the red. In all honesty, I've moved on from this great introductory red and haven't really revisited it that often before this month. And while I did not fall back in love with Merlot, I did find a couple of really good bottles that I will seek out when craving Merlot in the future. Since I was this month's wine steward, it was my responsibility to do a short introduction and (hopefully) encourage people to sample at least a little Merlot. I'm still not too wine savvy...despite giving it my best effort...but I tried my best. This is a short introduction I grabbed (mostly) from Wiki-info:

Merlot Grapes source: Wikipedia

About the grape: Merlot is a red wine grape (but it's black) that is used as a varietal, but also for blending. Since it is soft and fleshy and it ripens earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, it is one of the major players in Bordeaux produced wine. About the varietal/wine: Merlot became a very popular varietal back in the '90's (which ultimately led me to choosing it). It is sometimes called the fruitcake wine...I like to call it a "gateway" wine. Although it is one of the widest grown grapes, its major growing regions are: Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Chilean Central Valley and Australia. (and I know we grow over here in the Indiana/Michigan area, too!!) Tannins: medium Tasting notes range from red berries to plum, cedar, tobacco and fruitcake to chocolate and black cherry...which mostly depends on the growing climate. Pairing Merlot with food can be tricky because with such a range of tastes, you have a wide range of options! Cooler climate Merlot tend to go better with most food pairings because they are more acidic & versatile. It always helps to read the info on the bottle or check out a particular wine's website. I went ahead and included White Merlot in the Merlot category. It is made similar to White Zinfandel...the grapes are crushed and after a very brief period of contact with the skins, the wine is then run off and fermented.

So, my general Merlot observations were that yes, I found a lot of the fruitcake variety. I actually found most of them to be a little too sweet or too dull. The wines that had notes of chocolate & vanilla or with smokey undertones turned out to be my personal favorites...and the ones with a pronounced deep cherry or blueberry flavor were also some I enjoyed. Here is a little (and very amateur, I know, I know...I'm learning) review of the Merlots that I drank this month....

Barefoot -California


$5.49 on sale (reg. price $7.49)

Intro from Winemaker: a luscious wine with alluring flavors of boysenberry and chocolate. Hints of anise and subtle tannins compliment the decadent, silky finish.

Review: Nose-chocolate. Taste- smooth, chocolaty,, slight hint of berries (though I can't actually decipher the "boysen"). Slightly spicy with perhaps that hint of anise. Slightly smokey.

buy again: Yes, it was one of my favorites!

Beringer WHITE Merlot




Intro: This carefully crafted wine has enticing flavors of ripe red berries. It is soft, smooth, friendly and delicious.

review: Dark rose in color. Nose- berries on a warm, summer day...slightly spicy. Smooth, light & sweet- but not too sweet. Warm & happy with a hint of tobacco. I actually didn't mind it...and I usually don't care for "pink" wines.

buy again: I think so, yes

Black Swan



$5.99 on sale (reg. $7.99)

intro: Flavors of mixed berry and mellow cherry, with a velvet finish...

review: color- garnet. nose- warm berries. taste- spice & berries...bright, warm, dry. I liked it.

buy again: yes

Bohemian Highway




intro: a soft, supple red that finishes with a burst of ripe raspberry fruit flavors. It's the perfect choice for those who prefer a back road to the highway.

review: smooth, warm, slightly spicy...very mellow. Semi-dry with pleasantly sweet berry undertones. Nose- berries. color- ripe red raspberry. One of my top 3!

buy again: yes!

Burlwood Cellars



~$4-5.00 (forgot to remember...)

intro: Luscious flavors of blueberry & black cherry with subtle notes of vanilla and toasted oak.

review: nose- yup, subtle hints of oak and vanilla. Color- burgundy. taste- deep berry, slightly oaky with hints of spice and vanilla. As it has time to bloom, the vanilla becomes more apparent and makes for very smooth drinking. Dry & medium-bodied. Another of my top 3.

buy again: yes

Columbia Crest Grand Estates



$7.68 on sale (reg. $10.99)

intro: G.E. wines are created with an artisan wine making approach. During harvest, a third of the fruit from the vineyards for this Merlot is not crushed. The whole berries are added to the wine during fermentation to create a unique aromatic and flavorful style with a soft texture.

review: tastes very strong and coppery the first day. The second day it is mellow and smooth. Nose of black cherries...still a bit of a coppery or metallic undertone, but somehow it is not unpleasant. Slightly must with a bright berry flavor sneaking up from underneath. This was the priciest of the Merlots that I tried...but I think it was worth it.

buy again: Yes...a day before I want to drink it.

Frontera- Concha y Toro



$1.25 mini-bottle

intro: none about the wine itself, just the winemaker

review: color- ripe plum taste- of ripe fruit and tobacco..very dry and kind of boring.

buy again: probably not

Oak Leaf Vineyards


no year listed


No intro given

review: Kind of non-descript...a bit spicy & flat...fruitcake (!) Sad because this is my favorite label...but don't worry, they make different varietals...cuz I know you were worried...

Stone Cellars by Beringer


no year listed

$1.25 mini-bottle (regular size bottle $7.99)

intro: Our Merlot is full with vibrant fresh blueberry flavors with hints of plum and blackberry fruit leading to a luscious, smooth finish.

review: color-blueish purple. Tastes of berries...fruity and slightly sweet. Very drinkable as a stand alone wine.

buy again: yes

Sutter Home Family Vineyards



$1.25 mini-bottle ($7.49 regular size bottle)

No intro

review: color- ruby. Tastes like cherries with slightly smokey undertones. Spicy on the tongue. Good!

buy again: yes

Sutter Home Family Vineyard WHITE Merlot




No Intro.

review: color-rose. smell- sweet & floral. Tastes sweet, very sweet, cloyingly sweet. Slightly spicy & oaky...overly fruity and yick, yuck, gross! Really super sweet. Really. This is probably the first bottle of wine that I did NOT even finish...

buy again: nope



no year given

$3.49 on sale (reg. $3.99)

Intro: With flavors of black cherry and mixed berries, our experienced winemakers have crafted this Merlot to a smooth, full-flavored wine with a medium body and impressive finish.

review: Tastes a bit smokey with chocolate and berry undertones....somewhat sweet aftertaste. If you roll it around on your tongue, it actually tastes very sweet. Not the best, not the worst.

buy again: maybe





intro: Our Merlot has notes of plum, black cherry and toasty oak.

review: color- deep purple. Tastes strong, like very ripe plums and oak. Slightly smokey aftertaste. Mellowed a bit after sitting a day, still plum-y...but I actually preferred the more pronounced taste of the first day. Decent.

buy again: probably Come on over to BakeSpace Wine Club and join us in next month's wine tasting!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Kitchen Curds...Mozzarella!

I am definitely a cheese head...I've said it before and I'll say it again...from the rooftops! So imagine how excited I was when my pal Natashya told me about Kitchen Curds...a group based at the blog it's not you, it's brie! The current challenge was making homemade Mozzarella. I've made mozzarella before, but it's been quite a while, so I was excited to do it again!

You really only need a few basic ingredients for making your own Mozzarella...a wooden spoon, a large, wide slotted spoon, a thermometer, a large, heavy pot, liquid rennet & citric acid. Liquid rennet & citric acid are easy to find at cheese making shops & sites. I ordered mine from The Cheesemaker (he's awesome).
It also helps to start with really good quality milk! I was fortunate enough to find a local, organic, grass-fed dairy herd to become a shareholder in. It is a fabulous opportunity...raw milk straight from the heat killing all of those beneficial nutrients. I've bonded with the cows through milking and caring for them and of course the kiddos go crazy for visiting the farm where our cows live! We've seen 2 seasons of babies being born (adorable) and we've even fed the babies from nippled buckets. I cannot tell you how much we have benefited from every aspect of being shareholders in a dairy herd. You can read more about the benefits of raw milk here. Try searching Local Harvest to see if there are any in your area. That being said, if you do not have access to raw milk (as it is actually illegal to sell...not to drink- go figure!), you can use store-bought milk.

Our jars of raw milk...see the way the layer of cream rises to the top! We often transfer to larger jars once we get the milk home (to use less room in the refrigerator).
I will now step off of my soap box and show you the (surprisingly super-simple) mozzarella making process.
Microwave Mozzarella
makes ~1 lb., prep time 30 minutes
from The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley (w/ some of my thoughts thrown in)

1 gallon whole or low-fat milk
2 tsp. citric acid powder
1/4 tsp. liquid rennet
1/4 c. cool water (55-60 degrees F)
Pour the milk into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add the citric acid, stirring for 2 minutes. Bring the milk to 105 degrees F. (It doesn't matter whether you stir). Check the temperature with a thermometer. Remove the pot from heat.
In a small cup, dissolve the rennet in the water. Add this mixture to the milk and stir for 30 seconds. Cover the pot and let stand for 15 minutes.
Using a wide, shallow ladle, scoop the curds carefully into a microwave-safe bowl and pour off and press out the excess liquid.
Microwave on high for 1 minute. Pour off excess liquid, being careful because it will be very hot. Turn curd and microwave on high for 30 seconds longer. Remove cheese from microwave. Drain off excess whey. Repeat process, draining and pressing off excess whey... until no whey is left.

Using a wooden spoon (or your hands...super careful, it's hot), stir and stretch the cheese for about 10 minutes or until it's stringy and shiny. If the mozzarella cools too much, it will become hard to stretch. If this happens, reheat the cheese for 30 second intervals until it becomes pliable again.

Shape your mozzarella how you wish...a big ball or little balls (bocconcini-esque) like I did. The mozzarella can be served right away or refrigerated, covered in water, for up to three days. Change the water after a day or two.

It's kind of hard to believe that you can make homemade mozzarella in 30 minutes, isn't it!? But it worked...would I lie to you? Would the pictures lie to you? There is also a recipe for making it on stove top in the book, which takes about double the time, so still...not that long for homemade cheese. It is absolutely delicious...tune back in soon to find out what I'm going to do with the cheese (no teasers, because I'm not even sure yet). If I can keep myself from just popping them all into my mouth.
If you want to learn more...or practice more...cheese making with the Kitchen Curds group, you're just in time to join in the next will be announced soon!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

When feeling blue is oh-so-good!

I'm starting to see the first of the seasons blueberries popping up at markets and roadside stands. I've also started to notice myself making more drink/beverage recipes to share. Sangria has been the latest temptation...and of course, I finally gave in! One of my sisters and my niece & nephew came to visit last weekend and we made quick work of finishing off this pitcher...but it's simple and delicious and easy to make more. Blueberry Pomgria by girlichef yield: 1 pitcher red wine- 1 bottle (preferably one with blueberry a Merlot) Sprite (or other lemon-lime soda)- 1 can Blueberry PomWonderful- ~1 c. (tricky move w/ those samples...I'm hooked!) Blueberries- big handful Other assorted fruits, sliced thin (I used oranges, apples, lemons & limes) Place sliced fruits and blueberries in bottom of a pitcher. Pour all of beverages over fruit. Refrigerate. Add more fruit to your glass and pour in the chilled Blueberry Pomgria.
Warning: This beverage is extremely easy to consume. You may want to employ back-ups in case of empty pitcher! I am sending this recipe over to Reeni at Cinnamon, Spice & Everything nice for this weeks BSI assignment: Blueberries!
Friday, June 26, 2009

Candied Cherries inspired by The Little White Horse

Candied Cherries inspired by The Little White Horse
Right here, right now, I'm going to share a fun recipe from a charming little book...the latest Cook the Books selection...The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. This book is actually a children's book, and in all honesty...I found myself transported back to my childhood when I'd grab a book and not put it down until I was finished! I've always loved to be carried away into a world of fantasy. And this book did not disappoint. The characters were fun and spirited and unique (and I bet if I was still just a girl, I'd be instantly transformed into Maria Merryweather).

While I loved the symbolism (sun & moon Merryweathers, lions, black roosters, unicorns, dark and light), it was the food imagery that probably kept me coming back chapter after chapter in this one since I am a grown woman, thank you very much. Marmaduke Scarlet, the mysterious little cook (and housekeeper extraordinaire) prepares virtual feasts for every meal...from dainty to please every palate! My favorite quote from the book comes from Marmaduke, while planning a tea...a gathering of (possibly) epic proportions...
Thursday, June 25, 2009


Is it gazpacho...or is it salsa? Hmmmm...I almost couldn't tell.

This week's Barefoot Bloggers challenge, chosen by Meryl of My Bit of Earth, was Gazpacho. Ina says that she thinks her gazpacho "should be chunky and spicy, but not hot, and never pureed or it will taste like V-8 in a bowl." Well, as delicious as this recipe is, I think it tastes like mild a bowl. 

I did notice that Penny over at Lake Lure Cottage Kitchen added shrimp to hers...and I think that is an amazing addition. Grilled shrimp or chicken would go beautifully, but is just so salsa-ish that it's hard for me to eat like soup. I'm pretty sure that the mondo batch of gazpacho in my fridge will soon get one more pureed veggie added to it (some jalapenos) ...along with some cilantro and a dash of lime juice. Then I'm just gonna dip tortilla chips in and eat the rest this way.

slightly adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

2 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled 
3 red bell peppers, cored and seeded 
8 plum tomatoes 
1 red onion
6 garlic cloves, minced 
46 ounces (6 cups) tomato juice or V-8
1/2 c. white wine or champagne vinegar 
1/2 c. good olive oil 
1 Tbs. sea salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black or white pepper 

Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell pepper, tomatoes and red onions. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Do not over process! After each vegetable is processed, combine in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer the gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop. So, this gazpacho is tasty, but I think I actually prefer mine least with these ingredients in particular. If it was more cucumber based, I may not mind the chunks, as it would seem less like salsa (which I love, by the way). Be sure to head over to visit more Barefoot Bloggers and see their takes on Ina's Gazpacho!
Tuesday, June 23, 2009


BloggerAid-Changing the Face of Famine is a fabulous group of international food bloggers who are "determined to make a difference in aid of world famine." Although I believe that there is something each and every one of us can do to help those less fortunate than we are both close to home and abroad, BloggerAid-CFF is on a mission to make a positive change all over the world by raising both money and awareness! One of the really cool aspects of BloggerAid-CFF is called BBFF...or BloggerAid Best Friends Forever. Members are pairing up with another member from a different country and getting to know one another through emails, blogging and dialogue; this is just one step in fostering an understanding in culture and cuisine we're not necessarily familiar with. I am one who yearns to learn and to respect and participate in other cultures and inevitably other cuisines, so I jumped on the chance to meet a new BBFF! If you are interested in joining BloggerAid- Changing the Face of Famine, please click on one of the links and get involved. Immediately! Without further ado, let me introduce you to my BBFF, Val. You may know her from her blog more than burnt toast, set in the breathtaking Bellini Valli...British Columbia, Canada. Val is one of the founders of BloggerAid-CFF and has a passion that flies from her fingers when she writes about the need to do something tangible to raise funds for the world famine & poverty crisis. Val grew up idolizing the Galloping Gourmet, collecting recipes and dreaming of throwing dinner parties (fostering her future foodie). When she moved out on her own, she began to experiment with food and realized that the blah and bland food that she grew up eating was not the food she wanted to continue to eat! This girl discovered flavor...think Middle Eastern and Greek foods, which are her favorites. I wanted to make a dish that reflected one of Val's favorite foods today, so I decided on Falafel. I only recently tried it myself when a gal from Jerusalem (who I work with) brought some in for a guy who always asks her to bring them. My first try...and let me tell you...I loved them! I was hooked. I'd been wanting to actually make some myself and figured this was definitely the right time...I was waiting for this happy coincidence! I emailed an elementary school friend (Midwestern girl, met a man, converted to Judaism, married that man, moved to Israel, recently re-connected via the wonder-that-is-Facebook after 21 or so years, who has a blog-but doesn't update it very often) and asked if she had a good falafel recipe she could send me. She was more than willing to pass one on to me...along with a recipe for Matbucha (an awesome relish-like dish) that I served up with it...along with an Israeli Salad. So Val, this plate's for you! Falafel Plate by girlichef- slightly altered from an old friends recipe Falafel yield: ~4 dozen falafel 2 cups dried chickpeas (soak them overnight in water first) 5 cloves minced garlic small handful Parsley small handful Cilantro Juice of 1 1/2 Lemons 3 Tbs. tahini 1/2 tsp. turmeric 1 tsp. cumin 1 1/2 tsp. sea salt 2 eggs 4 slices bread (whizzed in food processor into fine crumbs) Drain any excess water from chickpeas. Place in the bowl of a food processor with all ingredients except eggs and bread crumbs. Grind well. Taste for seasoning and adjust to taste. Add eggs and bread crumbs and process again to combine. Mixture should be firm enough to hold together. Transfer to a bowl, cover and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour to make it easier to work with. Heat ~1 1/2" of vegetable oil in large skillet w/ sides. Using a 1 Tbs. measure, scoop mixture then form into balls using wet hands. You may leave them in balls or flatten them into disks. Fry until golden on each side, turning halfway through in batches. Transfer to paper towel lines plate to drain. In the meantime, make your: Matbucha (pron.- maht boo kha) 3 medium red bell peppers 1 medium onion 4 Roma tomatoes 1 jalapeno 4 cloves of garlic Olive Oil 2 Tbs. Paprika 1 tsp. Sea Salt Blend first 5 ingredients in food processor until well-chopped. Heat a skillet over medium-high and add a good coating of olive oil to the bottom. Pour in mixture and add paprika and salt. Let it cook down until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and it becomes relish-like. Set aside. Next make some Hummus. Then make a quick: Israeli Salad 1 cucumber, peeled & chopped 2 tomatoes, core, seed & chop 1/2 small onion, slice thin good handful of cilantro, chop juice of 1/2-1 lemon olive oil sea salt Toss together veggies & cilantro. Add a glug of olive oil and squeeze in lemon juice to taste. Season with salt. Toss again. Okay, toast up some pitas until warm and fragrant. Cut if you wish. Serve all together...pile your Matbucha onto your hummus. Eat all separately... Or pile together into the pita. Enjoy! It has really been a joy getting to know Val. We obviously have that common thread of being foodies and bloggers ...but we also both want to take a culinary tour of the world!!! Since this is tops on my "to do before I die list", I was very excited to learn that it is also one of Val's goals. Maybe one day we can meet up in some other country and take a leg of our culinary education tour together!
Monday, June 22, 2009

Sweet Potato Biscuits

I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing...warm sweet potato biscuits!!

Louise at Months of Edible Celebrations is having an online picnic; "guests" bring pick dishes to bring by the letters of the alphabet...and I got 'W'.

I was prepared to show you some delicious sweet potato biscuits...and since they are even better warm...I turned them into a 'W'! This is another test recipe I received through Cook's Country and another winner. I've often said that the smell of baking bread is one of my favorites...and I love to eat fresh baked breads and pastries and pies. The thing is, I'm not the greatest baker in the world. It's true, I'm a cook not a baker...but I do the best I can. I do fear yeast breads, which makes me sad because I adore them...but luckily there is no yeast in site in these little beauties!

(WARM) Sweet Potato Biscuits 
adapted slightly from Cook's Country
yield: 12-17 biscuits

2 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes
2 Tbs. cider vinegar
3 1/4 c. cake flour
1/3 c. packed dark brown sugar
5 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. allspice
8 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pcs.- chilled
4 Tbs. shortening, cut into 1/2" pcs.
2 Tbs. butter, melted

Prick the sweet potatoes and put into microwave until very soft, 15-20 minutes. Immediately slice in half. When cook, scoop flesh into bowl and mash until'll need 2 c. of mashed flesh (if you have it!). Stir in vinegar and refrigerate until cool.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line baking sheet w/ parchment paper. Pulse flour, sugar, baking powder & baking soda, salt, chilled butter and shortening in food processor to form coarse crumbs. Add to cooled potatoes and fold in.
Turn out onto floured surface and knead until smooth, 8-10 times. Pat into a 9" circle, ~1" thick. Using a 2 1/2" biscuit cutter (I accidentally used a 2" and thought it was perfect) dipped in flour, cut into circles and place on prepared sheet pan.
Brush tops with melted butter and bake until golden, ~18-22 minutes (17-18 was perfect in my oven).
Let cool 15 minutes and serve. But remember...we're serving these WARM...which are awesome slathered with butter and drizzled with honey!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gnocchi with Summer Veggies

Another one of those magazines that has me dog-earing almost every single recipe is "you know who's" Everyday Food. I love the PBS show by the same name...I always watch with pen and paper in hand. And the great thing about the recipes are that they are (or at least appear to be) very accessible...doable...for the everyday cook. Oh...Well...I suppose that is why it's called Everyday Food. Oh yeah. I'm quick. I've actually found myself doing that often. I'm sort of talking things out with myself as I'm writing and having revelations along the way. Welcome to my brain. Here's one more page to I can now unfold...

Gnocchi w/ Summer Veggies 
adapted from Everyday Food (June 2009)
serves: 4

Olive Oil- ~1 1/2 Tbs.
Zucchini- 2 small-ish (~1 lb)
Summer Squash- 2 small-ish (~1 lb)
Garlic- 2 cloves, minced
Grape Tomatoes- 1/2 pint, halved
Gnocchi- 1 lb.
Fresh Mixed Herbs- big handful I used basil, oregano, thyme & marjoram
Freshly grated Parmesan- ~1/2 c. + more for sprinkling
butter- 2 Tbs.
Sea Salt & Black Pepper- to taste
Lemon- 1 (~1/4 c.)

  Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, summer squash & garlic. Cook until just tender. Add tomatoes and stir until they just release their juices, ~2 minutes. Cook gnocchi according to package/recipe directions. Drain, reserving 1 c. cooking liquid. Add gnocchi to skillet and toss. Chop up your herbs. Add reserved cooking liquid. Remove from heat and stir in chopped herbs, butter and lemon juice. Stir in parmesan & season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with extra parmesan for sprinkling and a loaf of Pane Rustico for sopping up the juices.