Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Diving Into The Devil's Cellar For Halloween

Photo: Casillero del Diablo
Halloween is always a fun party and there are certainly a lot of clever wine labels suited for the season. But a fun label doesn't guarantee a good glass. So one of my go to wines this time of year, comes from Concha y Toro; Casillero del Diablo.

Translated, the label means "Devil's Cellar" and goes back to an old tale from Concha y Toro's founder, Don Melchor. He started a rumor that a devil lived in the cellar of his Chilean winery,  hoping it would keep the thieves out. The folklore lives on and today you'll find the devil on the bottle, just above the label.

I opened a Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay and Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon for pumpkin carving festivities this week. The cab is full of plums and cherries with a little toast; good with our grilled meats and nutty appetizers. It was also nice to drink on its own.

The chardonnay has some apple, citrus and a bit of vanilla so I thought it would compliment our caramel fondu; apples and pretzels for dipping. Not only was it a great pairing but the salty toasted pumpkin seeds, hot out of the oven, were also a good accompaniment.


The best part about these wines is the value. You can find an array of Casillero del Diablo in the $10-$15 range; perfect to keep for house wine not only this time of year, but all year long.

The winery is currently running a costume contest on twitter and Facebook for a DSLR camera, so post your photos for a chance to win.





Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let il Tesoro Tickle Your Tastebuds

Antipasti goodies
My recent trip to Italy made me realize I've been quite negligent in getting the word out, on some amazing stateside, Italian restaurants I've dined at lately, such as il Tesoro on Sanibel Island.

This is one of my favorite physical spots on the island, a location tucked away in tropical foliage. The building itself has housed a number of successful restaurants but many move on as they outgrow the small intimate space. The wooden floors, the low ceilings, very romantic and cozy.


But what about the food this small kitchen continues to crank out? The menu is full of pastas and fish, as well as hearty selections such as lamb shanks, braised short ribs, veal and more.

I started with a plate of delicious meats, cheeses, olives, artichokes and other antipasti delights, after being tempted by them from the counter, as soon as I walked in the door.

Next up was the Lobster Agrodolce ($17). The lobster tail is tempura fried, served with tomato and red onion salad and a sweet and sour sauce. What a treat. The Fuggotini ($15), or "stuffed purses" were full of goat cheese, roasted pear and sautéed with brown butter and fresh sage. There was nearly a fight over the last bite.

il Tesoro's Fuggotini
I also tried a perfectly cooked swordfish special over a rich and creamy risotto and the Lamb Shank Osso Buco; it is braised with a spicy tomato and roasted eggplant sauce, served over saffron risotto ($35). Filling and fabulous.

And by all means....save room for dessert; decadent cannoli's, tiramisu and other daily treats.


There are SO many things on the menu that look and sound SO good, I can't wait to go back and try more at this island treasure.

The owners have a second location in New York City that I would assume is just as fantastic as on this island. So my NYC friends, let me know when you go! Bravo il Tesoro. I'll see you again soon.


Il Tesoro on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 24, 2014

Best Travel Dress

Always looking for functional, fashionable items, I found a fun wrap dress at a charming boutique on Sanibel Island called B Unique Boutique. The dress, Wrap It by Tish, is featured in my column, "What's In Store," for the September/October issue of Bonita & Estero Magazine: on stands for a few more days or online here.

Designer Tish Grosek is a dynamic, inspirational woman, who created this piece so she could have something versatile to wear, from a beach cover up to a cocktail dress. Fabric and design were the keys to making this work, and after some trial and error, she nailed it. It wasn't long before friends and strangers asked where she bought it and viola, a business was born. Well, it wasn't quite that easy, as she would tell you.

The dress comes in short and long, I thought the long might give me more options and the basic black would be good for traveling and pairing accessories. I played with the dress at home to be sure it was as functional as Tish told me but couldn't wait to REALLY put it to the test, on the road.

My Wrap It was of the core items I packed for a six-week trek through Europe and I have to say, it's  one of the best travel dresses I've ever had. I tucked and wrapped and folded it into a variety of styles, including a shawl and a skirt.

Ah, the skirt. It was a rainy day and the way I wore the wrap found its fabric barely off of the ground. As I walked through Paris, stepping over and in puddles, I noticed that the rain was beading up on the front of my skirt and rolling off. NICE. And the bottom that inevitably got soaked, dried before I was finished with my first glass of rose at lunch.

In addition, it barely took up any room in my luggage and somehow stayed wrinkle free.

If you are looking for a wardrobe piece that is functional, fashionable and FUN, you've got to get one of these. Wrap It comes in two lengths and a variety of colors for both casual and elegant looks. This is a great gift for that 'hard to buy for' person on your shopping list this season.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We All Scream For Irish Cream

I was busy celebrating National Liqueur Day last week and forgot to hit "publish"on this post. Better late than never.....

Although today is not the kind of 'national' day that lets us sleep in, it does call us to celebrate. Today is National Liqueur Day! Yes, there really is such a thing.

And just in time for the holidays Kerrygold has introduced a new Irish Cream Liqueur to the Florida market. I have purchased many delicious Kerrygold cheeses and their lovely REAL butter, but an Irish Cream? Well why hasn't it happened sooner?

Sin City cocktail from Kerrygold

Made from natural cream, using milk from grass-fed cows, Kerrygold adds premium aged Irish whiskey and rich chocolate to make a decadent, delicious treat. It's smooth and creamy over a few cubes of ice, or for an extra special treat try mixing 1 oz of Kerrygold Irish Cream, 1 oz Cinnamon Vodka and .5 oz of Espresso Vodka. Shake with ice, strain into a martini glass and sprinkle with cinnamon.

But the recipe I REALLY want to try (if I can save enough Irish Cream) is the Caramel Irish Cream Cupcakes! Put these on your holiday baking list!

CUPCAKES:                                                  BUTTERCREAM:
1 box of fudge cake mix                                  1 cup shortening
3 large eggs                                                     1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 melted Kerrygold Butter                           8 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup milk                                                    8 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup Kerrygold Irish Cream                      1/3-1/2 cup Kerrygold Irish Cream
                                                                       1/4-1/3 cup heavy whipping cream


DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 F
Using a large mixing bowl, add cake mix, eggs, butter, Irish Cream, and milk and mix on low until combined. Then mix on high for 2 minutes. Pour batter into paper lined cupcake pans. Bake for 20 min. Cool completely. In large mixing bowl mix cream, shortening and vanilla for 2-4 minutes. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Combine Irish Cream with cream in measuring cup and slowly add to sugar mixture, using more cream for a creamy consistency, use less milk for a stiff consistency. Garnish with chocolate and caramel syrup.

Let me know they turn out and CHEERS to National Liqueur Day. Bravo Kerrygold.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Befriending The Box

I've always been a fan of rose' and have loved exploring the subtleties of this beautiful, dry, pink wine, in the Southern Rhone. It is so important here that there is an entire region/village/town that only produces rose', no other wine; Tavel. It is awesome and it tends to be a bit more pricier than its neighboring region/village/town called Lirac. In Lirac is where I discovered rose'..... in a BOX. So good!

Find wines bottled as well as boxed in many Rhone tasting rooms
The beleaguered boxed wine (in the US) is a man's best friend in France, at least for everyday consumption. Boxed wine is meant to drink, not age, in packaging with a vacuum seal technology that prevents air from contacting the juice once opened. Air is the enemy of an opened bottle. The box is also a bargain, providing twice as much wine for the money.

Special containers allow regulars to get their wine to go
Not only did this fun tasting room in Lirac sell wine by the bottle and box, but also BYOC: bring your own container. Reduce your carbon footprint, save a few Euros and have your house wine close at hand. The box of rose' we bought has for sure been close at hand, so convenient; like getting water out of the tap. Too convenient as a sip here and a splash there adds up quickly.

We found out just how quickly the random afternoon sips added up today, as suddenly we had to tilt our 5-liter box a bit to get a full glass. When the flow turned to drops things got serious. 'Someone' pulled the wine bag out of the box and began wringing the ends, almost like trying to get that last bit of toothpaste out of the tube.


By the photo, it is clear that we had more than enough Euro's on the table to go out and buy another box, or better yet, walk to the cooler and open a REAL bottle. But who wants to take the easy route? It was great sport to see how much we could milk from the vacuum sealed, vineyard utter.


The absurdity of our attempt and echoes of our laughter ended in sweet success, as each of us got enough crisp, cold wine to enjoy on the terrace with some local cheeses, fruits and sundried tomato tapenade; while contemplating the next bottle....or box. Cheers!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday In The French Countryside

My room with a view
While I love spending time in the country, I'm a city girl at heart. I love the energy of a city, the diversity of the people, the food, art, culture, yada yada yada.

Don't get me wrong, over the years I've relished my brief visits to the country, mostly wine country. But my visit to wine county in France this month (Rhone Valley) has given me a new love and appreciation for the country and the country. 

OK, I'll admit to spending time in the cities of Paris, Lyon and Avignon on this trip. And then there was a week in Croatia and several days in Italy to break things up a bit. But the countryside has been my working home base for a month. 

At home in the US, the illumination I see in the middle of the night comes from streetlights. Here, it comes from the stars: THOUSANDS OF THEM. Every night I wake up (for whatever reason) I fling open the windows, (if they aren't already open) lean my head out and just stare in amazement at the brilliant, twinkling canvass laid out before me. Yes, I can actually see the stars twinkling. Awestruck. 

The sun rising, spreading down the hill, not quite to the valley yet
My view is one of hills and valleys and rows of vines; my favorite kind, they grow grapes. Instead of hearing motorcycles, sirens and neighbors coming home late, I hear the mistral winds; howling at times. I've heard the hooves, heaving breathing and grunts of the wild boar searching the rocky slopes of the backyard for grubs and other treats. 

Then as the sun rises, I hear the howls and barks of the dogs, hunting those boars. They must not be doing such a great job as I have yet to hear a gunshot. Whew.


In the country, although no one is in a rush on a Sunday morning, it helps to get to the bakery early to be sure there are still croissants, so buttery and airy they literally melt in your mouth. I have been ruined for life by these incredible delicacies found in the small village of St Remeze. Heavenly.

It's true that most of the markets and many of the grocery stores are closed here on Sunday, so it takes a little planning and pre-shopping to be prepped for the day. But instead of being annoying (as I would be back home), I find it refreshing, as now we can truly have a day of rest and relaxation. We have all that we need.

We have all that we need.

Thank you God.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Flowers and Fruit

I've been drinking lots of French wine lately, not only honing my palate for an upcoming trip but also because I LIKE IT!

I also like finding great values, which is not always easy when it comes to wines from Bordeaux. Mouton Cadet is one of the regions most successful, affordable brands, offering some wines that are perfect for waiting out the summer heat.

While I like a good rose' anytime of the year, put a nice chill on the 2013 and have it with grilled seafood, stir fry or as a sipper while hanging out with friends. This one is made up of mostly merlot, with a little cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. I liked it better after it opened up a little as the raspberry notes became more clear. Nice and dry, this wine also looks beautiful in the glass.

Known mostly for its amazing red wines, Bordeaux is also the birthplace of sauvignon blanc. Mouton Cadet's The is a fresh delight with just the right touch of citrus. I noticed lots of peach and a hint of juicy nectarine. Another good choice to pair with fish or chicken off of the grill, or a fresh salad with some salty, creamy cheese.

Find both wines in the $10 range. Now that makes for another happy Wine Wednesday!

Monday, August 18, 2014

An Angry Orchard Makes For A Happy Party

Angry Orchard released a green apple hard cider this spring, and this wine lover has somehow ended up with a refrigerator full of it!

One of my favorite hard candies are the jolly ranchers; I love the bold flavors and this cider took me there. The green apple is crisp and refreshing but it also has just a hint of melon in the glass.

We did a little experimenting at my house when an afternoon cookout was chased indoors by both heat and rain. Not only did we drink the cider, but cooked with it. After sautéing some onions and adding Angry Orchard to the pan, sweet sausage was placed into the sizzling mix. Not only did it smell great but also added a nice touch of flavor to the meat.

The experimenting continued when the Fireball (cinnamon whiskey) was opened and added to the green apple cider. Another mix that worked was ginger ale and cider; effervescent and refreshing.

I will tell you, it is not fun to get off of a kitchen floor so try to keep it in your glass or in your mouth if at all possible. Angry Orchard Green Apple Cider is a great summer treat.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Betting Big On The "Bucket"

The popular Mercato Shops in Naples is full of trendy places to hangout; places that while offering good food and a cool scene aren't necessarily inviting for families or for diners in a more casual mood.

That all changed in May, when the Rusty Bucket opened its doors. A family friendly tavern, the new restaurant serves well prepared comfort food with fresh and local ingredients. The craft beer selection is quite impressive, the wine list is quite adequate and the cocktails are made with fresh squeezed juices. The dining geek in me loved the fact that the menu offers drink pairing suggestions, for appetizers as well as main courses.

Fresh and delicious grapefruit margarita
We enjoyed a hearty selection of appetizers including a tangy hummus platter and mouthwatering pork potstickers with sweet chili and ponzu sauce. But it was the fried pickles that had the entire table talking. These were not wimpy little pickle chips, but a healthy sized spear. Dipped in batter you would expect for fish and chips, the fried treats were perfectly crisp; good on their own but even better with the side of ranch dressing for dipping.

Palate pleasing pork potstickers

The main courses range from giant sandwiches and ribs, to burgers and fish. The grilled salmon with a soy glaze, stir fried green beans and sticky rice was so simple, yet simply delicious. The meaty and moist fish was seared with a pleasant crisp, and fantastic flavor.

Perfectly pan-seared salmon
This menu has a little bit of something for every diner, to please both diets and cravings. The Rusty Bucket has a kids reading program and the Blue Plate specials make eating here affordable for the family. In addition, it's a great spot to catch a game on the manyTV screens throughout the dining room and bar.

Rusty Bucket's signature 'Big Sicilian' pizza
Next time you are shopping at or passing by Mercato and want a good meal along with good service, kick it at the bucket, the Rusty Bucket.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fresh and Fabulous; Wine Wednesday

The hot summer months always have me looking for a crisp and affordable white wine to keep chilled and ready to go. Having been a fan of Spanish wines over the years, I recently read where verdejo, the signature grape of the Rueda Region, was being billed as a better version of sauvignon blanc. Also a sauv blanc fan, I figured it was time to revisit this grape and I'm so glad I did.

Some forty producers currently export verdejo to the US, I chose Verdeo Verdejo from the acclaimed Torres family. It is just as fresh on the inside as the label would suggest on the outside.

This wine had a nice balance of minerality, acidity and citrus. Something that often turns people off from many sauvignon blancs is heavy citrus, sometimes I feel like I'm sucking on a grapefruit peel. So perhaps the aforementioned comparison is good strategy to win over the disheartened sauv blanc drinkers.

A refreshing sipper, this wine also had a nice touch of the tropics, as in fruit. Good with grilled shrimp and a fresh salad, it's one of the best bargains of the summer for me, in the $10 range.

You'll want more than one bottle so do yourself a favor and just buy a case.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Affordable French

Know what I love about French wine? Everything! I've been pleasing my palate with lots of it lately, getting ready for an upcoming 'European vacation.'

But just because the word France is on the label does not guarantee goodness, and definitely not value. So I was happy to try the latest bottlings from famed French winemaker Michel Chapoutier as they have both.

These wines come from vines that are on the border with Spain, grown on harsh terrain with hot summers and cool winters. The stress on the vines produces some great flavors.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rose' d'Oc is a beautiful salmon color and it smells both floral and mineral. After my mother's first sip she said, "Wow, peppery." (She wanted to be quoted in my blog.) I too got some spice and lots of minerals with a bit of citrus on the finish. A lovely, affordable rose'.

I tried the Blanc Cotes du Roussillon with an Italian bean soup, some grilled vegetables and some citrus shrimp; it worked well with all. The interesting blend of grenache blanc, grenache gris, vermentino and macabeo produces a wine that has a bit of grapefruit and melon; a crisp wine perfect for Florida.

The Rouge Cotes du Roussillion Villages is a tasty red blend of syrah, grenache and carignan.  A good food wine, this is bold; full of menthol and blueberry, blackberry and juicy plums.

All three of these French wines come in around $13 a bottle. Now that's a bargain. Thank you Michel Chapoutier.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Chilln' With Torrontes

I developed an affection for torrontes many years ago, the signature white wine of Argentina. I'm not sure if it was the crisp, cold wine itself or the way the word rolled off the bartenders tongue that did it for  me.

So when I went to Argentina, I was just excited to drink the torrontes as I was to consume mass amounts of malbec. Raving about the grape to my travel partner, we stopped in a swanky waterside cafe in Buenos Aires for a refresher.

My excitement turned to disappointment as the wine in my glass was more viscous and heavy than what I'd had in the past. Is this the REAL torrontes? Had I been drinking imports that appeal to the American palate?

Neither, it was just from a different region of Mendoza. Torrontes, the kind I like, is best when originating from the warmer growing areas.

It's hot in my hood this week, perfect timing for a cold glass of Trivento Torrontes Reserve! It smells a bit floral but its flavors are full of citrus and crisp tropical fruits. What a great summer sipper that also goes well with a spicy Thai soup. Even better is the price; under $15.

THIS is the torrontes I want, the only thing missing is the cute waiter to say the name with a robust accent, while looking deeply into my eyes . Happy Wine Wednesday!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wine Wednesday and World Cup

On this World Cup Wine Wednesday when Argentina beat the Netherlands in a thrilling shootout, I was pulling for Argentina because I love the wine, the food and the people of that country. That is not to say I didn't have fun with the people, food and ummmm "coffee" in the Netherlands but I had to pick a side.

Plus every time Argentina played during the tournament, I turned it into an excuse to drink some Malbec (as if I needed one) and I really wanted a glass today. However, finding my Argentinian stash unavailable, I turned to a neighboring South American country for some help, Chile!

On a hot summer day, the Casas del Bosque Reserve Sauvignon Blanc was just the ticket, especially if you like a citrus bomb. It explodes with grapefruit, with lots of acidity, minerality and a touch of spice. Put a good chill on this affordable white, in the $15 range, and enjoy.

The Grand Reserva Cabernet was an even better treat (in the $20 range) with a beautiful ruby color. Just as lovely as the color were the fruity flavors of black cherry and raspberry, with a rich coffee finish. The slightly minty nose was also a fun touch. In Southwest Florida, find this one at Decanted wine store and Sunshine Cafe.

Pizza Fusion has Casas del Bosque Reserve Pinot Noir; I'll be trying that one next!

CHEERS!



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Savoring Salvestrin

This Wine Wednesday I'm raising a glass to my friends who are California cab snobs.....you know who you are.

But have you tried the Salvestrin Three D Cabernet Sauvignon? Start looking for it now because this is a highly rated, small production wine. Thankfully the winery has some other goodies in their portfolio.

Highly rated, low production, high price ($125)....does it live up to the hype? Um.....yeeeeessss! It has that classic cherry taste but with other dark fruits including blackberry. Add a bit of vanilla, spice and a smooth yet full bodied finish and this wine has all that you would hope for. It's like velvet right now so I can only imagine what it will be like with a few more years in the bottle.

Happy Wine Wednesday, CHEERS!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Competition In The Kitchen

What happens when you get about a dozen Hyatt chefs from Florida and the Caribbean in the same kitchen? One heck of a culinary competition for the Good Taste event, a new addition to the hotel chain's lineup.

With the theme of 'thoughtfully sourced, carefully served,' hotel chefs from across the nation have been gathering in regional battles for a shot at competing nationally this fall at the Andaz Wailea Maui.

I attended the qualifying contest for Florida and the Caribbean, at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and it was torture. Torture because I was not a food judge, just an observer who had to wait THREE HOURS to try any food. Torture because each dish looked better than the last, with ingredients that made me salivate and quiver.

Each chef made three dishes; a breakfast item, a lunch or dinner entree and a kid's meal. The rounds were timed perfectly and the tension in the kitchen was thick.

As the chef's explained the local ingredients they used and other highlights, the judges dug in. And in the end, Noel Willhite, Sous Chef at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Estero was the victor. Congratulations to all the chefs and their outstanding creations.


ginab2u's Good Taste Tampa album on Photobucket