Tag Archives: wine

Stumbling Blocks in Baking

“The only stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘What the hell’ attitude.”
— Julia Child

Not everything  I make turns out as I intend.  Usually, my kitchen failures involve baking.  Just ask my sister.

Last winter, between Halloween and the week before Christmas, it seemed as if I had lost all my abilities to bake.  I would send her photos of my botched cookies, breads, and cakes and then sit miserably, trying to determine where I had gone wrong. 

I wasn't kidding.


This was supposed to be a chocolate chip pumpkin loaf. And edible.

My baking experiment failures went on for a solid two months.  I think my problem was that I kept trying to adapt recipes I had never tried before.  Baking is extremely precise, so even my “extra dash of fill-in-the-blank spice” may have affected the recipe.  I truly did want to just throw in the towel and never attempt to bake another cookie in my life.  But, I knew that life would be very sad with no homemade cookies.


I somehow found my way back into baking around the Christmas holidays.  I’d like to thank a batch of perfect pumpkin muffins (yes, they were out of a box from Pelican Bay) to restoring hope in my personal abilities.  They were delicious on a snowed-in morning in the mountains of North Carolina.


Since then, I’ve gone on to bake many things and have shared many:  beer bread, cupcakes, donuts.  In my opinion, I’ve been doing pretty well.


And then today happened.  I woke up wanting to challenge myself.  I thought of all my past baking failures, channeled my inner Julia and give cooking a “What the hell” midset, and decided to make pizza dough from scratch. 


I really don’t know why I’ve been so nervous about this since millions of people make their own pizza dough, but I was honestly scared when I started activating the yeast today.  And of course I couldn’t just make your basic pizza dough.  Instead, I went with a recipe that calls for white wine, and then made a couple adaptations.  Go big or go home, that’s my motto.


Amazingly, it all turned out. 
White Wine Pizza Dough Crust
Makes 1 large or 2 smaller thin crust pizzas
1 packet of active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
¼ cup pinot grigio
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour

In a large bowl, combine yeast, water, and wine.  Stir well to combine.  Then add in the salt and nutmeg, and stir again.

Add in 1 cup of all purpose flour and mix to create a paste.  Then add in the remaining flour and start to knead dough.

On a flour-dusted surface, knead dough for 6 to 8 minutes.  Then place dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a dish towel. 

Let rise for 45 minutes.  (And if your kitchen is too cold like mine, warm your oven for a minute, turn it off, and then place the bowl inside.

After dough has risen, separate it into two equal parts if you’d like to make two pizzas.  Or roll out onto a ¼” thickness on a floured surface and make one giant pizza.  Top with whatever you desire, and bake at 425 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.


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Wine of the Week at a Local Vineyard

If you ever find yourself in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, also known as The Triangle, I highly suggest making a stop at The Vineyards at Southpoint.  I spontaneously decided to stop in for a tasting last Sunday when I drove by on my way to Jordan Lake

For $5.00, I was given a logoed glass and larger-than-average tasting pours for 6 different wines:  2 whites, 4 reds.  I spent over an hour speaking to the managers and owners of the winery and learned that the great majority of the wines are produced from North Carolina grapes (which is listed on the bottles).  Due to the amount of grapes needed to maintain a vineyard, there are a few local growers that they outsource some of the production to.  This results in some interesting blends, and some surprisingly good wines for being from North Carolina.  According to their website, some of their wines have recently won Double Gold, Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals at recent local competitions.


Besides The Vineyards at Southpoint, the owners also oversee operations at Horizon Cellars which is a boutique winery located a little farther to the west in Siler City.  

So what was the best wine that I tasted?  I really enjoyed all of the reds (Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chambourcin, and Cabernet Sauvignon) in addition to their Viognier which was really refreshing.  But the one I took home was the Chambourcin.

I came to find out that Chambourcin is a type of grape that is a hybrid from a French vine and an American vine (this makes me think of Punnett Squares and Mendelian Genetics…my biology professors would be so proud).  The interesting story behind this grape is that the man who made this hybrid died before documenting what types of French and American grapes went into this combination!  Some genetic testing has probably been conducted in recent years, but I think it’s still a mystery to the wine world, and that leads to a wide variety of chambourcins.

Anyway, the Vineyards at Southpoint’s Chambourcin was deeeelicious.  It’s made with only grapes from North Carolina.  It’s a little smoky and heavier tannins, but very very smooth.  I plan on saving it for a celebration because it just seems like a special wine.  And at about $16 for the bottle…it’s not too bad of a splurge.


Filed under Sites to See, Wine of the Week

Eight Days a Week

  • Number of days worked in a row:  8
  • Number of hours per day:  10.8 on average
  • Number of people I’ve helped serve a meal to in the past 3 days:  996
  • Number of dishes I’ve broken:  0 (miraculously)
  • Number of times ice cream exploded all over my clothes and shoes this morning before 8am:  2
  • Number of glasses of wine and slices of pizza I will have tonight before falling into my bed:  Yet to be determined. 

I’ll be back with a recipe as soon as my brain can comprehend cooking again and my legs do not feel like mush.

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A New Celebration

One thing I’ve noticed through my work is that most, if not all, events I cater are celebrations.  Whether it is a wedding or a graduation, the first day of a training program or the last,  a championship ring ceremony or a holiday party.  The reason people gather together to eat, converse, and laugh is to celebrate.  Even the daily lunch visitor to the dining room on a break between classes or meetings is celebrating (and it is just that brief respite from work that he celebrates).   

Tomorrow marks a new type of celebration that I will cater, and that is a celebration of life.  A very well-respected woman passed away earlier this week, and her former employer and co-workers have planned a post-funeral repast.  I’m certain this will not be as joyous of an occassion as other celebrations, but have to remind myself that it is a celebration nonetheless.  It makes me smile that so many (200+ expected guests) cared about this woman enough to plan an impromptu event during the middle of the week.  I don’t think many people in the world have that effect; she was obviously special.

It will be interesting to see the dynamic in the meeting room tomorrow when all the guests gather.  I hope that there will be more smiles than tears.  But, we shall see.  It’s hard to judge a group until they actually come together, and to be honest, I’m nervous about the emotions that will be at bay tomorrow.

But, I’m off to bed for now.  It’s a new day tomorrow with many new experiences to be had.

Wine of the Week:  [yellow tail] Shiraz/Grenache blend from Austrailia.  I can find nothing wrong with this wine.  Not as heavy as a strong Cabernet, but definitely heavier than a Merlot, with lots of berry flavor.  If you have a glass of this, you’ll have a g’day mate!

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Signs of an Early Spring?

Today is Groundhog Day.  For those that missed the riveting footage from Punxsutawney this morning, you can catch it again here.  I, for one, am glad that Phil predicted an early spring, and I’m sure most of the country (meaning everyone to the west and north of North Carolina) hopes he’s correct.  I feel like Phil may be onto something considering I spent a good portion of today outside in 60-degree and sunny weather.  It’ll be back in the 30s tomorrow, but at least it was a brief respite from winter.

East Campus — the busiest I’ve ever seen the quad with 2 frisbee players on it.  I’m not kidding — Duke kids don’t seem to play outside.


Groundhog Day is a great “holiday” that always makes me think of the old Bill Murray film by the same name.  If you haven’t seen it, here’s the basic storyline:  Bill Murray plays a weatherman that always gets stuck covering the annual Groundhog Day celebration each year.  One year he becomes extra agitated by it, and for some reason, he wakes up the next day only to find that it’s Groundhog Day all over again.  Does he ever escape re-living the same day, seeing the same events and people over and over again?  You need to see the movie.

As I thought about the film today, I started to wonder if there were certain things that I wouldn’t mind doing or enjoying over and over again everyday.  If you can’t tell already by this blog, I clearly enjoy food and wine, so those two were at the top of my list.  I think I would be pretty okay with having the chance to try out a new recipe or type of wine everyday for the rest of my life.  As my thoughts progressed on these ideas I realized that I wouldn’t just want to try out new wines and foods, but also share them with other people to enjoy.  These thoughts seemed like a basis for some pretty good new goals. 

I then thought of something I can start to do on a weekly basis on the blog:  share a Wine of the Week!  Hopefully you’re as excited about this as I am (although I realize you may not be, hah!).  I really really love wine.  I love discovering what I enjoy about different types of wine.  I remember a few years ago, one of my grandfathers (Grandad Clearwater) said to me, “Well, I always say that you shouldn’t stop trying wine until you find one that you really don’t like.  So far, I haven’t stopped.”  It made me laugh, and I realized that I felt the same way. 

Hopefully by highlighting a wine of the week, I will be able to learn more about different varietals (I don’t think I’ll ever reach sommelier status, but it would be beneficial to know more) and also find some delicious and rather inexpensive bottles to share.

To kick it off, I thought I would share a delicious brand of wine that I enjoyed this past Sunday at the Mad Men party I went to.  The party was at a local wine bar and Mad Housewife Cellars was one of the vendors for the event.  The overwhelming response from all party-goers was that the wines were fantastic!

I tried both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay varietals and was pleasantly surprised by each.  The Cabernet was not too heavy and had a strong flavor of cherry and coffee that was really refreshing.  As for the Chardonnay — I was really surprised that I liked it!  I’m not a big Chardonnay drinker because they usually have a strong oak flavor, but it was very light in this variety.  Very fruity, and very good.  According to the website, the wines are available in lots of different grocery stores and wine stores including Publix, Kroger, and Total Wine……so go pick some up.  How can you not with a name and labels like this?

Do you know what tomorrow is?  Hint….it’s the start of a new cycle and involves an animal other than a groundhog.  I’ll be back with a special recipe!

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Gone Berserk

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that food prices for basic necessities like wheat, eggs and meat are on the rise.  You may have already seen the effects of this in your grocery store. Well yesterday, after shopping for bananas (really, that’s all I was there for) I thought of a great job position that grocery store operators should create. First, the story…

In my local Kroger grocery store, certain produce items like spinach and bagged salads that are close to expiring tend to go on a “Manager’s Special” and be offered at 50% of the original price. I eat lots of veggies and LOVE when I find something that I want in good condition on sale. It’s almost a game — these items are highly coveted by constant shoppers like myself, so it’s rewarding when you are one of the lucky people that gets to snatch up a sale item.  Or maybe that’s just how I feel about it.

Anyway, I wandered over to this section yesterday merely to browse and saw that oyster mushrooms were on sale.  As I looked them over, a European woman approached me and began to promulgate about how great mushrooms are and what an extraordinary deal it was to find an 8oz. pack on sale for $1.89 when the same size package normally costs $5.00 at Whole Foods.  She was elated because her son is “berserk” about mushrooms and could not wait to show him the six (two of which were 16oz.) packages she picked up.

She then went on to describe her favorite preparation method: simply sliced and sauteed in a half cup of white wine with salt, pepper, and a healthy dollop of sour cream that you add at the end until slightly melted.  “Just warm it, you don’t want it to curdle,” she explained.

When I asked about adding garlic to the pan, she said that she never does because she enjoys the taste of mushrooms too much and does not want garlic to overpower them.  This was a novel concept to me as I love garlic and add it to almost everything I make.

I was entranced by this woman and how she depicted this simple but beautiful recipe. In the time it took for her to describe how her son goes berserk for golden-cooked mushrooms and divulge that the best “cheap” white wine was on sale for $3.99 just three aisles over, I made up my mind to buy those mushrooms.  And the wine.  How could I not after she described it to be one of the best whites she’s had in a long time, and one that she finds just as easy to help make dinner as well as drink with dinner?

I was an absolute sucker for this woman’s stories, and I made her mushroom recipe to the best that I could last night.  I have to say that she was right on.  If you enjoy the actual taste of mushrooms, you will love this recipe. Simple, rich, and healthy all at once. I really don’t think I had previously cooked mushrooms just to serve as mushrooms.  Usually I include them as an ingredient in a main dish.  But this recipe lets you savor and appreciate them just as they are.

I doubt that Kroger planted this woman by the sale produce items, but think about how they could off-set their rising food costs by hiring people like her to scope out people like me that enjoy being schlepped into a good recipe!  Having a “secret buyer” of sorts (similar to a secret shopper) could help stores cycle through their inventory and reduce their waste.  The nerd is coming out in me, but really, Kroger should look into that.

I really hope to see this woman again in the store. But until then, the least I can do is share this recipe.


Berserk Mushrooms
Serves 2 to 3

8oz. sliced white or oyster mushrooms
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as chardonnay
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream

1. Slice mushrooms thinly (about 1/4″ thickness).
2. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and cook for 1 minute.  Add salt and pepper, cook for 1 more minute.
3. Add wine to pan.  Allow liquid to start boiling and then reduce heat to low to medium-low.  Cook until mushrooms are fragrant and slightly browned (about 3 – 4 minutes).
4. Add sour cream to pan and allow to liquify a little.  Stir to combine.  Keep heat low so the cream does not curdle.
5. Enjoy with a side of chardonnay.


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Gone to Italia in My Mind

One thing I love about food is that it can transport you to far away locations and distant memories in just seconds either through sight, taste, or aroma.  Not many other things in life can do that so quickly and effectively in my experience.

I’ve been craving comfort food lately (thanks to frigid temperatures that haven’t gone away since Monday’s ice storm), and pasta is my go-to food when I feel this way.  Whenever I make pasta, my mind always drifts back to one of my favorite vacations of all time:  Italy in the summer of 2006.  My sister graduated from college and wanted to tour around Northern Italy as a way to celebrate.  It was an unforgettable family trip filled with delicious food and wine, and I still dream of owning a villa in Siena one day. 


Ever since that vacation, I claim that I would make a fabulous Italian.  I love Italian food.  I love Italian wine.  I love preparing food to be shared.  I am completely comfortable spending 2 hours in a restaurant eating with friends and family.  I would much rather walk everywhere than drive.  And Italians (at least in the Northern part) take off the month of August to travel to the beach for vacation.  Italians know how to live, friends. 

Can I get away with calling myself Italian?  Hardly.  Blonde hair and pale skin with freckles didn’t really scream “local” when roaming the streets of Tuscany.  Nonetheless, I think I’ve got the soul for the culture. 

 As a tribute to Italia, I thought of this dinner earlier in the week and made it for a couple friends.  It was a huge hit!   Not only is it warm and comforting,  but it also has the colors of the country’s flag.  Buon appetito!

White Bean and Kale Penne
Serves 4 to 6

12 to 15 leaves of kale

10 oz. whole wheat penne (a little more than 1/2 of a 16oz. box)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 cup yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, diced

1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 Tbsp. capers

1 Tbsp. caper juice

1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)

1 15oz. can of diced tomatoes (no-salt added variety), drained

1 15oz. can great northern beans, drained and rinse

1/2 of  15oz. can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed

Freshly grated Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)


1. Rinse kale and remove tough stems from leaves.  Pile 3 to 4 leaves on top of each other at a time, roll them together into a log, and slice into 1/2″ strips (this is called chiffonade).  Place shreds into a bowl and save for later.

2. In a pot, boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.

3. While pasta cooks, heat oil over medium in a large pan. Cook onions for 5 minutes until translucent.  Add garlic, red pepper flakes, capers, and caper juice.  Cook for another minute stirring constantly.

4. Add drained tomatoes, beans, and wine to mixture.  Allow wine to boil, and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes.

5. Smash some of the beans to thicken the sauce.  Add a little water if you wish (about 1/2 a cup).

6.  When pasta is done cooking, toss the kale into the hot water. It will cook quickly, and as soon as the color turns a vibrant, bright green, it’s done.

7.  Drain pasta and kale, and return to the pot.  Add sauce, and stir to coat.   

8.  Grate cheese on top of pasta before serving, and enjoy!

**Note — the capers and parmesan add plenty of salt to the dish, so you probably will not have to add any more to the sauce.  Taste first before you do!


Now I just need to find some gelato!

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