Chardonnay + Cheese

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When I first started working for a wine company, I knew absolutely nothing about wine beyond the fact that I liked to drink it.  I had no formal education in wine and the extent of my experience with it was picking up the cheapest or prettiest + cheapest combination bottle in my local market.  Like a lot of early wine drinkers, I couldn’t differentiate between varietals, wasn’t quite sure which wines pair with what foods and couldn’t appreciate any of the complexities that I now seek in my fermented grapes.  While most of the people that work in our company don’t fall in the “wine snob” category, we still experience know-it-alls (or think they know-it-all) wine snobs at events and in meetings with buyers which makes the industry intimidating and honestly, annoying at times.  My personal opinion is that wine is a subjective experience that is supposed to be fun and it’s supposed to be an experience.  Certain wines will enhance certain flavors in certain foods, but learning it through experience rather than studying wine notes from a book is really what this industry should be all about.  No two palates are the same and everyone is going to taste wine differently which is exactly what makes it so fun and personal.

This division of our company puts on wine tastings in the customer’s preferred setting of choice and while some of our reps have a ton of wine experience, many of them don’t and are eager to learn what to serve at their tastings and what favors are going to pair the best with each wine.  Last month our focus was Chardonnay so I had some serious fun putting together a cheese plate and easy apps that would be delicious with Chard.  I thought I’d pass it along just in case anyone is interested in learning more about what to pair with Chardonnay.  Check it out below :-)

CREATING THE PERFECT CHARDONNAY CHEESE PLATE

When you think of a wine party, the most obvious food pairing is cheese.  However, with Chardonnay, cheese isn’t always the easiest to pair with a varietal that has such incredible stylistic range.  While some chardonnays are extremely fruity and citrusy, others are oaky and buttery which can compete with the creamy cheeses you might initially think to pair with a white wine.  I explored a few different cheeses to find the best combination with our Chardonnay that offers a perfectly balanced profile of fruit and oak.  As told by our Sommelier:

With most Chardonnays, you get some green apple, a little citrus, and depending on the producer either no or tons of oak and malolactic fermentation to give it that buttered popcorn style. Our Chardonnay undergoes an extremely cold, slow fermentation that extracts tons of tropical fruit character out of this wine. Scents of pineapple, banana, white peach and pear jump out of the glass at me when I pour it. It spends about six months in American oak, but only 20% new oak. The rest of the barrels are all 2-3 years old so it is more for a textural component rather than making the wine overly oaky. You get some notes of vanilla and toasted coconut, but it is definitely in balance with the fruit character of the wine.

CHEESE: I sought to find the best cheese to pair with our style Chardonnay and found a few favorites: Mt. Tam, a brie-style triple cream crafted by Cowgirl Creamery in California.  Another favorite was Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar which is nutty in flavor and has a similar consistency to parmesan while being much more mild to taste – perfect for our style Chardonnay.  The two can be purchased in a set from Cowgirl Creamery that also includes and absolutely unbelievable Echo Mountain Blue Cheese (still delicious with our Chardonnay when drizzled in a little honey and perfect for the reds at your wine tasting tasting), or can be ordered individually as well.  If you’re looking for less expensive options, both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer a wide variety of double-triple cream, brie and mild-medium cheddar cheeses that will be perfect for pairing with Chardonnay.

OTHER BITES TO INCLUDE: In my opinion, creating the perfect cheese plate is all about striking a balance between cheeses and other small bites that enhance the flavors of your wine.  Some crackers and perhaps a loaf of fresh French Bread are key.  The fig spread and honey found in both our Wine & Cheese Party and Cheese Party Packages are essential for getting that sweeter balance and will make cheeses like a tangy blue cheese more approachable for those who might not love an extra sharp cheese on its own.  Figs are also particularly delicious with our Chardonnay and can be served with any cheese imaginable all the way from a creamy brie to an aged, extra sharp cheddar or parmesan.  An artichoke spread (also found in both our Wine & Cheese Party and Cheese Party Packages) offers a savory yet citrusy touch while olive oil is a natural pairing and will give your guests something light to dip their bread in when they’ve indulged in enough cheese ;-)

PS: From a gorgeous marble cheese board to honey, olive oil, salami, cheese knives, and more, our Wine & Cheese Party and Cheese Party Packages offer a one stop shop for all of the goodies you will need to create the perfect wine and cheese party.  Cheers!

DIY Fall Floral Arrangement

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You all know that I’m a flower fanatic so creating a fall floral arrangement could hardly be considered “work” ;-)  The trickiest part of this task was keeping it simple enough so that the arrangement could easily be replicated by a novice.  Since most of our reps in this program at work have little experience arranging florals, I needed to break this one down step by step so they could easily recreate it for their own party.  Flower arranging is really intimidating to a lot of people, but it’s really so much easier than most imagine until they see it broken down.  The trickiest part for me is learning the textures and strength of the stems/stalks so that you know just how much pressure you can use while arranging and finagling your flowers into your floral foam.  But once you’ve done a few, it’s really easy to get the hang of it.  I whipped up this beauty that would easily cost over $150 at a flower shop with less than $50 in under 30 minutes.  Since we were using the arrangement for our Pink Party, we wanted to keep with the theme, but also make it seasonal.  Outside of Breast Cancer Awareness, October is not a month that would traditionally make you think of pink, but with the addition of some orange and deep purple florals in combination with pink buds and fresh maple clippings, our arrangement was both perfectly pink while warm and seasonally appropriate for a cozy, fall wine tasting.

Supplies

Florals (see my list and tips below)
Oasis Floral Foam
Vessel
Floral Clippers/Pruners

Floral-Guide

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Tip: Almost every big city has a flower district where you will get the best deals on bulk florals.  A few quick google searches will lead you to yours.  If you live in a small town with no direct access to a flower mart, do some research on what you’re looking for and call your local florist to place you an order.  Also, use whatever florals you have around you. Have a tree changing colors in your yard?  Persimmons, Oranges or Artichokes?  Clip a few small branches or stalks and add them to your arrangement to cut down on cost and to keep your arrangement seasonal, textural and beautiful.

Instructions

1.  Pick your vessel.  Remember that big arrangements do not necessarily call for a big vase.  When you are using floral foam, you can position stems in from every direction and maximize the amount of space you have.  The arrangement we created is a medium/large size and we used a small vessel – a brass julip cup.

2.  Using a knife, cut your floral foam to fit snuggly inside. I like to press the foam to the vessel to get an outline of where to cut excess foam away.  You want to make sure that your foam does NOT move once it’s inside the vessel so start big and cut more away if needed.

3.  Fill your vessel with water.  Your foam will soak up a TON of water so make sure that you continue to let it soak in for a few minutes before you get to work and add water as your foam absorbs every drop in sight.

4.  ARRANGE!  There is no “right” way to arrange flowers, but I always start with my biggest floral or what will ultimately define how large the arrangement will be.  Since this arrangement was going to be large, loose, imperfect and “wildflower-esque” I started with the leaves and greenery to define how tall and wide I wanted the arrangement to be.  I positioned the left greens a little higher and the right greens a little lower to give it that imperfect and “freshly picked” feel.

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5.  Next, I added some celosia to give the arrangement some color and height.

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6.  Now that the back of the arrangement is filled in, it’s time to start adding some of the “wow” flowers or your showstoppers of the arrangement ;-)  Dahlias come into season in the late sumer/fall, are so beautiful and make such a big statement.  I added a few “dinner plate” dahlias in orange and then started filling in with smaller florals: plum colored dahlias and pink ranunculus.

Tip: you can always clip your florals shorter, but you can never make them longer.  To keep the arrangement fun, casual and wild, leave some stems on the longer side.  Don’t be afraid to group multiple of the same flower together either.  That helps add dimension and keeps the arrangement from looking too uniform and perfect.  

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7. Once you’ve used all of the “wow” flowers you can fit, add in some extra green clippings to break things up a bit.  I added some leaves as well as some extra celosia to pull things together and to make the arrangement look finished and picture perfect :-)

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8.  You did it!  Get ready for lots of compliments!

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PS: Don’t let any gorgeous florals go to waste.  We filled a pitcher with extra flowers and greens and utilized some on the backdrop behind our wine display too.

DIY Floral Ice Cubes

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I’ve been dying for a reason to make floral ice cubes for a while now and our Pink Party seemed like the best excuse to finally pull it off.  To be honest, they’re a little annoying to make and take quite some time, but the results are so darn cute and girly that I’d be lying if I said I would never make them again.  I don’t have any pictures of the process, but it’s pretty self explanatory, so I’m sure you’ll do just fine figuring it out ;-)

Supplies

Ice Cube Tray (any will work, but we used this one to make larger cubes)
Edible flowers or fruit (we ordered edible flowers from here)
A kettle to boil your water

Instructions

1.  With edible florals, you’ll want to order them 2-3 days ahead of time.  I used this company and because the flowers are perishable, they overnighted them to us.  I ordered on a Monday, they arrived that Wednesday and they’re hands down the best deal out there.  There were a few companies that charge literally $75 for the same thing.  Do not use them – ever.

2.  In a kettle, boil your water and let it cool (I stuck ours in the freezer to expedite the cooling process – but don’t let it freeze).  Once the water has cooled, boil the water a second time and let it cool completely.  Boiling the water twice helps eliminate tiny air bubbles and minerals that will make your ice appear white when it freezes.  Crystal clear ice will help show off your pretty flowers ;-)

3.  While water is boiling or cooling, remove any greens from your flowers.  The greens are edible, but I found that they turned our ice cubes slightly green on our first try – oops!

4.  Put a few flowers into the bottom of your ice cub tray and fill with 1/4″ water.  Freeze water.

5.  Once the water has frozen, layer some more flowers on top of the ice and fill your trays with remaining water and freeze.

6.  When your ice cubes are completely solid, remove them from the tray, place in a glass and serve with an ice cold beverage immediately.  Enjoy!

Wine Wednesday | Pear + Goat Cheese Crostini

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Happy Wine Wednesday!  We’re halfway through the week, y’all!  The past 7 days have been exceptionally exciting and I’m thrilled to be feeling the most inspired that I have in a very long time.  Jake and I spent last weekend in Napa and we’re heading back tomorrow for a big project that we’re working on together for our company (more details on that later), but there have been a lot of exciting changes in the works :-)  In the meantime, for Wine Wednesday, I wanted to share one of my absolute FAVORITE appetizer recipes that we whipped up for our Pink Party.

Inspired by one of my favorite salads, this Pear + Goat Cheese Crostini is basically an easier-to-eat/one-hand-required version that is perfect for a party or wine tasting.  The creaminess of the goat cheese combined with the slightly sweet balsamic vinaigrette and pears are LEGIT with a well balanced Chardonnay (light on the oak, but not overly sweet). Get in my bellyyyy!  Check out the recipe below and bookmark it for your next party so you can wow your friends and thank me later ;-)

Prep: 20 minutes
Serves: 10-15

Ingredients

1 loaf French bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic (minced)
5 oz. arugula
3 oz. Goat Cheese
1 Pear (diced)
1/2 cup Glazed Walnut Pieces (I used Fresh Gourmet brand – available in the salad or crouton aisle)

Ingredients for Dressing

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic (minced)
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  While oven is preheating, slice bread into ~1/4″ slices.

2.  Combine olive oil and minced garlic.  Brush mixture onto bread slices.  Place bread on baking sheet and bake for 7-10 minutes on lower rack or until bread has started to toast.

3.  While the bread is in the oven, combine all ingredients for dressing until thoroughly mixed. I like to put everything in a mason jar and shake it up to get an even consistency. This also makes it easy to save leftovers

4.  Remove toasts from oven.  When they have cooled enough to handle, spread each toast with goat cheese.  Return to oven for 2-3 minutes or until goat cheese has softened.

5.  Remove toasts and transfer to serving platter.  Garnish each toast with a few sprigs of arugula, diced pear and walnuts. Drizzle dressing over top and serve with a glass of Chardonnay.  This one is awesome :-)

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DIY Yarn Fringe Backdrop

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Creating a fun backdrop is one of the best ways to make a party picture perfect.  After making two for Blair’s 1st birthday party (and seeing it featured on Style Me Pretty!), I’ve been hooked on finding quick and simple ways to jazz up a focal area at parties and events.  I came across this on Pinterest and have been waiting for a time to replicate it and our Pink Party for work seemed like the best opportunity.  Since I wanted to make the party “fall-ish” while staying on theme with pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the yarn fringe backdrop was actually the PERFECT way to bring all of the colors together.  I picked up seven different colors from our local Michael’s store with a 25% off coupon, purchased some dowels (and had them cut at our local hardware store) for under $5.  The entire project cost less than $25 and made such a fun statement at our party.  Here’s how you can recreate the look on your own :-)

Supplies

Dowels
Yarn in various colors
Scissors

Instructions

1.  Cut your dowels to length.  If your dowels are longer than you’d like your finished length to be, cut them to size using a hand saw.  Or, simply ask your local hardware store to cut them for you which is what I did.  The sizes I went with were 24 inches and 16 inches.

2.  Decide what color yarn you will be using the most and cut it accordingly.  I knew we were going to be using mostly pink with a few strands of orange, yellow and white mixed in so I cut out much more pink in strands of ~48″.  Note: you will be folding your strands in half to attach it to the dowel so keep that in mind when cutting to length.  If you want your finished length to be 18″ cut your yarn at 36″.

Fringe DIY

3.  Fold yarn in half and pull the ends of the yarn through the loop and around your dowel.  Side loop to tighten and repeat.

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4.  Alternate colors as you see fit until you’ve filled the dowel with yarn.  Hang your yarn fringe behind a bar or dessert table (I even attached one to the table cloth) and have fun!  Cheers!

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Brie + Fig + Walnut Cups

Brie-Fig-FeatureIf there is anything in the world that I absolutely love, it’s great food and wine.  Some of my fondest memories are with friends and family sharing a great bottle of wine and a simple cheese platter or dishes to pass.  The art of food and wine pairings is one that I’m slowly trying to master since so much of my life revolves around wine.  It can be really intimidating, but a quick google search and reading the tasting notes on the bottle get you halfway there already.  The rest is acquired over time with drinking more wine and experimenting – not a bad deal ;-)

For our Pink Party, I was on the hunt for some great simple recipes that would pair well with Chardonnay and this was was such a winner.  The combination of brie, candied walnuts and figs all wrapped up in buttery, flaky phyllo dough was so delicious with a well balanced Chardonnay (lightly oaked with a slightly sweet/caramel finish).  I’m dying for an excuse to make these again.  Enjoy!

Prep: 20 minutes
Serves: 12

Ingredients

1 package phyllo dough sheets (available in the dessert freezer aisle)
4 tablespoons butter (melted)
1 – 10-14 oz. wheel of brie cheese (cut into 12 wedges)
Fig spread (available in this set)
Walnuts (I use Fresh Gourmet Glazed Walnuts)

Instructions

1.  Allow phyllo dough to thaw for time designated on the package and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Place 1 sheet of phyllo dough on wax paper and brush with melted butter.  Layer another piece of phyllo dough on top and repeat until you have 6 layers.

3.  Cut the phyllo dough into 12 sections.

4.  Butter the bottoms and sides of each well of a cupcake pan and place each section of 6 layers of phyllo dough into individual wells.  You need to have enough phyllo to wrap around the contents and close on the top so it’s sometimes easier to save one of the 6 layers for covering the top.

5.  Place one wedge of brie into the bottom of each cup and layer 3 tablespoons of fig spread and 1 tablespoon of walnuts into each cup.  You should use all of your fig spread so if you have extra, add it to your pastries.  If you prefer to remove the rind from the brie, do that at this time.

6. Close each cup and brush the tops with melted butter.

7. Place on bottom rack of oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until phyllo is slightly browned and crispy.

8. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Gently scoop each cup out being careful not to tear the layers and place on serving dish.  Serve while warm with ONEHOPE Chardonnay – DELICIOUS!

Recipe inspired by this.

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Pink Party for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Call me #basic, but by the time September rolls around, I’m ready to embrace all things fall.  From autumn inspired recipes, to warm mulled wines, to pumpkins and candles that remind me of fall scents back home in Michigan – I just can’t get enough of my favorite season.  October, however, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it marks the beginning of the most important time of the year for us at work.  Since half the profits from our Chardonnay give back to Gateway for Cancer Research (providing clinical trials to women with breast cancer), just when we’re ready to dive head first into fall, everything turns PINK.

We have a division of our company called Hope at Home which offers at-home wine parties that benefit the cause of your choice with 15% going back to the non-profit of your choice.  As our Art Director, I’m always on the hunt for creative and fun ways for our team to stay inspired and get motivated to throw their own parties – especially during our cause months.  A big challenge for me this year at work was figuring out how to throw a pink party, when everyone wants to curl up with a blanket, drink warm mulled wine and pull out their orange pumpkins and decor.  I poked around the internet for some inspiration and ultimately ended up coming back again and again to a flower arrangement that embraced pink and orange equally.  It was inherently pink but also perfectly fall so I decided to run with it.

Since everything we put together had to be easily replicated by our team members who might not be full fledged floral designers or regular party hosts, I broke it down into three simple DIYS and four food/appetizer ideas that both embrace the fall season and pair wonderfully with our Chardonnay.  The best part of this project (beside seeing it all come together) was definitely trying the recipes.  They were SO good and everyone in the office chowed down while we popped open a few bottles of Chardonnay.  Check out everything below from the DIY and recipes to shots from our own little Pink Party ;-)

PS: If you’re interested in hosting your own PINK party for Breast Cancer Awareness Month or if you’d like to raise money for another cause that you’re passionate about OR if you’d like to make an income while giving back to various causes, please consider Hope at Home :-)

DIY YARN FRINGE BACKDROP

DIY PINK FALL FLORALS

DIY FLORAL ICE CUBES

PINK MARSHMALLOW DIP

PEAR + GOAT CHEESE CROSTINI

BRIE + FIG PASTRY BITES

CHARDONNAY CHEESE PLATE

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CHEERS!

 

 

Salad Wars – Quinoa Salad

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Happy Tuesday!  I meant to post the second salad of Salad Wars last week, but things got crazy at work and there was just no darn time for blogging.  You know how that goes!

Now back to salads…

This salad probably takes the cake as one of the best everyday salad I’ve ever had.  Jake and I visited some friends last summer when they got engaged and moved into their first place together.  Lauren whipped this up for everyone and I was sold.  I had to have the recipe.  Thankfully she sent it over a few days later and I’ve been making it ever since and it’s such a hit every time.  What’s really great is that it’s so simple to make ahead of time too and these days I’m all about easy lunches.  Usually on Sunday or Monday night I’ll make a great big batch of quinoa (2 cups of quinoa in 4 cups of chicken stock) and then I have a ton of it for the week to throw into anything that needs a little extra something.  Pre-chop the veggies (peppers, onion and cucumber) and you’re good to go.  Simple lunches FOR. THE. WIN.  Huge thanks to Lauren for changing my salad life and turning me on to quinoa!

Prep: 30 minutes
Serves: 2 people (entree sized portion)

Ingredients

4 cups of fresh spinach
1 cucumber (peeled and chopped)
1 red bell pepper (seeded and chopped)
1 green bell pepper (seeded and chopped)
1/4 red onion (chopped)
1 avocado
1/2 cup feta
1 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken stock
2 cloves garlic (minced)
salt & pepper to taste

Directions

1.  In a small pot, combine chicken stock with quinoa, garlic, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

2.  While cooking the quinoa, chop all of your veggies.

3.  Once quinoa has absorbed all of the chicken stock (about 20 minutes) remove from heat for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork.

4.  Combine spinach, veggies and feta and pour quinoa over top.  Juice lemon and add olive oil and balsamic.  Toss and serve.

5.  Two great wines to pair… this one and this one :-)

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Salad Wars – Easy Spinach Salad

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As much as I wish I could say that I’m a health nut, it just isn’t the truth.  I blame part of it on growing up with a should-have-been-a-chef father who was always whipping up something absolutely incredible that generally included rich flavors: garlic, spices, great meats, savory cheeses, etc.  Now that I work in the wine industry, my foodie levels have only been heightened by pushing myself to think about pairings and learning more about what foods bring out certain characteristics in wines and vice versa.  However, when I started running a LOT earlier this year (more than ever before in my life), I started to learn a few things about my body.  Mainly that I absolutely could not continue eating anything and everything I ever wanted.

The issue for me is that it’s really hard to find healthy food that is flavored well and that I really, truly crave.  I need salads that are way more interesting than the pre-made quinoa and kale station at Whole Foods during lunch to keep me going or else I wind up at the ridiculous taco joint down the street for the best fish tacos on the planet, or god forbid, CHIPOTLE, which is also conveniently within walking distance to the office.  Additionally, I took a hard look at my bank account a few weeks ago and it’s just sad how much money goes to eating lunch out almost every day of the week.  It’s no secret that packing a lunch saves you money, but it was a truth I chose to ignore for quite a while.

Enter Salad Wars which is mainly a great big experiment and challenge to find the best, most convenient and healthy salads out there.  In my quest, I have found a few and to my disbelief, I’m actually excited for them by lunch or dinner – a feat I never thought possible ;-)  Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few of those recipes and hope to inspire you to join me on the quest for good health.

#1 is my go-to Spinach Salad… check out the recipe below!

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Prep: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

2-3 handfuls of fresh spinach
1 handful of cherry or grape tomatoes sliced in half
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 avocado
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt (to taste)
a dusting of freshly grated parmesan cheese

Directions

If you’re taking this for lunch and would like to prep it the night before, I usually mix the spinach, pine nuts, parmesan and a little salt in a travel container.  I slice the avocado and tomatoes just before eating to keep things fresh :-)

This salad could not be simpler, which I love.  No dressing at all (including EVO) is always better than dressing, but cutting out pre-mixed, store bought dressing also cuts out major calories so I feel ok with a little drizzle of olive oil.  With a tiny bit of salt and just a slight dusting of cheese, I’ve found that I don’t miss the pre-mixed dressing at all and I feel fulfilled and re-energized when I’m done eating instead of slipping into total food-coma… We’ve all been there after lunch.  You know what I’m talking about.

*If you’re having this for dinner or if you’re allowed to have a taste of wine at work, this wine or this one are great options and pair deliciously with all of the flavors above :-)  Cheers!

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Pumpkin Pie Sparkling Sgroppino

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Now THIS is something to try this weekend.  It’s going to be really, really hot in LA (insert frantic/wailing/angry emoji face here) and I’m at my breaking point with the heat.  I want chicken chili and pumpkin pie, y’all!  This, however is one way to curb the heat with everything you love about fall blended into a cocktail of sheer bliss.  It’s pretty simple to make and your guests will be blown away.

Pumpkin Pie Sparkling Sgroppino
 
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total: 10
Serves: 2
Ingredients
 
1 cups chilled vodka
1 pint pumpkin gelato (I found this at Whole Foods, but if you can’t track it down yet, vanilla gelato with a dash of pumpkin pie spice is a great substitute)
1 cup ice
Ground Cinnamon (for garnish)
Caramel Sauce
4 ground honey graham cracker crumbs (for rimmer)
Directions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and frothy.
  2. Rim chilled martini glasses with graham cracker crumbs (a tip is to dip it in caramel sauce first and then in the graham cracker crumbs).
  3. Pour mixture into glasses and top with a sprinkle of cinnamon
Cheers!

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