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Archive for May, 2011

Who Doesn’t Love A Good Cupcake?

Moist, cute little cakes, topped with a big dollop of creamy, rich icing that just melts in your mouth – they’re dangerously delicious, always fun and perfect for any occasion!

The 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (Sample, MSRP: $12 US) is a lot like that!  Showcasing the refreshing, zippy-delicious goodness that Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough Valley is known for, the flavors in the 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc are like licking the key lime pie frosting off of the top of a tiny moist lemon cake.  Speaking of cupcakes, I wish I had some of this Sauvignon Blanc left over so I could try it with this Brown Sugar Banana cupcake with Avocado Buttercream frosting!  I bet it would be an interesting contrast in flavors.

If the cupcake idea is a bit much for you, try giving this on-the-fly, super-simple recipe idea a go:

Sauté chicken breasts in olive oil and fresh lemon juice, season with dry barbecue rub, salt and pepper to taste.  Toss in a heap of fresh baby spinach and diced up Oscar Mayer Fully Cooked Bacon into your pot.  Keep it all juicy and tasty with a big splash of chicken stock and a ½ cup of the Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.

3 Stars out of 4 for the 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.  This is one cupcake you can enjoy without guilt!  :)

Keep it 100

There’s an old urban saying Keep it 100!

Keep it 100 means to stay real and true to yourself, and to be honest…no matter what anyone else thinks.  I’m going to Keep it 100 when I tell you that it’s been one mighty tough year for red wines in the under $20 category.  If I’m keeping it real, true and 100% honest – many that I’ve tried so far in 2011 just haven’t been worth the time it took to pull the cork; let alone worth jotting down painstaking notes to tell the whole wine drinking world, “Hey people, this wine is the shiz…you really have to try this!”

The sad truth is that so many offerings, although drinkable, have just been rather boring and character free for me; and even fewer have been DELICIOUS like the 2008 Foppiano Vineyards Russian River Valley Estate Bottled Petite Sirah or even the 2009 Château La Clotte-FontaneMathierou’.

After powering through cases of mediocre red wine over the past few months, my friend Steve at Teller Wines in Lewes, DE came to my rescue.  On a recent visit, I asked Steve if he had anything that would rock my world for less than 20 bucks.  He proceeded to take me over to a spot where a totally inconspicuous bottle of red wine from Sicily was lying. Steve repeatedly told me, “You’ve got to try this wine.   It’s not a knock you over the head blockbuster, but it has a lot of finesse and outstanding fruit inside that bottle – it’s 100% pure goodness.”  He also mentioned that this 100% Nero d’Avola, made from organically-grown grapes, has been high on the list of his customers who are prone to red wine headaches:  they’ve had no problems drinking it and had no bad effects the next morning. 

I gave the 2009 Lamura Rosso di Sicilia IGT ($11 US) a shot this past Fancy Dinner Friday.  Rather than our usual Friday night fare of spaghetti and meatballs, I decided to go a bit more stripped down:  making a simple creation of sautéed minced garlic in olive oil, mixed with chopped up prosciutto and a can of crushed tomatoes on a bed of thin spaghetti, topped with fresh Basil from my herb garden.

Two words that best describe this wine and food pairing:  Bellissimo and Yummy!!

The 2009 Lamura Rosso di Sicilia IGT was packed with 100% fresh crushed, organically grown Nero d’Avola.   Bursting with pure, unadulterated, big red-berry fruit flavors and a soft flinty herbaceous component on the finish, this very approachable red has tons of juicy character!  It was awesome all by itself and delicious with a clean and simple pasta dish like we had that night.

4 Stars out of 4 for the 2009 Lamura Rosso di Sicilia IGT.  You can tell when something’s real:  THIS is the real deal at this price level!

Go Big or Go Home

Remember when getting together with a few friends for a barbecue used to mean firing up the old charcoal grill, tossing on some hot dogs and frozen Topps burgers, opening up a few bags of chips, and sitting back in a rusty aluminum meshed folding lawn chair while throwing back some ice-cold PBRs?  If you came home with the smell of charcoal smoke in your hair and clothes, roasted marshmallows stuck to your shorts and feeling the effects of drinking in the afternoon sun …you knew you had a good time.

These days, barbecue has taken on a whole new meaning for every Backyard Gourmet.  This past weekend, our fantastic foodie friends, Holly and Mike, showed off some of their impressive “Go Big or Go Home” skills on the grill - so I thought I’d share.

We started things off with some fresh sliced strawberries, cantaloupes, grapes, a little salsa and chips and delicious homemade guacamole.

Holly’s Fresh Guacamole:
(Serves 6-8)

  • 3 Hass avocados, pitted and scooped out
  • 1 small tomato (I like to use the vine ripened tomatoes) seeded and diced
  • 1 small yellow onion diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice of one lime
  • One small bunch of cilantro chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mash together.  I prefer to use a large potato masher; some folks will use the tines of a fork to blend things up, while others use a food processor.  Just depends on what consistency you want to achieve.

For the second dish, Holly created a Grilled Citrus Chicken and Mango Quesadillas with Chipotle Sour Cream.

Grilled Citrus Chicken and Mango Quesadillas with Chipotle Sour Cream
(Serves 4-6)

For the marinade:

  • Juice of one half of a blood orange
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1.5 pounds skinless, boneless chicken (I used package of fresh chicken tenders)

Marinade chicken for at least 3-4 hours, or overnight

For the Quesadillas:

  • 1 package of burrito size flour tortillas
  • 1 medium mango peeled, cut into medium size dice
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 small bunch of cilantro chopped, reserve some for garnish
  • 1 package of goat cheese crumbles

Chipotle Sour Cream:

  • Use 1/2 of a chipotle pepper canned in adobo sauce
  • 3/4 cup sour cream

Blend together in mini food processor or blender.

Grill chicken, and then chop into medium dice.  Brush tortilla with olive oil.  Assemble chicken with remaining ingredients on one half of tortilla, sprinkle with goat cheese.  Fold tortilla over.  Brush both sides with olive oil.  Grill for 2 minutes each side over medium heat.  Top with dollop of the sour cream and garnish with cilantro.  Serve immediately.

A wine that came up big with this creation and that was also a huge hit with folks at an earlier tasting this year was the Cantine Riondo Prosecco Spago NV (Veneto, Italy $10 US).

For the main course, Holly assembled a few Food Network inspired dishes along with a Creamy Cheese and Chipotle Polenta (see recipes below).

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak
(Serves 6)
Recipe found on, we tweaked it by adding cumin and cayenne

Marinade Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Other ingredients

  • 2 pounds flank steak
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper 
  1. Score the surface of the steak with 1/4 inch deep knife cuts, about an inch apart, across the grain of the meat. Combine the marinade ingredients. Place steak and marinade ingredients in a large freezer bag. Coat the steak well with the marinade. Seal the bag and place in a bowl. Chill and marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
  2. Using olive oil soaked onto a paper towel, coat the grill rack of your grill with olive oil. Preheat the grill with high, direct heat. The grill is hot enough when you hold your hand about an inch over it and you can only hold it there for about a second.
  3. Take the steak out of the marinade bag and sprinkle generously on all sides with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. The salt and pepper will help form a savory crust on the steak. Place steak on the hot grill. If you are using a gas grill, cover the grill. Grill for 4-6 minutes on each side. Half way through grilling on each side, turn the steak 90° so that you get more grill marks.  This will cook it to approximately medium-rare.

If you want, you can take the excess marinade and bring it to a boil, simmer for several minutes, and serve with the flank steak. Great also with salsa or horseradish sauce.

For the sides, Holly put together one mean slaw and an interesting take on polenta.

Green Onion Slaw:
(Serves 8-10)
Recipe found on

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped green onions, white and green parts
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 Serrano chilies
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small head of purple cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • I substituted one bag of Dole Classic Slaw in place of both cabbages

To make the dressing for the slaw, combine the green onions, vinegar, honey, chilies, mayonnaise, oil and salt and pepper to taste in a blender and blend until emulsified.

Combine the cabbage, red onion and poppy seeds in a bowl, add the dressing, and stir until combined. Fold in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate while you grill the Steak or for up to 1 hour.  

Creamy Cheese and Chipotle Polenta
(Serves 4-6)

  • 1 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 6 cups water
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Bring the water to a boil, add generous pinch kosher salt.  Slowly add in the corn meal, using a whisk, stirring constantly.  When cornmeal has absorbed the water, has a cream of wheat texture, then add remaining ingredients, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Searching for a balance that would be bold, concentrated and full of spicy goodness to complement this meal, I decided to take a chance with a couple of wines that I had received as samples from Chile’s Viña Santa Carolina.

Celebrating over 135 years, Viña Santa Carolina is best known in the local markets that it has served over this time span.  More recently however, the winery has made an effort to step up its marketing campaign in the US to establish itself as a producer of quality driven wines at affordable prices.

First up was the 2010 Santa Carolina Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Sample, MSRP: $12 US).  The general consensus on this red wine was that with it being a 2010 it seemed a bit sharp on the tannins and registered a lot of overly sweet raspberry flavors on the palate.  We tried it over the course of two hours hoping that this breathing time would open up some other interesting flavor components.  Unfortunately, we all thought that the vanilla was too overpowering against the subtle black peppery notes and forward sweet raspberry fruit flavors.

We were all in complete agreement  – 2 Stars out of 4 for the 2010 Santa Carolina Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our second wine of the evening from Viña Santa Carolina was the 2010 Reserva Carmenere (Sample, MSRP: $12 US)Much like the Cabernet Sauvignon, this red also showcased a noticeable amount of upfront vanilla flavor.  One of our hosts’ described it as being like a “vanilla smoothie on your tongue.”  The difference between the two wines however, was that this red wine was much more concentrated and balanced out with dark fruit and soft spices.  We all agreed that the 2010 Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenere was silky smooth and offered a lot of good value for everyday wine drinkers.

3 Stars out 4 for the 2010 Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenere. 

And what would a barbecue be without dessert?

We ended the evening on high (albeit stuffed) note with a cheese course that was out of this world good!

Shown in picture: 

Delice D’Affinos (France) cow’s milk, soft, creamy, mild. 

Cabrales/Valdeon  (Spain) blue cheese, sheep and goats milk.  This cheese came highly recommended by the crunky looking European cheese lady at the cheese counter.  She also recommended lightly drizzling honey over top.  What!?.. it was Delicious!  Thanks cheese lady!

Murcia Al Vino (Spain) Sheep/ goats milk, red wine notes, very tangy.

Romero Vall De Cati (Spain) Sheep/goats milk packed in a rosemary herbed crust.

After all this, who would have thought that a pile of Pillsbury crescent roll dough mixed with butter, cream cheese, cinnamon, honey and sugar could have be so effin’ good!!  (Don’t judge!)  Checkout this Sopapilla Cheesecake Pie that my wife stumbled across on

Trust me, when I tell you – it was good for dessert, but you’ll wake up the next morning wanting it for breakfast too!

Good Friends, Good Food and Good Wine!  That’s what Good Livin’ is all about!  Bon Appétit!

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