I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Chacewater Winery offers organic wine

The Boy Toy and I just returned from a much needed week long vacation of swirling and sipping our way through the California wine country. Not long before we started planning this trip, I accepted a job at a North Carolina wine and beer distributor and I soon found out that being “industry” ensured that the wine flowed and preferential treatment ensued during our winery visits. And I was not one bit ashamed of throwing my business card around - tastings and tours in Napa and Sonoma can get pretty pricey and we visited eight different wineries.

We also spent a couple of days seeing the sights of San Francisco since we were so close and Boy Toy had never been there. I took over 400 photos! I managed to whittle them down to a select 156 few and you can view them all here if you’d like.It’s been really hard to get out of vacation frame of mind and back into real life – I’m still pretending to be in the wine country each evening by pouring me a glass of wine while preparing dinner and trying to dissect its nuances.

Of the eight wineries we visited, six were suppliers that my company represents, which meant that I didn’t need to bother with buying their wine to bring home if we enjoyed it – I can just call out to the warehouse and have it brought to me. And you would think with that job perk, I wouldn’t need to buy wines from any other source. But there was one winery that I WANTED to buy from called Chacewater. Their grapes are grown organically and farmed bio-dynamically and their products carry a certified organic label. I had high hopes of coming back to work and spreading the good word about Chacewater in anticipation of adding them to our distributor portfolio, but my boss informed me that the word “organic” on a wine label is the kiss of death.  I was shocked to learn that – I know there aren’t many organic wines on the market but I would think with more and more people migrating to an organic and real food lifestyle it would be a growing part of the industry.  But then again, I also know that the concept only appeals to a minority.  So I’m singing the winery’s praises here and hoping it benefits someone looking for organic wines.  
We found ourselves at Chacewater’s tasting bar one afternoon based on a recommendation from my doctor.  In addition to a wine tasting, we were also offered an olive oil tasting.  It was here that we learned California wineries do not offer by- the- glass purchases of wine to enjoy after a tasting like we are used to here in North Carolina but Ryan, our pourer, allowed us to “revisit” as many wines as we wanted.   Each of their wines was very impressive and I liked them all – I walked away with a bottle of Highlander Red and I don’t even consider myself a lover of red wine!  I also brought home the four-bottle sample pack of olive oils and a bar of lavender mint scented soap.  

The founders, Paul and Kellye Manuel, had been tending to vineyards for nearly twenty years and selling the organically grown grapes to Fetzer when they had the opportunity to purchase 10 acres of vines in Lake County from the monks of Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery.   Shortly thereafter, they built Chacewater and the name plays homage to Manuel’s ancestral town of Chacewater in England. 
It wasn’t long before Chacewater’s winemaking portfolio gained recognition and in addition to wine, they produce certified bottles of award-winning Tuscan extra virgin olive oils and citrus infused oils from 8 varieties of olives grown on site.  Any of their olive oils that are two years or older in age are sent out and returned in the form of luxurious EVOO-based scented soap products.  
Chacewater olive oils, wines, and soaps are not distributed in states other than California but they may be purchased online.  Once my funds recover from vacation spending, I plan to stock my wine refrigerator with more of Chacewater’s products.  
If you happen to be visiting the Lake County area, their tasting room is open Monday – Sunday from 11am to 5pm.  They are located at 5625 Gaddy Lane, Kelseyville, CA .

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A Good Food Day cookbook review

With the Overburdened Cookbook Shelf leaching out into the rest of my house, it’s readily apparent that I do not need yet another cookbook. But I can NOT help myself.  It’s a sickness hobby.  Not long ago, I stumbled upon a website where you receive free cookbooks in exchange for reviews and it was just like having an intravenous straight line to feed my addiction hobby.  The hook, line and sinker for me (as IF I needed one) was that you don’t get just any cookbook – you could choose the book that you wanted to review.  After perusing the selections, I chose A Good Food Day by Marco Canora with Tammy Walker because it appeared to focus on the concept of real food.  

Chef Canora begins the book by telling his story and justification for writing the book – a near health disaster forced a change in his diet.   As a former contestant on Food Network’s Iron Chef and head chef and owner of Hearth, located in New York, he was over 40 years old, pre-diabetic, 30 pounds overweight, had high cholesterol, and suffered from gout.  It’s a story that unfortunately a lot of people are familiar with – not thinking about the correlation of diet and health until it’s (almost) too late.  Canora used his kitchen knowledge, creativity and sense of adventure to create this book full of 125 recipes that focus on whole and real foods to help motivate and prove that eating healthy does not mean deprivation or bland, pathetic looking food.  This is not a low carb, no meat, low fat, calorie-counting cookbook or a book about being proud for eating like you’re “supposed to.”  It is about eating local and seasonal, getting over the “fat phobia” instilled in us thanks to mass marketing, and eating good food for better health. 

At first glance, the recipes sounded indulgent and worthy of only being prepared for a fancy party or special occasion.  But why should the “good stuff” be reserved for special occasions?  Why not indulge ourselves for the sake of good health?  I liked the fact that a recommended list of pantry and fridge staples was included and I was pleased to realize that, thanks to my diligence over the past year, my pantry already had alot of the items.  I also liked the fact that some of the same ingredients were used in multiple recipes (without being repetitive of what you were eating) so as to maximize your food purchases.  

After just returning from vacation in the California wine country, I was spoiled from 8 days of indulgent food and wine and decided to cook my way through A Good Food Day to continue the streak.  I had a few apples purchased prior to my trip languishing on my counter, so the Apple Walnut Spice Muffins were the first order of business.  I could not find oat flour in my grocery store so I substituted whole wheat flour and had no issues.  They came out of the oven with a beautiful dark, rustic look and a good crown.  They were very moist and chock-full of texture thanks to the addition of diced apples along with grated ones.  These beauties are in my office freezer and ready to be pulled out for a quick, filling breakfast.  

Salmon in Parchment with Olives, Fennel and Lemon will make you feel like a king when you sit down to dinner.  This elegant-looking recipe took less than 30 minutes from start to on-the-table-ready-to-eat and I only dirtied one knife and a cutting board.  My kind of meal for sure!  I threw in a few capers and then plan to use the remaining salmon next week for the Salmon and Arugula Salad with Pomegranate.

Fennel also did double-duty in the Spinach Salad with Olives, Roasted Fennel and Grapefruit.  You may think you can’t eat just a salad for dinner and be satisfied, but I paired this with a crusty loaf of rosemary bread dipped in olive oil (a souvenir from my trip) and didn’t have so much as a grumble from my stomach for the rest of the evening.  It was very hearty and I even enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.  I also used grapefruit for breakfast in the Ode to Orange Julius Shake, but due to my own personal taste preferences and less-than-stellar food processor, I didn’t enjoy it so much.  I would, however, serve it to guests for a brunch. 

And to reiterate the fact that eating good doesn’t mean deprivation, there is a section for sweets and for snacks and I just had to try the Hazelnut Brownies.  I used almond meal in place of the hazelnut meal (per a suggested substitution from Chef's notes) because I already had that in my pantry but again had to use whole wheat flour in place of the oat flour.  They baked up beautifully with nice crispy edges (my favorite part of a brownie) and had a perfectly balanced texture between fudgy and cake-like.  Normally I piggishly eat half a pan of just-out-of-the-oven brownies in one sitting and still don’t feel like I’ve gotten my chocolate fix.  With these brownies, I only ate 2 small squares.  Not because they weren’t good – quite the contrary.  It was because they were so chocolatey rich and delicious and satisfying.  

I have numerous other recipes from A Good Food Day on my list to prepare in the coming weeks but I knew I didn’t need to hold off writing my review until I had completed them all.  Chef Marco Canora has created a cookbook that exemplifies treating food as fun instead of just fuel for the body.  If you are just starting your real food journey and are used to having primarily processed foods in your diet, it’s possible that you may be leery of the recipes in this book based on names and ingredients, but don’t be intimidated.  There’s no weird tofu/soy protein/tempeh to be had here – just healthy real foods.  For my review, I give this book 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.  I deduct a half star because Chef Canora does not mince words and includes some profanity while telling his story.  I personally am not offended by the language, but based on that alone, I wouldn’t recommend this book to the likes of my mother or grandmother or any of my more conservative friends.   

I received this book free to review from Blogging for Books. The opinions expressed in this review are my true thoughts and feeling regarding this book. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Revelations over a bowl of split pea soup

My momma always told me not to wish my life away.

When I was a kid, I can remember wishing for the days when I would be an adult.  Looking forward to having my own place to live, my own money to spend, my own rules to live by. Wanting NOW what would inevitably come. Wishing....

I think by now we've all realized that being an adult is a total rip-off.  Momma was right.

Another year has passed us by and I can't help but be a little melancholy. While everyone is oversharing on social media their enthusiasms and goals for the next 365 days, I feel sad about the passage of time. It all moves so fast. While I'm glad to finally have my family's hardships that lingered from 2013 into 2014 behind us and look forward to much healthier days ahead for everyone, I just wish it would all slow down so we can savor and enjoy the good parts more. It seems we blow through 365 days at lightening fast speed.  One day it's January 1 and in the blink of an eye we are already making resolutions for the next year.

My resolution for this year is to enjoy anything and everything as much as possible.  I resolve to see the silver lining in what might not be an ideal situation and learn from it.  I want to surround myself with those who matter and focus less on who and what doesn't.  We only have one audition for life and I want to make the most of it before the final curtain call.  I want to revel in the good times. 

We always seem to end a year with plenty of indulgences - Thanksgiving feasts, holiday parties, Christmas dinners and gifts, Champagne-laden toasts at New Year - so it stands to reason that a new year is marked with humbleness.  Black-eyed peas and collard greens are typically served as a meal for good luck and good fortune.  Most Eastern European countries serve split pea soup as a sign of prosperity in the form of money in the new year.

Since I had a nice meaty ham bone left over from Christmas dinner and since I've never eaten it, I figured it wouldn't hurt to test the split pea soup tradition.  And guess what??  I'm pleased to report that I was told today that I would be getting a 6.25% pay increase with my first 2015 paycheck.

I am a believer!!

Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup with Ham
Servings: 4 to 6

1 (16-ounce) package dried split peas, rinsed
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken broth
1 leftover meaty ham bone

Place all of the ingredients in the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Remove the bay leaf from the soup and discard. Remove ham bone from soup and pull remaining meat from the bone and set meat aside. You can either remove a few cups of the soup, and puree the remaining with an immersion blender or use the immersion blender to puree all the soup slightly. Stir the reserved ham (and soup) back into the soup and serve warm.  (If the soup becomes too thick after blending, add water to thin.)

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Making homemade stock

My favorite part of the holidays always revolves around the aspect of food – making and decorating gingerbread houses, baking cookies to fatten the coworkers, preparing appetizers for holiday gatherings, collecting festive recipes and wishing I had time to make them all.

So my absolute giddiness should be no surprise even in the days following Thanksgiving and Christmas when Boy Toy bestows upon me his beautiful turkey carcasses. My kitchen becomes much like the setting for a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth…

Scene: A dark Cave. In the middle, a Caldron boiling. Thunder.

Enter the three Witches:

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Exit stage left.

My slow cookers are loaded with the bird leftovers and aromatics and simmer for a couple of days to produce the liquid gold that keeps my freezer stocked for most of the upcoming year. I use turkey stock interchangeably with chicken stock because there is no taste difference in my opinion. Bird is bird. And I use every leftover part of the bird for stock – bones, skin, scraps, cartilage, fat - all those pieces and parts that you wouldn’t eat for dinner and would normally throw out.

Homemade stock is a beautiful thing. Not only is it more flavorful, heartier and healthier than store-bought stock, it also makes use of something that would otherwise go in the trash. A 32-ounce carton of chicken broth can cost anywhere from $3 to $4, so making your own stock allows for extra money in the food budget over time. Soups are a huge part of my menu rotation, so it doesn’t take long for me to see the savings.

Making homemade stock is easy and not very time consuming and can be made on the stove top using a large stock pot if you don’t have a slow cooker. The biggest challenge for me is having enough vessels to store it in.  I'm usually scrounging up everything empty jar or tub I can find.  I purchase whole chickens from Windy Hill Farms throughout the year but other times when I’m only cooking a few legs, thighs or bone-in breasts and don’t necessarily have enough bones at once, I’ll collect them in the freezer until I have enough for a batch (sometimes the contents of my freezer could be the makings of a good horror flick!) If you catch legs and thighs on sale for a really low price, pick up a couple of packs and use them for stock.

The beautiful thing about the recipe for homemade stock is that there is no set recipe. It can be modified to use whatever aromatics you have on hand, so don’t stress if you don’t have these exact ingredients on hand. I personally never season my stock with salt while preparing – I wait until it goes into whatever recipe I’m using it in so I can control the seasonings.

I also try to maximize my savings by using the same set of bones for two rounds of stock. After I strain the first time, everything goes right back into the pot for Round 2. The first round of stock is best used for soups and dishes where the broth is the main component of flavor and the second round is best used for flavoring things like rice or sauces.

Homemade Chicken Stock
servings = varies

1 onion, quartered
2 stalks celery
2 whole carrots
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
1 bunch fresh herbs of your choice (I like parsley, thyme or oregano or a combination of all)
2 Tablespoons whole peppercorns

Place all ingredients in the slow cooker along with your bones and meat scraps. Add enough water to fill the cooker, leaving about 1 inch of space. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. If using stove top method, simmer in a pot over medium-low heat for 4 hours.

Strain contents of the pot through a sieve or colander and discard the solids (or use for a 2nd round of stock.) Cool stock overnight. When completely chilled, skim accumulated fat from the surface. Use immediately or store in containers in the freezer.

When you date a food nerd, sometimes you just don't know which way a conversation is going to turn.

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Port Wine Cranberry Chutney

I can't help but feel a little resentment when it comes to preparing food for others for the holidays.   Boy Toy is King of the deep fryer, so for the last two Thanksgivings I've been in charge of preparing side dishes to compliment his beautiful birds.  We host his family members for the meal and I understand that my idea(s) of tradition may be somewhat foreign to others.

My family's Thanksgiving meal consisted of most things that I continue to prepare today and for two years now, most of my food has gone untouched because it is not what Boy Toy's family is used to.  As time has gone by and the more I've socialized with them around the table, I've come to realize that most of his family members are used to (and prefer) processed, packaged foods.  The mashed potatoes they know come from a box, green beans come from a can, and bread is from a plastic bag with directions to "brown and serve."  I know that people tend to stick with what they are familiar with and what they like, but it is very disheartening when my hard work and love go into food that is greeted by grimaced faces and rude comments (someone actually told me they "wouldn't cross the street" for my made-from-scratch chicken tetrazzine.  He ended up eating a sleeve of saltine crackers for dinner that day.)

Last year I made the declaration that I would no longer spend so much time, energy and money preparing what I thought was "good" food for the holiday.  But as I started giving thought to the menu for this holiday season, I had a revelation.  I decided that I would continue to make my "weird" food and they could take it or leave it.  I made reference in my last post about there being no time like the present to introduce real food to Boy Toy (who is a little more open-minded about my food) and his kids and I'm going to continue with that mindset.  I'm not going to compromise what I love about Thanksgiving - especially when I am tasked with preparing the food.  Hopefully as my food continues to appear on the table year after year, someone will give in, try it, and decide it's not so bad after all.

This year I'm arriving at the Boy Toy home loaded down with cornbread dressing, creamed corn, spinach casserole, made-from-scratch green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie, cranberry tart.  and this port wine cranberry chutney.

I will be thankful for the opportunity to spend time in my kitchen preparing the things that I love and everyone else can be thankful that McDonald's is open!

Port Wine Cranberry Sauce 
servings = makes about 2 cups

½ cup ruby port
Zest of 1 orange
½ cup fresh orange juice
12 ounces fresh cranberries
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped

In a medium saucepan, combine port wine with orange zest and orange juice and bring to a boil. Add the cranberries, honey and ginger and simmer over medium-low heat until the sauce is jam-like, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm or at room temperature.

Can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

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