Monday, June 8, 2015

For The Love of Tomatoes! (Tomato Tart)


Ah, tomatoes - that summer vegetable (or is it a fruit?) we all love.  We grow them in our gardens, and put them in salads, and their red freshness is one of the beginning signatures of warm summer days.  But, I think the poor tomato sometimes gets left high and dry because apart from chopping it up and dressing it or putting it in a hamburger bun, how else can we eat it?

Two words - Tomato Tart.  This lovely, fresh tart is not only beautiful but delicious.  The crust is made by hand, and then layered with fresh tomatoes, sliced thin and layered in concentric circles.

Below is the recipe.  Bon appetit!


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp cold water

1. Combine flour and salt on the counter and cut in butter until it is in pea-sized chunks.
2. Cut in cold water and use hands to press dough together, folding as you knead, to create layers.
3. Form dough into a disk and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.
4. Roll out dough into circle using a rolling pin and press into 9 inch tart pan.
5. Wrap the unbaked tart and chill at least one hour.
6. Place layer of aluminum foil in bottom of tart covering the bottom of sides and fill with rice or beans. (blind bake).
7. Bake tart with rice/beans inside for 12 minutes at 350 F.
8. Remove beans and bake empty crust an addition 5 minutes.


6 oz Gruyere cheese (thinly sliced)
4 tbsp fresh basil
2 cloves of garlic
2-3 ripe tomatoes

1. Thinly slice tomatoes and cheese.
2. Chop basil and garlic.
3. Layer cheese on the bottom of the baked crust. Sprinkle basil and garlic on top of cheese.
4. Layer tomatoes decoratively in concentric circles in the crust.
5. Salt and pepper to taste.
6. Bake at 375 F for 25-30 minutes until tomatoes are cooked down and cheese is bubbling.

If you enjoy this recipe please let me know.  I would also love to hear about some of your favorite tomato recipes!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

River City Winery - New Albany, IN

2013 Vegh Davis Vignoles
Wine in Indiana? Seems like an unlikely fit for a state known mostly for corn.  However, River City Winery may take you by surprise.  Is the wine on par with your Napa or Sonoma winery? Maybe not. But the wine is surprisingly good for local fare plus you can get a good meal!  I visited River City Winery just this past weekend with a friend of mine.  We were looking for a local joint where we could grab a bite, be served, without being saddled with an enormous bill.  River City fulfills all of these criteria and then some.

When you walk into the winery you are greeted by a hostess who ushers you immediately into the large eating/bar area. The walls are made of exposed brick, with one wall taken up almost entirely by a bar stocked with (you guessed it) River City Wine.  The tables are scattered, but not crammed, within the main dining area, although you can also be seated in a private room off to the side.  My friend and I were seated at a high top almost immediately and greeted by our effusive, eager-to-please waitress.  Since I was torn as to which white wine to order, the waitress gave me ample tastings of two so I could make an educated decision.  I decided on a delicious white, the 2013 Vegh Davis Vignoles.  It was sweet but not cloyingly so and had notes of pear and honey as well as a long finish.

Spinach salad with chicken, feta, and bacon vinaigrette

The wine went beautifully with my dinner, a spinach salad with lemon infused chicken and bacon vinaigrette.  The salad was delicate, flavorful, and really hit the spot.  I definitely recommend it if you are seeking a lighter meal.  The wine was brought to the table promptly as was the food.  Our waitress was sweet and attentive but she did not "hover" (one my pet peeves at restaurants).  Throughout most of our meal we were able to enjoy the live strumming and singing of a local guitar player.  It all added to the casual elegant vibe being displayed by the winery.
Your fearless blogger, happy with wine.

This restaurant/winery also has a great price point.  All the entrees are between $7-$15 for dinner and under $10 for lunch.  The wine is, at maximum, $15/bottle and last night the wine was 20% off! You definitely can't ask for a deal better than that.  If you are looking to leave Louisville without traveling too far I definitely recommend River City Winery.  It is nestled in the heart of downtown New Albany, and is easy to find.  Parking is on the street but not difficult to come by.  So Kentuckians take a break from your bourbon - if you can - and check out this winery the next time you are looking for a drink!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Summer Riesling: 2011 Riesling Chateau Ste. Michelle (Columbia Valley)

Looking for that perfect, inexpensive Riesling for a hot summer's night? Look no further! Chateau Ste. Michelle is a great fit for any occasion.  Last weekend, I took it to a girl's wine night and it was one of the favorites.  It has a beautiful, pale honey hue in the glass, a sweet long finish, and a round full flavor. 

This wine literally "smells like summer". It smells of fresh honeysuckle, grass, and apricots.  All those smells remind me of my own childhood when I was playing in my parent's backyard.  The wine also has a very slight hint of effervescence so it tingles on the tongue in a most delightful way.

This bottle of wine usually sells for $12 but lately I have found it on sale for only $8! I definitely recommend checking out your local liquor store for this beauty.  You will not be disappointed.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Flaky Biscuits : 5 Tips for Success

Whether you are from the South or not, you know that having a crisp, fluffy biscuit for breakfast is a great way to start the day.  But what's the secret behind getting those biscuits high and light?  I'm going to share with you my recipe for biscuits as well as 5 quick tips to making the best biscuits ever.  (And by the way this whole recipe takes me less than 10 minutes to make!) So throw out your mixes and your pre-made frozen biscuits-you won't be able to go back when you have tried this yummy recipe.

Makes 10 to 12 biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt on a clean counter
  3. Cut the stick of butter into flour mixture until it is pea-sized.  Make a well in the dough and pour in the buttermilk.
  4. Gently knead the dough until it comes together.  It should be on the sticky side.  Fold the dough about 3 to 4 times to create layers and very gently press the dough out.
  5. Using a round biscuit cutter to cut out circles. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
Now that you have the recipe follow these five tips to make the PERFECT biscuits.

1. Use Cold Ingredients

The butter should be cold and the buttermilk should be cold.  The cold butter melts in the oven and creates pockets which become flaky, tender bites in the biscuit.  If the butter or buttermilk is too warm the dough will become homogeneous and therefore less flaky.

2. Undermix

Too much mixing develops gluten in the flour and softens the butter.  While gluten is a good thing in bread dough because you need that elasticity, in biscuits it makes a tough, hard product. When in doubt, undermixing is better.

3. Make a Moist Dough

A moist dough makes a moist biscuit.  If the dough is dry the biscuit will be dry too.  Don't be afraid to add more buttermilk to the recipe above if you feel the dough is not sticky enough.

4. Hand Mix and Press Out Dough

I cannot stress this enough.  Mixers and food processors are great for many things but you risk developing too much gluten if you use these devices for biscuits.  Use your hands to gently combine the ingredients and then press the dough out with your fingers (not a rolling pin).

5. Bake in a Hot Oven

High heat activates the leavening agent in baking powder and enables the biscuits to rise high, quickly.  A cold oven will not give the biscuits the lift they need.  For me a hot oven is 400 F.  For you, it might be 425. Try out a recipe you are familiar with first to determine if you are oven is running cool.  Don't be afraid to elevate the temperature if needed.

Mix dry ingredients together and cut butter in until pea sized.

Make a well and add the cold buttermilk.

Press the dough out gently using your fingers.

Place cut biscuits on baking sheet with ample room between.

Enjoy a fluffy hot biscuit!

Have questions or need additional tips on making a great biscuit?  Please provide feedback in the comment section below.  I would love to hear from you! Happy baking!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

High West Distillery & Saloon - Park City, Utah

High West Burger
Looking for a great place to eat after a heavy day of skiing? Look no further than the High West Distillery located just off the main drag in Park City.  Plan ahead though because this place gets PACKED. My first night in Park City my brother and I tried to eat here at around 7 pm and the distillery had already stopped taking reservations!!! The next day we went for an early meal around 4:40 pm and got in right away- no reservation.

The menu is chock full of all the items you want to see after doing some heavy skiing and cardio- steak, fried chicken, burgers.  I tried the burger and it was awesome.  Cooked to perfection and loaded up with marinated onions and gooey Gruyere, this dish really hit the spot.  And you can tell the fries that come with are homemade because they are crunchy and perfectly salted and taste of fresh, fried potato. However, there are plenty of options for healthy sides as well, like Brussel sprouts and kale.  And don't forget to check out the dessert menu which boasts some delightful creations including a homemade S'more, cobbler, and cheesecake.

One of the real draws to this place is the whiskey which is made and distilled onsite.  If you want to try em' all check out the whiskey flight - an opportunity to try four of their fabulous whiskies.  The best, in my opinion, is the Rendevous Rye which smells of cloves and cinnamon in the nose and feels beautiful going down.

On your way out walk though the hallway where the glass reveals the inner workings of the distillery.  It is cool to see and a process that is much appreciated by a bourbon loving Kentuckian like myself.  Stop at the shops and try out other local places for sure but don't miss out on this little treasure of a distillery!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Silver Dollar - Louisville, KY

Want a great little place to grab drinks with a friend and also score some awesome food? You're in luck- good drinks meet fine, local food at this little establishment off Frankfort Avenue.  The Silver Dollar at first glance looks like a bar with your basic bar food.  But do not be fooled by the casual ambiance.  The menu is quite substantial and almost all of the beef offerings can be tailored to include grass-fed beef only.  
The Ultimate

On my last visit there I enjoyed "The Ultimate" which is two beef patties with cheese sandwiched in between two grilled cheese sandwiches and finished with fries.  While this meal may have sent my cholesterol soaring it was quite delicious. And they have many other options for lighter fare including salads and sides.  

A drink menu displays their signature cocktails but almost any mixed drink, beer, or wine can be enjoyed here too.  The service is very fast if you come late (around 10-11) but don't expect it to be quite as fast if you come at the dinner hour.   The only downside to this delightful bar is that at peak or busy hours it is almost impossible to hold a conversation as the sound carries and reverberates within this building.  However, if you come later to enjoy some nibbles and a few drinks with friends the ambiance is quiet and relaxing.  This is a great place to eat a late dinner or just hang out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Old 502 Winery - Louisville, KY

Wine and Kentucky are not two words that are usually uttered in the same sentence.  And yet, last week, somehow I found myself at a Kentucky winery, downtown no less, where I was actually participating in a wine tasting.  I went to the Old 502 with my alumni club to see what alcohol Kentucky had to offer us besides bourbon- I wasn't expecting much.

I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful tasting room at the Old 502.  It is set up as small gift shop overflowing into the tasting area which is well equipped with a bar and tasting tables adorned with black tablecloths.  I had called ahead with a group reservation and the winery was very prompt about setting up a private table for my group in the back of the room.  Once you are outfitted with the tasting sheets and are seated at the table the wine host starts pouring the wines as quickly or slowly as you can drink them.  They are pretty good about judging your thirst for knowledge...our wine host seemed to know a lot about the bottles she was pouring but was not needlessly interrupting our conversation to make her points either.

All in all we tasted 8 wines for $12 and the wine pourings were fairly lavish.  My favorites were the white wines which were slightly sweet with apricot notes but not cloyingly so.  The reds were good but left something to be desired, at least for me.  The greatest crowd pleaser was the "After Choc"- a dessert wine known for smelling and tasting like a tootsie roll.  It definitely lived up to its reputation and a sip of this wine was like drinking candy.  At the end of the tasting we were able to keep a trademark Old 502 wine glass which was a surprise bonus.

The winery is situated on 10th street so it is a bit off the beaten path but the parking is plentiful.  All wines are blended onsite and are made from local Kentucky wine. The next time you head to downtown and our bourbon-ed out head over to this little place.  It may be the "Old 502" but this winery certainly has a new sense of style and class.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gouveia Vineyards- Wallingford, CT

The snowy vineyard
One can hardly expect to visit a winery in the middle of winter but while visiting a friend in Wallingford, Connecticut recently I found myself doing just that!  My friend and I met in culinary school and bonded over a love of wine and wine tasting.  We did not let the fact that the Northeast had gotten slammed by yet another snowstorm that weekend deter us from exploring the local winery called Gouveia.

The winery is situated approximately 10 minutes from downtown Wallingford and we reached it by way of a beautiful meandering road flanked by huge snow drifts.  When we arrived the winery was already hopping, most likely from cabin fever acquired by harried New Englanders who have been buried under snow all winter.  The inside can be acquainted with that of a ski lodge; it is wooden and inviting, with a log cabin feel and lots of long picnic style tables.  Two wine tasting bars flank either end of the vineyard.  You can do a tasting at the vineyard for just $10 for 5 wines, however, my friend and I chose to have a glass of wine each for $7 each instead.
Tasting the Stonehouse Red

We tried the Cayuga White which is their house semi-sweet wine. This wine is the hue of summer light on the wheat fields at dusk.  It smells like honeysuckle and honey.  It is light and tastes of apricot and apple.  It finishes long and crisp on the palate.

We also tasted the Stonehouse Red which is a luscious dark maroon color.  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  It tastes of dark fruit as well as hints of cherry and cranberry.  It has a long finish and smells of oak and fruit.

 Afterwards, we had a lovely stroll through the Connecticut vineyard where we enjoyed the view of cascading hills in the distance and vineyard fines dusted with snowdrifts. What a unique and refreshing experience to have wine in the winter!  A definite must-see if you are in the New Haven area and have extra time to spare.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Santa Margherita Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore

Looking for a little bubbly to lighten up the winter blues?  The Santa Margherita Prosecco is just the ticket! With it's pale honey colored hue it lures you in.  This Prosecco exhibits some perlage- enough to satisfy craving for a little bubbly without being too intense.  The nose of this wine boasts a sweet apricot and honeysuckle aroma.  The taste is slightly acidic with notes of green apple and tangerine.  This Prosecco pairs nicely with Camembert or goat cheese. Leave your heavy Merlots and Cabernet's in the closet tonight.  This wine is sure to tickle your fancy....and your taste buds.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Back to Basics- Making Flaky, Tender Bites

Many people spend time debating the nuances of baked products- what makes one cookie better than another, one pie tastier?  In general, people can describe small things about what makes a crust or cookie delicious although, decidedly, they cannot always put a finger on what makes it the BEST.  However adjectives such as "flaky", "tender", "light", and "buttery" often come to mind.  Yet, although many agree that these are desirable characteristics, how can a novice baker achieve such results without extensive practice? The answer lies, as it most frequently does in baking, in chemistry.  

If you understand the chemistry behind gluten, protein, and flour you can rest assured you will almost always make a flaky product.  Gluten (and the evils of gluten) are abounding in the foodie world today.  But what exactly is it?  Gluten is nothing more than a protein found in wheat products.  It is what gives flour its texture, chewiness, and elasticity. And flours are milled differently depending on their purpose.  

Apple pie w/ "flaky" pie crust
High protein or "bread flours" are milled for bread because this dough requires large quantities of gluten for the proper flavor and structure.  The flour with the least amount of gluten is cake flour and its low gluten properties are why it is primarily flavored for cookies.  All-purpose flour which is most commonly consumed by American households is half bread flour/half pastry flour so it has a fairly balanced amount of protein.  This makes it perfect for all manner of general baking from pies to tarts to breads.  

So let's get back to the science behind the mysterious gluten component which lurks within wheat. Gluten is composed of the proteins, glutenin and gliadin, which when worked by kneading, rolling, or manipulating flour, strengthen and add elasticity to a dough. The stretching and strengthening of flour is quite desirable in bread dough which needs that elasticity to expand. However, a "strong" dough is not encouraged in pies or cookies as it creates tough texture here.  When a baker desires to decrease a tough texture there a few tactics to take- one is to use a low protein flour.  The second way to inhibit gluten from strengthening a dough is to shorten the protein strands by adding a lubricating fat such as eggs or butter.  Finally, dough can be "relaxed" in a cool environment such as the fridge or freezer.  Placing gluten in this cool environment prevents the proteins in gluten from getting tighter and stronger.

So why so much science before I tell you the hidden secret behind a flaky dough?  Because the SCIENCE is the SECRET.  The next time you make your favorite pie dough or shortbread cookies remember, butter is your friend for a flaky dough.  Additionally, EVERY time the dough is handled or rolled or cut it must be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes to relax the gluten.  These simple rules will change your average, ho hum pie crusts and cookies into smashing crowd-pleasers. Your pies and cookies will never be the same again!