Drink Me: Grenache

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Happy Wine Wednesday!

If you are newer to wine or stick to well-known varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, you may not have heard of Grenache. But you may have had it!

Grenache is a red grape varietal grown mostly in the Rhone Valley in France. If you’ve ever had a Côtes du Rhône or a wine from the region, it probably was made with Grenache. Grenache is most often blended with Syrah and Mouvedre. In Spain, it’s called Garnacha and is regularly blended with Tempranillo.

Why does it make such a great blending grape? Because it adds lots of fruity berry flavors without all of the tannins. There’s a bit of acidity to add structure and sometimes a bit a spice. Rob waivers on Grenache, because sometimes he finds a hint of white pepper – which he does not like!

You may have also seen Grenache from the New World, as well. When I used to do in-home wine tastings, one of my favorites was the Catch a Thief Grenache from McLaren Vale, South Australia. Then, when I earned an all-expense paid trip to Napa, California, one of my favorite Grenaches came from one of The Traveling Vineyard’s suppliers, Stonehedge. I splurged on a case of the $30 bottle because we were offered a significant discount. Absolute heaven.

So you can imagine how delighted we were when we received a Grenache in our South Coast Wine Club shipment.

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When we were in Temecula, California last year, we found that a lot of vineyards produced wines made from Rhone Valley grapes. Perhaps the climate is somewhat similar to that of the southern France and Spain. Still, the Grenache vine is a hardy one that survives better than most others in windy and drier conditions, much like the semi-arid climate of the Old Southwest.

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The Grenache grape depends on a long growing season to ripen, which in turn leads to high sugar levels and the potential for a wine with high alcohol content. You will find this with many New World Grenaches. However, Rhone Valley wines can be dialed back with the other blending grapes.

Here is what our South Coast Temecula Valley Grenache had to offer:

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While this was probably one of my least favorite South Coast wines, it was still very good. What I tasted was a hint of eucalyptus, which brought me back to the days when I had a really bad Petit Verdot from Australia. That one was all eucalyptus and not palatable at all. Here, there was only a hint, which may have even been the violet or lavender they include in the description.

For a bit more information about Grenache, check out these fun facts.

Grenache Food Pairings:

  • Stews, roasts, anything braised or cooked low and slow.
  • Game, grilled sausages.
  • Warm spices like garam masala or Moroccan spices found in a traditional tagine.
  • Casseroles or “bakes” such as goulash, macaroni and cheese, vegetable bakes, lentil and bean dishes. Minnesotans, perhaps a Tater Tot Hotdish?
  • BBQ – perfect with that hint of smoke.

Have you had Grenache before?

Alone or in a blend?

What are your thoughts?

Cheers~
Carrie

Scaling Back Generous Portion Sizes

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It’s supposed to be 60-degree weather this week here in Minnesota. YAY! It’ll make for great outdoor running weather. And with that I want to send my well wishes to all of the Boston Marathoners today. I know it’s going to be an emotional run. Cheers to all of you participating!

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Last week, I made this Beer and Beef Risotto. It was only my second time making risotto; but I think it turned out pretty well. It seemed to consist of more beef than risotto. But I think I prefer that.

Beef & Beer Risotto

Beef & Beer Risotto

The only changes I made were that I used an amber beer instead of a wheat, beef broth instead of chicken {you know, that whole fins and feathers thing}, two cups of baby portabellos instead of one and three cups of chopped spinach instead of four. Oh, and I added a sprinkling of shredded parm on top because, I mean, who doesn’t like that? I think the beef broth may have given it some added depth. It made four servings clocking in at about 610 calories each. The portion sizes were generous. It could definitely serve six.

When portion sizes are generous, break ‘em up into more portions.

Speaking of generous portion sizes, we tried our second round of Plated this past week because we had two free plates coming. Get your two free plates here. For my full review of Plated, click here.

The Plates
Fontina Polenta with Roasted Spring Vegetables
770 calories (30-40 minutes)

I was really surprised when my husband agreed to a meatless meal. When he gave the approval, I jumped on it! We had our first polenta in Italy and fell in love with it. This was my first attempt at making it.

Before making this dish, while I was amidst my Couch to 5k run that night, I wondered what would happen if a Plated customer was missing an ingredient. I mean, because warehouses make mistakes all the time, right? We’ve all had missing items from online orders. Missing an ingredient could make or break a dish! And what if you had no backup plan?

After I began chopping and separating the veggies, I noticed that there were no carrots for me to chop. How could this be that I the night I thought about it, I’d be missing an ingredient?!

I finally accepted that our roasted vegetables would be sans carrots; but it was not a make or break ingredient. So I began unwrapping the other items. DOH! The carrots were in the same bag as the asparagus, just hiding on me. So it ended up that we weren’t missing any ingredients. In fact, we were plus one shallot!

My trouble making this dish was that my polenta wasn’t turning smooth and creamy, like the recipe card stated. Instead, it was a sticky, massive clump. I am wondering if I should have measured the polenta. Maybe I shouldn’t have made the assumption that what was in the bag was what I needed. My solution was to add more water throughout.

I should have used a bigger dish for this massive amount of polenta and roasted vegetables. How could this serve just two people?!photo 4

I don’t know if adding more water to the polenta to smooth it out increased the size/amount of polenta that was yielded; but even when I put it on the plate, it looked like so much food! I even left some polenta in the dish and just scraped out all of the roasted veggies.

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Rob thought the polenta tasted more like grits. The flavor was fine, but neither of us ate all of it. It was just too much. But we did gobble up the veggies. If there is any one thing we’ve learned from Plated, it’s that we do love roasted veggies! This blend of carrots, peapods, cremini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, green onions and asparagus was the perfect mix for me, tossed in a vinaigrette and roasted for 15 minutes on 450. We will be having those again!

This dish could have made three or four servings, with the amount of polenta I made.

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Lemongrass Pork with Vermicelli Noodles
800 calories (20 – 30 minutes)

When we received the ingredients for this dish, I couldn’t believe the amount of vermicelli that arrived for just two people. I didn’t understand. Did it shrink when cooked?  I don’t think I’ve ever made this style of rice noodle before.

But I was right, there was waaaaayyy too much vermicelli. Enough for at least four people. I dished up huge portions on our plates and still had this leftover:

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No worries. I put it into a container and plan to add some peanut sauce and some sort of protein to it this week. But it still left a lot on our plates.

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Rob was disappointed because in his mind, the sauce wasn’t really a sauce. I knew it was going to be a runnier sauce, of which he is not a fan.

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But that wasn’t the issue. It was the fact that you could barely taste the sauce because it didn’t cover the mound of vermicelli on the plate. All of that being said, the pork was so tender, juicy and just perfectly seasoned. I must say that Plated really knows how to do a pork marinade. That’s 2 for 2 for us!

So in sum, here’s what we learned this week:

  • We love roasted vegetables.
  • We love marinated pork.
  • Plated offers generous portion sizes and we should break them down into three or four portions if need be.

I wouldn’t count on getting three or four portion sizes every time you order two plates, though. Instead, think of it as a bonus and just be mindful when plating.

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And now, for this week!

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Food

*Another Plated week for us! Get your first two plates free (minimum order of four plates) by clicking my referral link here! To read my Plated review, click here.

Dinners:

  • Monday – Another Meatless Monday! Ricotta Gnudi with Aspargus Peas and Mint from Plated.
  • Tuesday - Having some girlfriends over for dinner. I’ll be making this Greek Turkey Casserole (thanks to Racheal’s suggestion!). For dessert, I’ll be making Easy Homemade Mango Frozen Yogurt, based off this recipe.
  • Wednesday - Basil Beef Bowl with Quinoa Stir-Fry from Plated.
  • Thursday – Our Anniversary! You’ll probably find us here. But it is Dining Out for Life night, so it would be probably more appropriate to dine at a restaurant that supports the cause.
  • Friday – TBD
  • Saturday - TBD
  • Sunday – TBD

Lunch:

Breakfasts:

Fitness:

I wanted to share a Yoga Downloads deal I got the other day: Just $18. Yes, you can find lots of free yoga apps online. I just need a real routine and to start from the beginning to go back to where I was pre-back surgery. Plus there is a lotincluded. I think it’s going to be #worthit. Trying it out this week!

  • Monday – RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 6, Day 1
  • Tuesday -Recumbent Bike/Yoga
  • Wednesday -RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 6, Day 2
  • Thursday -REST
  • Friday -REST
  • Saturday – RUN: Couch to 5k – Week 6, Day 3
  • Sunday - Recumbent Bike/Yoga

Dessine-moi un mouton…

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Sophie & Shamrock Saturday

When Sophie starts to look like the sheepdog that punches the time clock in the cartoon above, we know she is overdue for a grooming.

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Returning from the groomer, she looks like a completely different dog. When people see her fluffy, they ask if she’s gained weight. When they see her just after being groomed, they ask if she’s lost weight. I guess, technically, she has.

We like to call our post-groomer-visit Sophie Jean our “little goat.”

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But truthfully, she reminds me of the little sheep from The Little Prince.

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“Dessine-moi un mouton…photo 4

What do you think?

If you have a pet, do they resemble another animal sometimes?

Cheers~
Carrie

 

 

 

Fun for Friday: Link Potch-a-pourri

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Potch-a-pourri = how a friend of mine thought potpourri is pronounced.

I just had to steal it from her! Here’s an assortment of links I’ve been collecting to share with you. Enjoy at your leisure…

For Laughter: The Best Way to Eat Popcorn at Your Desk – If you don’t think this extremely odd or laugh because you know someone who’d actually do this, what’s wrong with you?

Sobering: How to Survive on Minimum Wage – A very simplistic approach where I truly believe all the planets need to align for this to actually work for someone.

Self-care (My theme for 2014): On Guilty Pleasures & Self-Care – Enlightening.

Teach Yourself: How to Pronounce the 16 Most Confusing Food Words – Finally, the real pronunciation for gyro! This article reminds me of this commercial, which never gets old for me!

If you liked those, check out these links I posted a while back.

Please share one article or blog post that intrigued you this week!

Cheers~
Carrie

Thankful Thursday

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Today, I’m copying Racheal with a Thankful Thursday. I write in my Gratitude Journal everyday, but I’m needing a little thankfulness today, so I thought I’d participate publicly.

Today, I am thankful for the fact that we only got a light dusting of snow, unlike the 15 inches they got just 30 miles north of us.

I am thankful for all of the extra Sophie Jean cuddles and snuggles I am getting now that she has been groomed.

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I am thankful that we have three coffee shops within a half-mile of our house.

I am thankful that we have family in town this weekend. That we get to celebrate my brother’s belated birthday and that I get to see my nephew and gobble him right up! {Wrong holiday? ;-) }

I am thankful Rob’s parents will be in town in a few short weekends, too. We love when they visit. Plus, they need to catch up on Season 2 of House of Cards. ;-)

I am thankful for my friend Ceci who signs for our South Coast Wine Club wine because we are not home during the day to do so.

I am thankful that I am still going strong {or at least going!} with the Couch to 5k and that I found these stretches to do post-run.

I am thankful that it’s supposed to be in the 60s next week!

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I am thankful to my friend Jen allowing me to borrow all of her Veronica Mars DVDs and waiting for me to catch up to see the movie together!

I am thankful that I got most of my pre-guest cleaning done last night, so I can focus on running tonight.

I am thankful for fresh sheets on the bed and a good night’s sleep.

Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

What are you thankful for today?

Cheers~
Carrie

How to Make a Bad Wine Good {Or a Great Wine Bad}

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Back when I was conducting in-home wine tastings, one of my hosts said that she tended to only drink red wine. When she would drink white wine in the summer, she and her neighbor friends would put fruit in it to make it more palatable.

I found this interesting because it was usually the white wine drinkers who were trying to learn how to enjoy red wine, not red wine drinkers looking to make white wine more tasty.

On a hot summer day last year, I remembered this trick and talked Rob into giving it a try. I mean, we use fruit to make sangria, right?

So we took a mixture of fruit that we had on hand and put it in the bottom of two stemless wine glasses.

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Then we added a chilled dry white wine.

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We finished with a little citrus, too.

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The result? Something soooo tart and sour. I was kind of kicking myself because I know that fruit and wine do not go together. What was I thinking?

I know what it was… I thought about the fruit one puts in sangria, which made me believe this would taste great, too! Besides, it was recommended by a respected red wine drinker. But I didn’t stop to ask her what kind of white wine to which they added fruit. Maybe it was something sweet?

Because that’s why sangria works. You add some sugar (or other sweetener) and a sweet liquor of some sort. I have a slew of sangria recipes here. They never fail.

I recently found this beautiful Rainbow Sangria, too, that I’d love to try. I was looking for a white one to add to my arsenal anyway.

So what does this have to do with making a bad wine good?

It’s not that white wine is bad. Not at all! But if you have a cheap wine, one which you can’t seem to palate as your first (or second) bottle, make sangria with it! My husband used to stock up on wine at the huge liquor store wine sales. I would shake my head when he bought a case of “chianti” because it was a good deal.

“But you haven’t tried it before!” I’d argue. This was a big deal to me since I was marketing wines in a try-before-you-buy fashion.

He quickly learned that a “good deal” isn’t really one if it isn’t a wine you like, nor are likely to drink.

We learned to use these wines to make sangria. With added sugar, liquor and fruit, you can make practically any wine (that hasn’t turned) better.

Don’t think you have the time or ingredients to make sangria? It really isn’t that difficult. But if you want something else ultra quick, pick up a 2-liter of 7-up or Sprite and make this spritzer to bring your bad bottle of wine to life. You can even make it a glass at a time.

Would you want to do this with your favorite bottle? Absolutely not. That would be blasphemous.

How do you use a not-so-tasty bottle of wine?

Cheers~
Carrie

The Most Underrated Pizza in the Twin Cities

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While we were gallivanting about Nordeast Minneapolis one beautiful Saturday afternoon, we were in such of some grub. As we passed by Element Wood Fire Pizza, I wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before. As Rob drove, I looked up Element’s menu online. It sounded delicious. So tell me again, Why hadn’t I heard of this place before?

In the Twin Cities, we all know about Punch, about Black Sheep, about Pizzeria Lola, about Pizza Lucé. I’d never heard of Element. Maybe you have. Maybe I’m just clueless.

But when Rob’s first choice to dine didn’t pan out, I began reading him the menu from Element. He conceded {either because it sounded good to him, too, or he just wanted to shut me up.}

It’s a tiny joint with maybe a half of a dozen tables. I imagine that they get more to-go and Bite Squad orders. It’s located in a part of Nordeast where lots of condos and apartments are situated. I can imagine taking a short walk to pick up a wood-fired pizza like this any day!

You order at the counter. Once your pizza is assembled, they put it in the wood-fire oven. If you are eating in, take a seat. They’ll bring your pizza out when it’s ready.

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There are a few beers on tap, but we ordered a bottle of wine because their prices were very reasonable.

I loved the simple names of the types of pizzas on their menu. They follow the Element theme, too:

  • Element
  • Water
  • Fire
  • Wind
  • Earth
  • Nordeast – They had to make one of these, of course!

And there are many more. It was hard to choose. Rob first considered the Primo which was made with olive oil, mushrooms, garlic and mozzarella. He then decided against it because he thought that to make that one work, a pizzeria would have to do it really well and he wasn’t sure about this place yet. Instead, he chose the Nordeast.

Nordeast - sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms & oregano

Nordeast – sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms & oregano

The crust was perfectly done, especially for Rob, who doesn’t like the burnt bubbles on the crust edges found on many wood-fired pizzas. Everything had very good flavor! But then we tried mine…

Earth - artichokes, salami, garlic & basil

Earth – artichokes, salami, garlic & basil

I ordered this one because I fell in love with salami on pizzas when we were on The Honeymoon in Italy. I don’t see salami as a pizza topping option very often in the U.S.

Rob immediately had pizza remorse.

This one had even more flavor! The garlic and fresh basil did it. Rob was kicking himself because why on Earth {ha ha!} would he order a pizza without garlic?! I offered to share my pizza and all was right with the world. The salami was a little different and not as flavorful as I’ve had in Italy, but I wasn’t complaining. The pizza here is still underrated!

Of course, we took leftovers home. And I didn’t do the pizza the injustice of putting it in the microwave when we ate them. Instead, I set the oven to 350, brushed the crust with garlic olive oil and baked the slices for about five minutes or so. It was devine. And Rob got his garlic after all.

Sure, Pizzeria Lola is still our favorite. Punch still makes a killer classic Neapolitan. But Element is a pizzeria that shouldn’t be left in the dust. They use fresh ingredients and have pizzas with flavor. That impromptu visit was worth every morsel. Our only gripe? The wine was warm, almost hot. It’s hot in there with that pizza oven! A wine fridge may be in order.

In your opinion, what’s the most underrated restaurant where you live?

Cheers~
Carrie