Tag Archives: quality

Reserve Means Nothing


Wine Wednesday

Don’t be fooled. When it comes to American wines, the term “reserve” has no legal definition. Any winery can put that on any label for any reason. 

The term is not regulated.

However, that’s not to say that it doesn’t have meaning elsewhere. For example, wines from the Rioja region of Spain are can only be labeled Reserva if the wine is aged for three years, with at least one of those years in oak. A Rioja Gran Reservamust age at least 2 years in oak and 3 years in the bottle.

That’s some serious business.

This is not to say that American winemakers who label their wines “reserve” are trying to fool you. The term may not have a legal definition, but it does typically mean something to the winemaker or winery themselves.

Generally, winemakers will “reserve” that term for some of their better or best wines. Sometimes they use grapes that are more carefully picked. Sometimes they age it in better oak or for a longer period of time. In any case, it is meant to imply that this wine is even better than the others they carry. They may even be only available in limited quantities. Due to the extra labor, care and love put into the wine, it is often more expensive than the others they produce. {Even if that means a $9 vs. a $12 bottle!}

These wines are not in current Traveling Vineyard Tasting Sets for in-home tasting events, but I’ve ordered them anyway, because I want to give them a try!

The elaborate tasting notes indicate a lot of care was put into the creation of these wines! They both sound, smooth, velvety and inviting. I’ll give you a full report after we’ve sipped. 😉 If you are interested in ordering these wines to taste for yourself, click here.

So the tips to take away here?

  • If you try a wine that is just “okay”, spend the extra few dollars for their reserve wine, if one is offered. That might suit you better.
  • If you find a wine you love, chances are that you’ll love the reserve wine even more.
  • When you are tasting at a winery, ask the wine rep serving you what reserve refers to in their wines. I love this kind of info!

Understanding the label is important because not all terms are regulated. When I asked what was the difference between two wines labeled slightly differently on a menu at one of our wineries in Temecula, we were told that it was purely for marketing purposes. I appreciated his honesty. However, when we tasted at South Coast, we learned that the Wild Horse Peak wine collection is not a marketing scheme. They are actually wines produced from grapes grown in the Wild Horse Peak plot of vineyards. This is a smaller, more concentrated area from where the grapes are from – not just California or Temecula. This usually indicates better quality!

But then again, how do we define quality?

Do you ever buy reserve wines?

If so, what is your favorite?


The Homegrown Experience


As I mentioned, this past weekend, after my cooking and cleaning frenzy, my friend Jen and I attended The Homegrown Experience at the beautiful Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis.

I would have never known about this if if wasn’t for Goldstar. It’s a another Daily Deal site. And you know how I love those! I would have never known about this event if I hadn’t received the email. And this was its third year in existence! Since I prefer to eat and cook with fresh, quality ingredients and I love supporting the local community, I jumped at the chance to check this it out.

Upon checking in, we received bags and wine glasses along with some coupons and advertisements. This was included in the ticket price as well as the tasting samples we were about to receive!

I really wouldn’t have called it a “Food and Wine Festival” as Goldstar described. There wasn’t much wine being poured. However, despite my affection for wine, that wasn’t my reason for being there. I wanted to learn more about local, organic and sustainable food in the Twin Cities metro area.

And so we did.

There were so many wonderful samples that I’m sure we made a meal out of it. There were all sorts of vendors including co-ops, non-profits and restaurants that use local or sustainable ingredients. Products included wine, beer, spices, bbq sauces, chocolates and candies, oils, coffee, beauty products, cheese, ice cream and more. We made our way through all of the booths, but patience was key. There were so many people! The lines were long and went extremely slowly. Some people popped in and out of booths, which caused even greater delays in the lines. I’m not sure if the lines were meant to be there, or if we, as the crowd, created them though!

My favorite bite was provided by one of the Eastside Co-op – just a simple crostini with colorful tomatoes, basil and a drizzle of olive oil. They had some excellent chocolate we nibbled on as well.

Truth be told, while I recognized some of the restaurants, I was unaware of the majority of the businesses showcasing their products and services! I collected a lot of brochures, pamphlets and business cards. In fact, now that I think about it, I picked up a few magazines/catalogs, too. In my weekend cleaning frenzy, they must have ended up in a pile somewhere. I have to find them! I’m most looking forward to the current issue of Edible Twin Cities!

However, probably the most interesting discovery to us was Twin Cities Local Food. When we approached their both, we saw this:

Camelina Oil

What’s camelina oil?” You ask? I did, too. Camelina is a wild flax chock full of those healthy omega-3 fatty acids. You can learn more about camelina here. The camelina oil was used in a dressing and bread was offered for dipping to sample. But why was Twin Cities Local Food showcasing it?

Because local farmers and producers of local food products are offered through the Twin Cities Local Food online marketplace! As a member, you place your order online by Wednesday morning.  By Thursday afternoon, your order is ready for pickup at the location of your choosing. There is a drop off site in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Savage. SAVAGE! We south-of-the-river girls were excited about that!

We were told that the produce is picked up from local farmers the same day, so everything you get is fresh, fresh. It’s the perfect alternative to a CSA. You get the choice of what you’d like and what you know you will use that week. A win-win! We are seriously thinking of giving this a try. {P.S. It’s a year-round service!}

Currently, memberships with Twin Cities Local Food are $10 for one month, $35 for six months and $50 for a year. You can even place two orders without a membership just to give it a try. But really, $50 a year? If you go once a week, that’s less than a $1 to have fresh, local produce of your choosing delivered to one location? Or, look at it this way: It’s less than $4 a month. You’d pay more for shipping on anything you order online!

Why don’t I just give it try and let you know what I think…

Where is your favorite place to shop for fresh, local produce?


The Bachelor Farmer – Minneapolis


Before I get into The Bachelor Farmer…

Don’t forget, today is the last day to enter my First Ever Giveaway! Two lucky people will win a Traveling Vineyard Wine Lovers Accessory Package.

To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is click here and comment with one of the following:

  • An unusual place you keep a corkscrew.
  • Someplace you’ve needed a corkscrew and were without one.
  • Your favorite wine tip.


The Bachelor Farmer

When my friend Jared and I took a Risotto Cooking Class at Local D’Lish in May, we decided to meet for a drink and an appetizer beforehand. Normally, the food that is cooked is served in the cooking classes we’ve attended. However, the reminder email we received the week before confused us. They suggested other restaurants to “make a night of it”, but also encouraged bringing containers for leftovers. Going out for a drink and an app sounded like a safe bet and a great way to try some place new.

We agreed on The Bachelor Farmer. It was just around the corner, in walking distance of our class, so there was no need to park twice downtown. In addition, while I hadn’t heard from anyone personally who’d been there yet, it was a newer restaurant that I’d been hearing a lot of in print.

I love the concept of this place. From their website:

“The Bachelor Farmer serves fresh and simple food that honors Minnesota’s Nordic heritage.  Paul Berglund and his team source the best ingredients available, which often means buying from local farmers and purveyors.  We use organic products whenever possible and also grow our own herbs and vegetables on our rooftop farm, which is the first of its kind in Minneapolis.”

You know that I love a place that focuses on fresh, local, high quality ingredients. Because of this, the menu will change with seasons as well as with what’s available. Here were our appetizer choices:

Appetizers – May 2012

The wine selection was unique, with many French and German options. We tried a few different wines by the glass.

We were served some fresh local radishes and cracker bread with butter and salt to whet our palates:

Sidenote: Radishes were definitely in season. In our Risotto Class, we were served sliced ones tossed with olive oil and salt with beautiful purple chive flowers:

I never thought to toss radishes with olive oil! I definitely have to remember this! And those beautiful chive flowers tasted lovely.

Back to The Bachelor Farmer:

Our appetizer: Morel mushrooms, pheasant egg, toasted pain de mie, thyme


After dining, you receive your bill in this great little moleskin notebook, where you can leave your own comments:

This is most definitely a place I’d like to come back to and try a full meal. However, you have to be pretty open minded. The food is more on the unusual side of the foodie spectrum. I did notice that they have a 3-course Sunday Supper for roughly $30. It changes weekly and is posted to their web page each Saturday:

“Sunday Supper is a set three-course menu consisting of a soup, salad or toast to start, followed by a family-style entrée, and then a dessert. While the entrées are often intended for two or more to share, they are also available in individual portions and a vegetarian option is always available.”

What is the most unusual food or meal you’ve tried?

What did you think about it?



My Favorite Way to Eat Popcorn


I wasn’t ever really a huge popcorn eater.

Though, we did eat the air popped stuff as kids. I loved throwing fluffy popped kernels to our dog, Jerry, as he tried to catch him in his mouth. {He definitely was a popcorn eater, just as our dogs are now!}

As I got older, I found that going to the movies and ordering a big tub of popcorn made me very thirsty…  which made me drink a ton of pop {or soda, depending from where you are reading this}… which made me have to pee in the middle of the movie… which always ended up in the middle of a significant part. So I decided: This is sooooo not worth it!

Now that I know that movie theater popcorn can be equivalent to a day’s worth of calories {or even two}, I am even less likely to get it.

But recently, I did find a way to really enjoy popcorn at home. My husband sometimes picks up those 100 calorie microwave popcorn bags, which are great, but can include unnecessary additives. So I was delighted this winter when I got popcorn in my CSA box:

The first time it showed up in the box, it was still on the cob and we had to shuck it. I don’t think that’s even the right term. Shucking is removing the leaves and silk, isn’t it? Well, we had to de-cob it, then. It was kind of fun. My husband is now my professional decobber. Ha ha.

We don’t have a popcorn popper, but my friend Ceci taught me that you can put popcorn kernels into a plain paper lunch bag, seal and microwave. Snack Girl clearly describes how to do this here. It’s great because there is no need to have any special equipment nor use any oil!

1/4 cup popcorn kernels...

... into my popcorn popper!

Popcorn is a healthy snack because in three full cups there are just 93 calories, 3.6 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. It’s the toppings that can put us over the edge if we aren’t careful.

Here is my current favorite combination of toppings:

  • Wildtree European Dipping Oil – either the Tuscan or the Garlic
    • This is combination of expeller pressed grapeseed oil {which is actually better for you than olive oil!}, garlic and other herbs.
    • I know. It’s oil, so it adds calories. But I only drizzle a half Tbsp for a two to three cup bowl of popcorn. That’s approximately 60 calories.
  • Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
    • This is the real deal. Forget the parmesan in the green can.
    • I want quality over quantity.
    • Take that quality a notch higher and get the fresh wedge and grate it when you use it. I just like having a big ol’ container from Costco like the one above so I can sprinkle it quickly on anything.
    • Only 20 calories per Tbsp!
  • Rosemary Herb Seasoning Mix from Pampered Chef – season to taste
    • This is one of my absolute favorite seasonings, but you could use any seasoning you like.

My popcorn concoction: 173 calories

You can throw in an extra Tbsp of the Parm if you love it. and you’re still under 200 calories!

Ready for a movie? If so, pop one in, curl up and give this one a try.

Note: This is not Rob’s favorite way to eat popcorn, so we make ours separately. He’ll add some butta or some cheddar seasoning to his. No matter what, we are sure to Season It Already! The possibilities are endless…

What is your favorite way to eat popcorn?

The Difference Between a Good Wine and a Great Wine – Part 5


Wine Wednesday: The Difference Between a Good Wine & a Great Wine…

In the past few weeks, we’ve been examining five reasons that differentiate a good wine from a great wine:

1) Terroir

2) Age of the Vines

3) Yield of the Vine

4) Vintage

Today, we will wrap up that topic with:

5) The Technique

Some winemakers put more time, effort and money into producing a wine than others do. Because of this, the wine that sees more attention is often better in quality. Here are some factors that will affect the outcome of a wine:

  • How the wine is destemmed and crushed
    • Is it done properly?
    • Is it done mechanically or by hand?
  • Fermentation
    • Is the temperature controlled?
    • Does the winemaker ferment slowly for best results?
  • Storage
    • Are the wines stored properly until release?
    • Are they released at the right time?
    • Does the winemaker rack the wine to eliminate undesirable solids?
  • Oak
    • Is the wine fermented or aged in oak?
    • If so, for how long?
    • If so what kind? {Different barrels give different flavors to the wine.}
    • Is the oak new or old?
  • Clarification
    • Is this done through fining? {This is a painstaking process that is careful, but time-consuming.}
    • Is it done with screen filtration? {This can strip the wine of flavor.}
  • Release
    • Is the wine rushed to the shelves?
    • Is the wine aged in the bottle prior to release?
    • Is it released at the right time?

When a winemaker invests more time, energy and resources in the making of the wine, the quality will undoubtedly be better. In my opinion, winemakers can be considered artists. Depending on what they do at each step in the wine-making process and what care they put into it, they can create a quality wine that has its own unique character every time.


The Difference Between a Good Wine and a Great Wine – Part 3


This Wine Wednesday, let’s continue with what differentiates a good wine from a great wine.






Vine Yield: The total production of a vine. This is sometimes regulated by the region; however, it can also be up to the grower.

Generally speaking, less grapes  = better wine

Do you see how these are all tying in together?

  • We learned in Part One of this series: less yield = less wine = higher prices.
  • We learned in Part Two of this series that when there are a smaller number of grapes on a vine the results are  more flavorful, concentrated grapes. This is often the case with older vines.

However, there is a practice known as “dropping fruit” that growers and winemakers use which also reduces the amount of grapes a vine will yield. They do this knowing that the fruit that remains on the vine will increase in flavor intensity, despite the fact that this means less wine and less revenue. Growers that leave as many grapes on the vine as possible are generally more concerned about how much wine is sold rather than the quality.

But I prefer Quality over Quantity.

Again, how do you know how many grapes remain on a vine? There is no way to tell by looking at a bottle. However, if you want to be sure to experience these kinds of wines, you can always do some research online on particular growers who deliberately reduce their yields. Just be prepared to pay higher prices. {Hint: It’s usually worth it!}



Quality over Quantity


I know a few people who’ve complained about portion sizes restaurants.

I’m talking about those who say that portion sizes are too small.


Sometimes the complaint is paying $15 – $20 for an entrée when all that was served was a “small” piece of meat over some vegetables or something. Other times it’s that a particular casual restaurant has scaled back on the gargantuan portion sizes, but not the prices. Either way, these people feel cheated.

But we all know that restaurant portion sizes in the U.S. are way over the top. It’s a very rare occasion when anyone eats a low-calorie meal when dining out. In fact, most restaurant portions are enough for two, three, even four servings! Even when I’m practicing eating well out at a restaurant, I know that I’ll still go over the number of calories I allot for any regular self-prepared meal. So I plan for it. I make sure I have lower-calorie, high fiber foods that day to keep me full enough that I don’t feel “starving”, but to still allow me a little wiggle room when dining.

For me, I prefer Quality over Quantity.


I really do like the higher-end restaurants where the portion sizes for each course may seem small, but I never feel stuffed when leaving. The food may be more expensive; but in these places, the ingredients are often fresh, high-quality ones instead of those out of a can or from the freezer. The chef takes extra special care to season them, concocting a dish from scratch into perfection. I can take time to savor each bite of the food. To me, that’s worth the money.

Sure, you can always take leftovers home; but some things just do not taste good when reheated. Still, some of us just keep eating because it’s there; eating until it’s gone – leaving no leftovers on the plate. A tip I’ve heard is to have your server box up half the food before it’s brought to the table. It’s a great idea, but I’m all about the visual experience as well. So how would the plating look? Am I taking away some of the chef’s creativity? That’s something I’d never do in France! As a Francophile, I know that would offend the chef. Besides, I rarely get a portion size in France that’s so big that I need to box it up. I don’t even know if regular restaurants in France have what we once called “doggie bags”. {And think about that. What were the leftovers originally meant for?!}

But really, who needs a 15-ounce steak? Is it really necessary for me to consume a baked potato the size of my head? I’d rather have smaller-sized dishes than a big slop of something mounding my plate, making me *think* I’m getting a deal. But is it a really a deal if I mindlessly eat most (or all) of it just because it’s there? I guess the extra money I’m paying for restaurants with smaller portions is actually payment for their service in helping me with portion control!

This is not to say that just because you go to an upscale restaurant that serves smaller portions means, it means that the food is going to be great. Any restaurant can fail with improper execution or a blah menu. We’ve found that some restaurants under season their meat, or don’t season it at all. SEASON IT ALREADY! Others overcook their pasta. And sometimes, flavors are just not to our liking. But that can happen anywhere.


Let’s discuss pasta because I’m picky about my Italian restaurants! Part of it may be that I’ve been to Italy and I know what good Italian food should taste like. In the U.S., so many places overcook their pasta. It should be al dente (to the bite). The primary theory detailing why pasta is best served al dente is so that we are forced to chew it more. If it’s cooked soft, we chew it less and just swallow it. It’s easier to eat more; therefore, we make the stomach do more work trying to digest it. That big lead ball you may sometimes feel in your stomach after eating pasta? It could be that the pasta was cooked too soft and you ate it too fast. {Or you just had too much.} In addition, pasta that is cooked al dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft.

Here’s the other thing: Pasta is a cheap ingredient. Many restaurants take the easy way out by just putting a pile of pasta on a plate or in a bowl and calling it your meal. You think you are getting a good deal with such a large portion. But in Italy, it is a course of its own – a little bit of pasta before the meat entrée. Instead of a pile of noodles on my plate, I’d rather the chef add some good high-quality spicy sausage, some San Marzano tomatoes, some fresh seafood. I stay away from the Italian restaurants that have offer only run-of-the-mill dishes on their menus: spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, fettuccine alfredo. Blech.


I like my desserts to be almost bite-sized, or consumable in just a few bites. By the end of the meal, I’m no longer hungry and just want a little sweet treat on my palate. Not too long ago, I ordered a piece of chocolate cake in a nice restaurant. I guess I was picturing a small, short slice of cake that I could have a couple of bites of and be satisfied. Instead, out came a I’m-gonna-out-do-the-other-chain-restaurant piece of cake that could only “wow” someone by sheer size. It tasted horrible.

I would honestly rather have a dessert that is just a few bites… or one scoop of ice cream. Something that will satisfy that end-of-the-meal sweetness craving. And it’s always a good idea to share. But even a huge tasteless cake isn’t worth sharing. I want high-quality ingredients and flavor! Forget how big it is!


Okay, so I’ll save this for a post of its own. 🙂 But after my recent post on calories in wine, let’s just say that if I’m going to spend my calories on wine, I want it to be worth every drop.

So, for anyone who argues that “you don’t get very much for the money” when receiving smaller portions, you can bet that I do! I get high quality ingredients, a chef that actually cared what (s)he was preparing, flavors I can savor, and portion control. {The lack of stuffed stomach that can last several uncomfortable hours into the evening doesn’t hurt either.}

Instead, remember the real reasons you are dining out:

  • to fuel your body
  • to taste the food
  • to enjoy the company and good conversation

Quality over quantity will make a difference every time.