Rigatoni with Eggplant & Pine Nut Crunch

Fresh vegetables from the garden shine in dishes during the summer months, adding a layer of depth to meals that can not be duplicated in Iowa during the winter months.  I recently enjoyed a splendid rigatoni with eggplant and pine nut crunch at my friend’s house.  She is a great source of support for me as I am learning more about wines and expanding my memory bank of wine flavors.  She generously saved the recipe from Epicurious for me, knowing that it would be useful for me to use in my blog as an accompaniment to the tasting notes I was making about the Alamos Red Blend, made primarily of Malbec grapes, we drank throughout the meal.  The spicy notes of the wine paired nicely with the hearty vegetables used in the recipe.

She even sent me off with some homemade pesto and a bunch of basil leaves to take home, as I had commented about how relaxing I find the scent of basil.  I placed them in a vase beside my bed and enjoyed the best night sleep I had encountered in awhile. Basil rivals the sleep qualities of lavender in my book any day.

Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch

non-stick vegetable oil spray

1 unpeeled large eggplant (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 medium yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch squares

2 cups grape tomatoes

2 large garlic cloves, divided

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups (firmly packed) fresh basil leaves, divided

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 pound rigatoni

1 pound whole-milk mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

** I know my friend adjusted this recipe slightly, making her own homemade pesto sauce to mix in and using actual whole tomatoes versus canned.  Make any adjustments to your own taste preference. Any hearty vegetables such as zucchini and yellow squash would work beautifully in this recipe. **

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray; add  eggplant and peppers. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise; add to sheet. Using  garlic press, squeeze 1 garlic clove onto vegetables. Drizzle vegetables with  oil; toss. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender,  stirring often, 35 to 45 minutes.

Combine 2/3 cup basil,  1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts, and 1 garlic clove in mini processor. Blend until  crumbly. Season topping with salt.

Blend tomatoes with  juice, cream, 1 1/3 cups basil, and 1 garlic clove in processor until smooth.  Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in pot of  boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring  occasionally; drain. Return to pot. Toss with vegetables, sauce, and 1/2 cup  Parmesan. Transfer to 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with mozzarella and  pine nut topping.

Bake pasta until heated  through, 25 to 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

Ginger & Orange Fried Chicken

I have been on an Asian food kick recently, but taking the easy way out by partaking in mostly carry out varieties.  When I found this recipe, it persuaded me to attempt some recipes at home.

This recipe would pair well with a bright, fruit-forward New-World style Viognier.

Ginger & Orange Fried Chicken

12 small boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

2 cups buttermilk

3 tablespoons grated orange zest

2 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger

Salt and freshly ground black peper

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Small pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Canola oil for frying

* Cut away the tendons from the chicken breasts and discard.

* Lightly pound the chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap to a uniform thickness.

* In a large bowl, combine the buttermilk with the orange zest and fresh ginger and season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.  (Buttermilk and ginger have a tenderizing effect, so be careful not to marinate the chicken too long or it will become mushy).

* Combine the flour, curry powder, ground ginger, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cayenne pepper in a large bowl or paper bag.

* In a large, deep frying pan or skillet, pour the oil to a depth of 3 inches and heat to 365 degrees.

* Remove the chicken breasts from the buttermilk and shake off the excess liquid.  One at a time, dredge the pieces in the seasoned flour or place them in the paper bag and shake them to coat.

* Fry until golden brown, turning once, 4 to 6 minutes per side.  If the chicken is browning too quickly, lower the heat.  Transfer the fried chicken to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  Serve warm.

Ginger shows well with Viognier and this is a great example of that pairing.  The fruit-forward wine has enough acidity to counter the richness of deep frying and the salt.

Recommended Viognier Producers:

Everyday: Callaway Coastal (multiple appellations, California), Pepperwood Grove (multiple appellations, California), Cline (Sonoma County, California)

Premium: Stags’ Leap Winery (Napa Valley, California), Sobon Estate (Sierra Foothills, California), Kunde (Sonoma County, California)

Splurge: Newton (Napa Valley, California), Joseph Phelps (Napa Valley, California), Cold Heaven (Southern Central Coast, California)

Horchata Cupcakes & Horchata Cream Cheese Frosting

Full disclosure, I have not actually had a chance to try these fabulous sounding cupcakes and cream cheese frosting, but I am always a fan of made from scratch baking.  This recipe will certainly be taste tested this summer at some point when I have a dessert to bring for a picnic!

Horchata is a traditional Mexican drink made from rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon.  One of the most popular brands of horchata liquor is RumChata. RumChata is produced in Wisconsin, so I’m not sure if it is popular in my area simply because it is made in a neighboring state and therefore is fairly local or if it is gaining popularity in other regions as well.  To me, it tastes an awful lot like the milk leftover after eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and I have heard many others describe it in a similar fashion.  So chances are if you like that creamy, cinnamon milk, you will like horchata.


Horchata Cupcakes

1/2 cup butter (1 stick, at room temperature)

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup horchata

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 egg whites

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees

* Combine sugar & butter and beat until fluffy

* Mix together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  Set aside.

* Mix the horchata and vanilla together.  Set aside.

* Alternating, add in the flour mixture and horchata mixture into the butter and sugar.  Start and end with the flour mixture.

* In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.  This will be easiest in an electric mixer.

* Fold egg whites into the batter.  Do not do this with an electric mixer, use a spatula.

* Fill cupcake liners.

* Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.


Horchata Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces cream cheese (1 1/2 packages, at room temperature)

1/2 cup butter (1 stick, at room temperature)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

5 tablespoons of horchata

1 two pound package of confectioners sugar

* Combine butter and cream cheese until smooth

* Add vanilla

* Slowly add confectioners sugar

* Mix in the horchata

* Frost cool cupcakes

Steak Au Poivre

My first (and only) experience with Steak Au Poivre unfolded during a birthday dinner at an upscale restaurant.  The steak came out with a large, almost Fred Flinstone dinosaur looking bone sticking out of it.  The flavor was unbelievable!  The menu described it as prepared with blended spices and pan-seared; I tasted the prevalent flavors of peppercorns and coffee. It wasn’t my meal, but my friend was generous enough to share the wonderful steak experience with me.  Yes, it was an experience.  Unfortunately, the price was so steep that I do not see myself returning any time soon to order it again.  It would have to be a very special occasion!  So when I came across this recipe in Perfect Pairings by Evan Goldstein, I was intrigued and excited to attempt replicating the Steak Au Poivre in my own home.

This recipe would pair well with earthy, black-currant accented Cabernet Sauvignons in a Bordeaux-style.

Steak Au Poivre

4 filets of beef, each about 1 1/2 inches thick

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus salt for pan

2 or 3 tablespoons coarsely cracked black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup brandy or cognac

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon oil

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

* Rub each filet with about 1/2 teaspoon salt.

* Using the heel of your hand, press the cracked pepper onto both sides of each steak.

* Let the steaks stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.

* In a small bowl, whisk the wine, brandy, mustard and Worcestershire sauce to blend.

* Sprinkle salt over the bottom of a large heavy skillet (just enough to film the bottom lightly.)

* Place over high heat.

* Add the butter and oil and heat until melted.

* Add the steaks and sear on both sides. Reduce the heat to medium and cook the steaks to the desired degree of doneness, turning once, 3 to 4 minutes per side for rare.

* Transfer the steaks to a warm platter.

* Deglaze the skillet with the wine mixture and boil until reduced by half.  Whisk in the cream if a smoother sauce is desired. Spoon the sauce over the steaks and serve.

Evan Goldstein offers the following advice when pairing with this dish: “Sometimes it’s best to go with the obvious.  The hearty sauce, infused with mustard, cognac and Worcestershire sauce, is earthy and powerful, providing an appropriately strong yet straightforward stage for the wine’s flavor.  The black pepper neutralizes the perception of the wine’s tannins, and the bright fruit of the wine shines through to play off the meat.  This dish works best with younger wines.  If you’re serving a more mature bottle, you may want to cut back on the black pepper, which, in the presence of less tannin, may only serve to pop the alcohol.”

Recommended Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Producers:

Everyday:  Chateau La Cardonne, Chateau Larose-Trintaudon, Chateau Camensac

Premium: Chateau Phelan-Segur, Chateau du Tertre, Kanonkop

Splurge: Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Chateau Lynch-Bages, Chateau Gruaud-Larose

Horchata French Toast

Who doesn’t love french toast on a lovely weekend morning?  I always enjoy a bit of cinnamon in my french toast so I was immediately on board with a recipe that involved horchata!

Horchata is a traditional Mexican drink made from rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon.  One of the most popular brands of horchata liquor is RumChata. RumChata is produced in Wisconsin, so I’m not sure if it is popular in my area simply because it is made in a neighboring state and therefore is fairly local or if it is gaining popularity in other regions as well.  To me, it tastes an awful lot like the milk leftover after eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and I have heard many others describe it in a similar fashion.  So chances are if you like that creamy, cinnamon milk, you will like horchata.


Horchata French Toast

6 eggs

2/3 cup milk

1/2 cup horchata

1 teaspoon cinnamon

10 slices of bread


maple syrup

powdered sugar

* Heat frying pan on medium to medium-high head

* Beat together the eggs, milk, horchata and cinnamon

* Dip each slice of bread in the mixture and cook in the frying pan until golden

* Flip and cook on the other side

* Serve with butter, maple syrup and powdered sugar

Mango Salsa

I was at my friend’s house preparing for my first encounter with fish tacos.  She was assembling a lovely mango salsa to top the tacos with and I wanted to be sure to save the recipe.  I thought it paired well with Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine took on a nice lime flavor and sourness that went well with the salsa for me.  This salsa also tastes delicious with a traditional, fresh margarita!


Mango Salsa

3 fresh mangos

1 fresh avocado

1/2 fresh pineapple

1 can of black beans

2 jalepenos

1 red onion


sea salt



Cut up all the ingredients into small chunks for salsa and mix.  Squeeze the lime juice over the salsa.  Serve with tortilla chips.  The sweet and salty factor is amazing!

Shrimp Scampi

Along with my education in wine, I am also attempting to learn more about cooking.  It’s not that I have never cooked or baked before, it’s simply that I stick to the same types of foods and dishes I grew up with as a child.  Although I find these dishes delicious and they are accompanied by wonderful memories, I am starting to realize that there is a lot more to offer in the culinary world.  Case in point, I made my first dish with fresh shrimp recently.

Before cooking with fresh shrimp myself, the only shrimp that I had cooked with was frozen, pre-cooked shrimp.  Admittedly, the pre-cooked shrimp was super convenient and easy to prepare but it definitely doesn’t live up to fresh shrimp! I don’t even think I realized that fresh shrimp would taste like this at home.  I just assumed that to enjoy delicious shrimp, I had to order it at a nice restaurant.

As tedious and gross as I assumed the process would be, shelling and deveining shrimp is not bad at all and didn’t end up taking that long.  Now that I am more comfortable with the whole process, I am ready to try more shrimp recipes in my daily cooking.  With that in mind, I always love a good recipe that includes wine.


Shrimp Scampi

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tablespoon pure olive oil

2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups white wine

1/2 fresh lemon, juice only

1 teaspoon Italian seasonings

1/2 cup softened butter

1 tablespoon parsley

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

* Heat skillet and add olive oil

* Add shrimp and cook until tender and no longer translucent, reduce heat.  Remove shrimp and set aside.

* Add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes.  Do not allow garlic to brown- it will make it bitter.

* Add white wine and lemon juice.

* Cook until wine is reduced by half.  After it is reduced, add Italian seasoning.

* Reduce heat to low and add butter.  If the pan is too hot, the butter will separate.

* Add shrimp back into sauce.  Add parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

* Sprinkle with grated Parmesan Cheese.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Beer and wings are one of my favorite combinations.  So much so that I kind of want to try my Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe with a bottle of beer mixed in. Any suggestions about what kind of beer you think would work best in this recipe? I am thinking maybe a pale ale.


Buffalo Chicken Dip

3 packages of cream cheese

1/2 large bottle of ranch dressing

1/2 package shredded mild cheddar cheese

1 rotisserie chicken

Frank’s Hot Sauce to taste

Shred the chicken meat.  Combine all ingredients in a saucepan to heat up if you have less time or toss into a crockpot to warm if you have all day. Serve with tortilla chips and celery.  Leftovers even reheat well.  Pairs well with a nice, cold beer.

Adjust any measurements in the recipe to reflect your own personal preferences.  Everyone likes their wings served differently.  Some people might enjoy it more with bleu cheese dressing, others might like it with an overpowering amount of hot sauce, others still might like the flavor better with the whole bag of cheddar cheese.  Play around with the recipe to find your favorite way to eat the dip!

Homemade Alfredo Sauce

Playing with the concept that acid cuts fat, I have a fabulous homemade alfredo sauce recipe that my ex-boyfriend used to make for me.  The measurements are in parenthesis because they are estimations, as he never really measured anything out and simply adjusted to taste preferences.


Homemade Alfredo Sauce

butter (1/2 stick)

flour (1/4 cup)

heavy cream (quart)

white wine (1/4 cup)

parmesan cheese (shredded, 1/2 cup)

asiago cheese (shredded, 1/4 cup)

Melt 1/2 stick of butter in a small saucepan.  Add flour.  Stir together until the flour turns into a consistency similar to play-doh.  This is the roux.  You will use it as a thickening agent.

In a pot, heat up heavy cream over medium/medium high heat.  Once it gets pretty hot but not boiling (be careful because it can boil over very quickly and it is awful to clean!), add a generous dose of the roux and stir until incorporated.  Add a dash of white wine (pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc work well).  The acid in the white wine will cut through the thickness of the sauce.  Add parmesan and asiago cheeses and stir until melted.

Adjust how much roux and wine you add to make the sauce the thickness you prefer.  More roux will make the sauce thicker.  More white wine will make it thinner.  You will not ruin the sauce by adding more roux or wine until you achieve your desired consistency.  Feel free to add more parmesan and asiago cheese if you want more of their flavor in the sauce. Serve over your favorite pasta. Enjoy with a glass of the white wine you used to make the dish!

There are many ways to make variations. Feel free to try adding some of your favorite proteins and vegetables.  Some of my favorites include:

** Add peas, sauteed mushrooms and proscuitto and serve over cheese filled ravioli.

** Add hot sauce and grilled chicken and serve over penne pasta.

** Add grilled shrimp and spinach and serve over linguine.

** Add grilled steak and steak seasoning and serve over fettuccine.

Homemade Beer Bread

Apparently, being 30 and single is code for the fact that I am unable to cook or bake and catch a man.  Or so my family thinks.  Every family function that requires a dish to be passed, I am relegated to providing an appetizer.  I assume because they are simple to prepare (or can easily be bought in a grocery store).  Which tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because I only live up to their mild expectations.  The day before Thanksgiving, I can be found having drinks with friends instead of baking pumpkin and pecan pies because my offering can be whipped up with little preparation the next morning.

My fail safe is homemade beer bread with some sort of fancy dip that only requires me to mix a packet of spices with a brick of cream cheese or tub of sour cream.  At least part of it is homemade, right?

Below is my simple recipe for delicious homemade beer bread.

Beer Bread

3 cups self-rising flour (self-rising and not regular flour is important)

1 cup sugar

12 ounces of beer

Mix the flour, sugar and beer.  Pour into a greased bread pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

The type of beer used to prepare the bread will have a direct reflection on the flavor.  A nice IPA will give you the perfect combination to make a bread bowl that you can fill with a hearty soup.  If you want a little citrus kick in your bread, go for a Blue Moon or Shocktop.  I have never attempted a version with coffee stout, but that might be in my future as it sounds delicious spread with a bit of hazelnut cream cheese.

Be creative and let me know any beers you try that work well!