An Affordable & Delicious Viognier

*** I received this wine as a sample. ***

While I love to bake, I’m not a very good cook.  It’s not that I don’t like cooking, it’s just that I don’t really know what I’m doing and, beyond the couple of dishes that I do well, the things I try are range from not very good to inedible.  So, after a few years together, Hubby decided to take over the cooking…and he’s been the dinner maker ever since.

This year, I decided that it was time for me to take over dinner one night a week.  I’m starting out simple, and except for the weeks that I’ve been traveling for work, I’ve stuck to my plan.  Everything I’ve made has been edible, but only a couple of the dishes were actually good.  One of the successes was a broiled chicken breast with lemon and thyme, which I found in Food & Wine magazine.

And, as any good cook does, I opened a bottle of wine as I started the evening’s cooking adventure, which included my using almost every dish in the kitchen and only one instance of the fire alarm going off (significant improvement over the three times it went off the first week I made dinner).

2012 Fortant Hills Reserve Viognier

2012 Fortant Hills Reserve Viognier

The 2012 Fortant Hills Reserve Viognier (winery) is a Vin de Pays d’Oc, which is a wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in Southern France, and this wine is made with 100% Viognier grapes.  The wine was a medium lemon yellow.  On the nose, there were apricots, pears, and white flowers.  In the mouth, there were apricots, pears, and white flowers with hints of honey and pineapple.  The wine was medium body with a nice minerality and medium acidity.

Is this worth a glass after work? Definitely!  If you see this wine in the store, grab it; you won’t be disappointed.  At an SRP of $13, this wine has an excellent quality-price ratio.  It has great flavors, is easy to drink, and is very food-friendly.  In fact, it was a beautiful pairing with the chicken breast and corn with thyme and butter that I made for dinner.

Long-time readers know that while I tend to be skeptical of grape-haters, Viognier is not one of my favorite types of wine.  In fact, several readers have been critical of my lack-of-love for the grape, so I’ve taken my own advice and been more open-minded towards it…and I’m happy that I have or I would have missed out on this wine.   If you’re looking for a great every day white wine, keep your eye out for the Fortant Hills Reserve Viognier.

Question of the Day: Are you the cook in your house?  How did you learn how to cook?  And, where do you get your dinner recipe ideas?

Suggested Retail Price: $13
Received as a sample.
Overall: 4 Corks

Sunday Baking: Thumbprint Jam Cookies & Australian Grenache

*** I received this wine as a sample. ***

Happy Spring, everyone!  I’m sorry for falling way behind in blogging, but I was traveling for work and just couldn’t get it all done.  I’m back, though, as is Sunday baking!

I never had a chance to write about the Valentine’s Day cookies I made.  Admittedly, Hubby and I aren’t big Valentine’s Day people, but I do enjoy the festive cookies, so with the holiday being on a Saturday this year, I made cookies the week before Valentine’s Day and the week following it.

Thumbprint jam cookies

Thumbprint jam cookies

My first batch was a Valentine’s Day Thumbprint Cookie.  I’ve been working on perfected a plain thumbprint cookie base, as thumbprints are perfect for almost any occasion and can be filled with all kinds of goodies–jam, Hershey’s kisses, mini Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups, Rolos.  The possibilities are endless, but only if the cookie base is good.  And, I think I’m finally there.  I modified the recipe I found on Simply Recipes, and the cookies stayed true to form (my Christmas thumbprints spread out flat), had a nice consistency, and tasted like a cookie without being overly sweet.  I used an apple-pomegranate jam that I bought from a local jelly maker, as I thought both the color and the flavors would be perfect for Valentine’s Day

2010 Angove Family Winemakers Warboys Vineyard Grenache

2010 Angove Family Winemakers Warboys Vineyard Grenache

To pair with the cookies, I opened the 2010 Angove Family Winemakers Warboys Grenache (winery, snooth), which is from the McLaren Vale in Australia.  The wine was a deep ruby with flecks of purple.  On the nose, there were roses and cherries mixed with hints of strawberries and lavender.  In the mouth, there were cherries and vanilla mixed with white pepper, a smoky cedar box, and flowers.  The wine was medium-to-full bodied with good acidity and tannins.

Is this worth a glass after work? It’s worth more than one!  What are you waiting for?  When I received this as a sample, the prices were about half of what they are now.  The current vintage is selling on Wine.com for $66.  At $33, this wine would be a steal…at $66 it’s still worth the price, but becomes less of an every day wine.  The 2010 vintage still needed to breathe a little, but once it opened up, there were some beautiful, unusual flavors.  The wine was exactly what an Australian wine should be—fruit forward without being jammy, well-balanced, and complex.

Overall, the cookies were a nice take on the thumbprint with jam and will definitely be a recipe I make again.  And, the apple-pomegranate jam helped tie the cookies together with the fruity flavors of the wine to make an absolutely delicious pairing!

Question of the Day: Do you travel for work?  Does your “after work” drinking change while you’re on the road? 

Valentine’s Day Jam Thumbprint Cookies
(*adapted from Simply Recipes)
Yields: 2 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup jam (I used Let’s Jam! Appom, which is an apple-pomegranate jam from a jam maker at DC’s Eastern Market)
  • Sprinkles, sanding sugar, or nuts if you want to decorate the cookies

Directions

  • In medium bowl, mix together flour and salt. Set aside.
  • In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (2-3 minutes).
  • Separate the eggs. (If using sprinkles, sanding sugar, or nuts, reserve the egg whites in a small dish and whisk until frothy, as the eggs whites will be used to make everything stick to the dough).
  • Add the yolks, and mix until combined.
  • Add vanilla, and mix until combined.
  • On low speed, add dry ingredients and mix until just blended (about 30 seconds).
  • Divide dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Line cookie sheets with parchment or silicone mats and place in refrigerator to chill.
  • Take a rounded tablespoon of chilled dough and roll between the palms of your hands to create 1-inch balls.
  • If using sprinkles, sanding sugar, or nuts, dip the balls into the egg whites then roll them into the sprinkles, sanding sugar, or nuts until covered.
  • Place cookies on lined, chilled cookie sheets. Keep cookies about 2 inches apart
  • Press to flatten slightly, then press your thumb into the center to make a small well for the jam (do not press too hard or the cookie will crack and fall apart).
  • Fill the small well with 1/2 a teaspoon of jam
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until slightly firm.
  • Let cookies set on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Suggested Retail Price: $66
Received as a sample.
Overall: 4.5 Corks

What are you waiting for…it’s Open That Bottle Night!

Most of the wines I open for an everyday drinking are $20 or less.  However, since the move, I’ve found myself opening wines that I’ve been holding onto for unknown reasons.  I think packing everything up and seeing some of the great wines that I was holding onto for an unknown reasons left me wanting to just open and enjoy them all just for the sheer joy of enjoying fantastic wine.  Four out of the five wines I’ve reviewed since the big move have cost more than $30.  The most expensive one was an $80 bottle that I had been saving for almost five years.

Let’s be honest with each other, though…not only do I not normally open an $80 Malbec on a random Sunday night while I was baking cookies…neither do you.  But, there is something liberating and fun about throwing caution to the wind and opening that bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a yet-to-be-determined “special event.”  And, that is why Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher started Open That Bottle Night.

Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) takes place on the last Saturday in February, and it’s all about opening a bottle of wine that is special.  It could be a bottle that you bought on a  special vacation or it may be the most expensive bottle you’ve ever purchased.  Regardless, it’s that wine that stares at you every time you look at your wine rack and leaves you thinking “is today the perfect day?”

For me, I’m ending my crazy run of opening expensive, non-everyday wines on OTBN (and before I drink all of the special bottles I own).  I’m also participating in a blog hop with several other fantastic wine bloggers that I met last summer at the Wine Bloggers Conference (special thanks to Anne at Odd Ball Grape for organizing!).  With that in mind, it seemed only appropriate to open a wonderful wine that I bought in Santa Ynez, California at Bridlewood Estate Winery on the last day of the conference.

2009 Bridlewood Estate Winery Syrah

2009 Bridlewood Estate Winery Reserve Syrah

The 2009 Bridlewood Estate Winery Reserve Syrah (winery, snooth) is from Santa Ynez, California and is made with 100% Syrah grapes.  The wine was a deep clear purple with a bright ruby rim.  On the nose, there were black cherries, black licorice, and nutmeg mixed with the slightest hint of violets, black pepper, and earthiness.  In the mouth, there were black cherries, black licorice, dark chocolate, and hints of espresso, leather, and violets.  The wine had a full-body, good acidity, and strong tannins.

Is this worth a glass after work? It’s worth more than one!  What are you waiting for? At $50 a bottle, this wine is not cheap, but it’s worth the extra price if you’re looking for a wine that is a little extra special.  It’s what I look for in a big, bold red wine.  It has a nice complexity that makes it enjoyable to drink on its own, but also is wine that pairs nicely food, particularly with Hubby’s pork chops.

Question of the Day:  Did you participate in Open That Bottle Night?  If so, what did you indulge in?

Price: $50
Purchased at Bridlewood Estate Winery
Overall: 5 Corks

Sunday Baking: A Pomerol & Double Chocolate Cookies

2006 Close de la Vieille Eglise CorkWhile the new house has been renovated inside, many of the walls and open spaces are awkwardly sized.  Since we’re having trouble finding shelving and furniture to fit the space, Hubby and I have decided to do a number of small do-it-yourself projects like building shelves, an deck box for outside, etc.  As you can imagine, though, these projects require spending an inordinate amount of time at Home Depot.  There is at least one trip a weekend, and often there are more.  The first weekend in February was one of those two-trips kind of weekend, not to mention a trip Bed, Bath, & Beyond, World Market, and Michael’s Arts & Crafts.  We spent the whole day running errands.  Hubby and  I are not big football people, so we skipped the Superbowl in favor of before coming home to an evening of sorting through everything and baking cookies.   And, of course, there was a good bottle of wine to go along with the activities.

2006 Close de la Vieille Eglise

2006 Close de la Vieille Eglise

The 2006 Close de la Vieille Eglise (winery, snooth) is from Pomerol, which is on the Right Bank in Bordeaux, France.  The wine is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes, and had a dark ruby color with a garnet rim.  On the nose, there were blackcurrants, roses, and hints of cedar and meat.  In the mouth, there were dark berries, meats, and cedar mixed with hints of licorice and chocolate.  The wine was medium-to-full bodied with medium tannins and acidity.

Is this worth a glass after work? It’s worth more than one!  What are you waiting for? At an SRP of $60, this bottle of wine was fantastic.  Admittedly, though, this is when my impatience gets the better of me.  The winery recommends that it continue to be cellared for several more years, and after having tasted the wine, I can only imagine how beautiful it would have been if I had let it continue to age.

2006 Close de la Vieille Eglise and Double Chocolate OriolosHowever, I didn’t let it age.  This wine was actually given to Hubby and me as a present from our loan officer at the closing of our new house, so opening it after a successful day of doing house stuff seemed appropriate.  Once the wine had a little bit of a chance to breathe, it was incredibly food-friendly.  I paired it with Hubby’s homemade meatloaf and roasted potatoes, which was a great pairing as the wine was flavorful and savory enough to stand up to the big flavors of the dinner.  After dinner, I baked the Double Chocolate Oriolos, which made for a very different, but equally delicious pairing.  I actually enjoyed the wine enough that I will

Overall, the cookies weren’t anything particularly different, but they were easy to make and were a big hit in the office.  The wine, on the other hand, offered something a little more special than usual, which was a nice treat on a Sunday night.  I actually enjoyed it so much that I’m planning to go to Schneider’s of Capitol Hill and buy several bottles, both to drink now and to cellar for later.  Together, the pairing of the wine and the cookies was a huge success.

Question of the Day: Did you watch the Superbowl?  Is it the type of event where you think about opening wine or is it strictly a beer drinking night?

 

Double Chocolate OriolosDouble Chocolate Oriolos
(*adapted from Rose Levy Beranabum’s recipe in The Baking Bible)
Yields: about 3 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1/2  cup walnut halves
  • 10 tablespoons butter (1 1/4 sticks)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup powered sugar (lightly spooned and leveled off)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup bleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (for coating)

Walnuts

  • Preheat oven to 325F.
  • Spread walnuts evenly on baking sheet.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to toast evenly.
  • Once done toast, put on clean dish towel and rub to loosen skins.
  • Break nuts into bowl, discarding the skins.
  • Let cool.

Dough

  • In food processor, mix walnuts, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, powdered sugar, salt, and cocoa powder until walnuts are finely ground.
  • Add butter.
  • Pulse until butter has absorbed the cocoa mixture.
  • Add flour.
  • Pulse until there are a lot of moist, crumbly pieces and no dry flour.
  • Divide dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap.
  • Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Line cookie sheets with parchment or silicone mats and place in refrigerator to chill.
  • In small bowl, place granulated sugar for coating.
  • Remove 1 of the dough halves to begin shaping cookies.
  • Take a rounded tablespoon of chilled dough and roll between the palms of your hands to create 1-inch balls.
  • Roll balls in sugar mixture until coated.
  • Place cookies on lined, chilled cookie sheets.  Keep cookies about 2 inches apart and press them down so that each is about 1/2 inch high.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes.
  • Let cookies set on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack

 

Price: $60
Overall: 4.5 Corks

Sunday Baking: Pinot Gris and Snickerdoodles

While my coworkers all enjoyed the novelty of the Candied Bacon Bourbon Chocolate Chip Cookies, they were clearly not the success I hoped they would be because there were still cookies left in the tin at the end of the week. Normally, all the cookies are gone by mid-day on Monday. It’s a rarity for cookies to even make it until Tuesday. During my whole year of baking cookies for my office, the only time I’ve had to take cookies home with me on a Friday was during heavy vacation/holiday weeks. So, clearly, these were a bust. In order to win back my fans, I decided to go with something simple and traditional…the Snickerdoodle.

Sunday BakingThe baking process is usually pretty routine for me. I pick out cookies for the week on Saturday before Hubby and I go grocery shopping. Then, Sunday is all about the baking. Whether it’s a lounge-around-at-home or an errand day, one of the first things I do is make coffee and set out to work on the dough so that it can chill in the refrigerator for several hours while I go about the rest of the day.

This past Sunday was pretty quiet. Saturday had been very busy trying to get our condo ready to rent. In fact, we hit more than a few snags in the work we were doing, which meant the projects we were on were delayed, so by the time Sunday rolled around, Hubby and I were tired, frustrated, and wanted nothing to do with home improvement activities. That said, we still have a lot of settling in to do in the new house, so we took the time at home in the new place to hang a few paintings on the wall and put together our new grill, which we promptly used.

Thankfully, the Pinot Gris I opened to enjoy with the hot dogs with mac & cheese, lasted me through the end of the book I was reading and into my Snickerdoodle baking.

2012 Bouchaine Vineyards Pinot Gris and Snickerdoodles

2012 Bouchaine Vineyards Pinot Gris and Snickerdoodles

The 2012 Bouchaine Vineyards Pinot Gris (winery, snooth) is a from Napa Valley, California and is made with 100% Pinot Gris grapes. The wine had a light-to-medium straw yellow color. On the nose, there were nectarines, Granny Smith apples, and hints of honey. In the mouth, there were limes, grapefruits, tart Granny Smith apples, and hints of nectarines and thyme. The wine had a light-to-medium body and bright acidity.

Is this worth a glass after work? Definitely!  If you see this wine in the store, grab it; you won’t be disappointed. At $30 a bottle, this wine is a little on the high end for an everyday wine, but it offers something a little different in a white that I think makes it worthwhile. It’s easy to drink both on its own and with food. The acidity helped cut through some of the fattiness of the hot dogs and mac & cheese without overpowering the food, which was perfect. Admittedly, the Pinot Gris didn’t pair with the cookies as well as I hoped. I thought the lighter flavors and the acidity would go nicely with the lighter cookie, but the citrusy notes clashed with the cinnamon from the cookie. Oh, well…lesson learned.

Bouchaine Vineyards Cork and SnickerdoodlesOverall, one coworker said to me on the way to our staff meeting that “Normally, [he doesn’t] think one way or the other about Snicerkdoodles, but these are damn good ones.” And, as if to prove the point, all 3 dozen cookies were eaten within 3 hours of my bringing them to the office. It confirms that I think I perfected my Snickerdoodle recipe. So, my Sunday Baking seems to have been an all-around success, even if the wine-cookie pairing itself wasn’t very good.

Question of the Day: What do you do when you create a bad food pairing…do you stop drinking the wine with the food or do you just push through and hope for better next time?

 

Snickerdoodles

(*adapted from Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe)
Yields: 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (for coating)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon (for coating)

Directions

  • In medium bowl, mix together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • In mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  • Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.
  • Add vanilla and mix until combined.
  • On low speed, add dry ingredients and mix until just blended (about 30 seconds).
  • Divide dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Line cookie sheets with parchment or silicone mats and place in refrigerator to chill.
  • In small bowl, mix together sugar and cinnamon for coating.
  • Remove one of the dough halves to begin shaping cookies.
  • Take a rounded tablespoon of chilled dough and roll between the palms of your hands to create 1-inch balls.
  • Roll balls in the cinnamon and sugar mixture until coated.
  • Place cookies on lined, chilled cookie sheets. Keep cookies about 2 inches apart and press them down so that each is about 1/2 inch high.
  • Bake for 10 minutes.
  • Let cookies set on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack
    Remember to chill the dough and cookie sheets between batches.

Price: $30
Purchased at Bouchaine Vineyards Website (through the wine club)
Overall: 4 Corks