Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday

It's that day again!

It's a short and sweet one. This is the runner-up from our wine tasting. Like I mentioned before, I found it at Whole Foods for $11.99 (though I've seen it quite a few places, it's got a very bold style that is hard to miss). And I'm not usually a huge Merlot fan, but this was nice and smooth and light. A good, cheap, everyday type of wine that I think would go well with anything.

It's the 2008 The Velvet Devil Merlot.

Yay! Go try it sometime! Or remember next year that I posted a cheap Merlot once and look it up and try it then!

That is all. See you next week.


So I found a new favorite cheap thing that I never knew existed. Call me late to the game on this one, but I am not much of a botanist so I've never heard of Paperwhites. But it turns out they are related to an Amaryllis, which I have heard of, and they are a really easy to grow bulb plant. This is how easy to grow they are... you stick them in a bowl of water and they bloom in 3 weeks. That's it. You're gonna want some stone to hold them in place.

The best part was that they were 50 cents for each bulb at this nursery my friend Sarah and I were at! So I got five. And put them in a bowl. And put some stone and water in the bowl with them.

Aren't they cool looking? I love my camera with natural light to work with.

I'll update you on their progress. I'm thinking I might be able to not kill them!

Weekly Recipe Wrap-Up

Hello all,

It's been quite a week. A bit of an emotional roller coaster, if you will. But one of my favorite remedies for feeling down is cooking something delicious. It's very satisfying to know that if you put these certain ingredients together and roast them for this amount of time, there will always be a yummy end result. If nothing else seems to be going well, I can still cook well, dangit! And so, I did. Here are the results.

It's been pretty mild for a winter here at the moment. It's been like 35 and not snowing and not windy. Now, that's not warm, but it's really not cold. Still it's been a little cloudy and grey, so it's called for some warm feel-good food. And what's better for that then some chili and cornbread? (Side note, about four of my friends on Facebook also had this idea, so I think it's a case of great minds and all...)

If you ever wanted to know what color my cutting board is, it's the color of a red pepper. Exactly.

Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday


So I have a bunch of cheap wines of the week in my repertoire now! What's nice is, I get to spread them out and not go hunting for a good wine every week. We had our wine tasting, which was awesome, and so we got to taste a bunch of different wines, and I liked most of them!

Here are a few detail shots of the prep for the party. I made little wine FAQ pages and name tags with a rating sheet on the back for everyone.

We had 12 people in our little apartment, which meant Brad and I were standing, but it was a lot of fun! We are so blessed to have such a great community here!

On to this week's cheap wine of the week. In a thoroughly unscientific study (I liked it best, Brad did too, and I remember some other people saying good things about it...), this was our wine tasting winner! It's the 2007 Boomtown Syrah. I got it from Whole Foods for $12.99. It's from Washington, and it was a good surprise. I expected to like the Cab we had best, but luckily it was a blind tasting and I was able to forget which wine was which long enough to not be prejudiced against this one. Nice and smooth, not too tannic, a little oaky, and a lot of fruit. Mmmm mmm good!

Here it is alongside the rest of the bottles we had available that night.

Next week, I'll reveal the second-favorite of the night. (Here's a hint, it's also red, also from Whole Foods, and also $12.99!)

Weekly Recipe Wrap-Up

Hello all!

This is our start of 2010's recipe fun! This year I hope to keep being able to find great recipes, try and be healthy and spend less money. So, in that spirit, let's go on to the food of the last couple weeks.

Since Brad and I were sick at the same time, it called for a soup night. Over Christmas I found some footed soup bowls at Crate and Barrel for $3.95. Best bowls ever. So I had to retry French Onion Soup recipe, since I could broil it properly and have all that great melty cheese on top. I used a different recipe this time, and it turned out just as good. Possibly better.

Mmmmm... cheesy goodness...

The next night was a chicken salad, just another version of my favorite shredded chicken one. This involved adding fresh corn and grape tomatoes. And, as a new twist, I made up a tequila lime vinaigrette to use as a dressing. The little bit of tequila added some sweetness and the lime was a great tart counterpoint to that.

My favorite thing that I have made in a long, long time came by this week. I mean, really. It was that good. So we had seen Alton Brown making these Tuna Croquettes on Good Eats. And Brad thought they looked good, so I made them the first night.

I used this Tartar Sauce recipe as something to dip the croquettes in. And it was really good. A great meal. But the next night, at the risk of being redundant, I made both recipes again. As a sandwich. A tuna croquette tartar sandwich with arugula on a freshly toasted bun. Oh yum. This will make it into the repertoire.

The last recipe came from another community group get-together dinner. We potlucked with some great lasagna and cheesy garlic bread and snacks and drinks, and our contribution was a caesar salad. The special part was that I made my own caesar dressing. I've never tried a caesar before, and figured Ina Garten would know how to make a good one. And she did. But, cook's note, pay attention to her when she says to use a light olive oil. I used extra virgin, and it definitely tasted olive oil-y. Still good, but I'll know better for next time.

There we go. Weeks worth of food crammed into one post for you. I'm off onto more culinary adventures! Go Chargers!

How To Host a Wine Tasting

Hey all,

Instead of our regularly-scheduled Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday, today I'm going to share my tips on hosting a wine tasting. (We didn't drink any good cheap wines this week, just a great expensive one.)

So the hardest part about a wine tasting is picking the wine you want to serve. It can be rather daunting. Do you just go to the store and blindly grab 6 bottles and hope they work? Do you get only wines that start with the letter "W"? While those may actually be valid, fun tastings, there are a few rules to stick with.

First, the basic options for a tasting are vertical, horizontal, or themed. Vertical tastings mean that you select one specific wine, say Orfila Vineyards' 2006 Ambassador's Reserve Merlot, and then you go into your cellar and pull out the 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001 versions and set them all up against each-other to see how the wine differs throughout the years. If you have a great love for a vineyard or a wine, this is a cool option to lovingly sip through its history.

But, let's face it, most of us don't have the luxury of having a cellar full of older vintages of wines that we can stack up against one another. So the next idea of a tasting is a horizontal tasting. This is where you select a certain varietal (and, if you want to be picky, a certain region as well), say Miner Family's 2006 Petite Sirah, and then you go pick out five other 2006 Napa Valley Petites to set up alongside it. This way you get the same grape, from the same year, from the same region, but you can taste the differences between the makers.

Now, for a crowd that doesn't necessarily like the same type of wine, another idea is a themed tasting. This can encompass just about anything. All Italian wines, wines with animals on the label, wines under $10, wines Cassia has featured as Cheap Wines of the Week. You get the idea. With this type of tasting, it's going to probably be a little more hit or miss, but it can also be really fun because you get to explore some random wines and be casual and fun about it.

The logistics of the wine tasting after you've picked out your wines is then completely up to you. Especially if I'm doing a themed or random tasting, I like to go for the blind tasting idea. So you grab a bunch of paper bags, wrap the open bottles all up (if you're with wine snob types, make sure you take off the foil or any other identifying features above the top of the bag), number the bottles, and give everyone tasting cards for them to make notes and guess which one is which.

Image taken from

The last step is to get some great cheese, or bread, or something to snack on so the wine doesn't go to everyone's heads too quickly and so they can clear their palates. And then pour out about an ounce or so of each wine to everyone (really, you don't need a lot, just enough to swish and swirl), provide a dump bucket, and get to tasting!

This Saturday we're hosting a wine tasting at our place (8 o'clock if you're in the Chicago area, just let me know if you want to come!), and I'll be doing a more informal educational style. Pick out four common white varietals, four common red varietals, one rose, bag 'em, and let people see if they can pick out which one's which. (The rose might be a freebie). I'll be sure to let you all know how it goes!

If you guys have some good wine tasting tips of your own, let me know! I'd love to hear more fun ideas! Happy wine tasting!

Christmas post, finally

Hey friends and family! Welcome to 2010! We've been crazy busy and then crazy sick, so I'm just now getting all this up for you to see. We got to spend Christmas in San Diego this year and it was a wonderful time. We hung out with a ton of people and played a lot of games and laughed, a lot. It was great. We even got to extend our stay for an extra couple of days because Southwest Airlines is fantastic and will let you switch flights with no fee if it costs the same. All in all, a lovely time was had by all. And then Brad got sick and got an ear infection and ruptured his eardrum, and then gave his sickness (but not the ear infection, thankfully) to me, so we've been using a lot of Kleenex around our apartment the last week or so. But we're on the mend and both he and I are almost done with our grad school applications! Yay!

So there's the update for now, more to come later, but to tide you over, here are a few pictures from Christmas:

The classic Southern California Christmas picture

Me and my matching present, nicely designed by Brad's sister Michi

The random karate kick, of course

The Carters bought these "C is for Carter" hats when we went to the Cubs game out here, so we had to do the family photo with them

And a bunch of us went to Orfila so I could see everyone and finally catch up, and of course try out all the delicious wine!

There it is, Christmas 09 in all its glory. The regular recipes and cheap wines of the week will resume this coming week as well, never fear. And I still need to show you all the new view from our apt (hint, it involves lots of fluffy white stuff.) Have a great week!