Important Announcement!

Hello friends, family and followers!

I am very excited to announce that I am starting a new blog! (this one) will stay around for life updates, friend information, and more about our life. But, all of the cooking and wine and such will be moved to (that's my name!). So please bookmark the new blog and keep an eye on all the goodness happening over there. You'll notice that, for the moment, it looks eerily similar to this blog. It's exactly the same, minus some life updates. But, I assure you, it will soon start a new little life of its own.

See you at cassia kathleen!

Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday

Hello friends! This week we found a very good cheap wine of the week. There is a wine shop near us, Que Syrah, that I really like and they have a wall of cheap options. I've rarely been led astray by Don and his picks, and today's was great.

It's the 2007 Saurus Cabernet Sauvignon. It's from Patagonia in Argentina, and I was very pleasantly surprised. When the wine first hit my mouth, I admit to thinking I was going to be disappointed. It has a very light, almost floral characteristic that I'm not usually a fan of. But the minute you swallow, the aftertaste hits, and then the pepper and the jammy fruit and the cab flavor I was waiting for all came flooding in. Still not a super full-bodied wine, especially for a cab, but a really nice, smooth representation. We're about to eat it with a yummy smelling lasagna. I'll let you know how it pairs.


Recipe of the Moment - Turkey Bolognese

On to some real food now! Not that appetizers aren't real food, but this is going to be an entree post for those of you who actually need to cook a dinner every now and then. This post is a turkey bolognese that I adapted from Pioneer Woman, who is an incredible food blogger. And, in fact, she got the recipe from a pastor friend of hers, Ryan. So this is really just a passed down recipe that's been passed down again right on for your consumption.

I chopped the recipe in half, which was more than enough for Brad and I. (We ate the whole thing, but that's just because it was so good, I don't recommend it.) And I used frozen ground turkey I had in my freezer instead of ground beef (no, not awesome, but good enough, and free, since I already had it).

The results were stunning. The bolognese has a little hint of sweetness from the carrots and lot of good, hearty flavor from the tomatoes and the meat. I added some extra garlic and some extra red wine to "beef" up the flavor of the turkey (ha ha, get it? ...), and it all worked out quite nicely. I am a big fan. I liked it way too much to not share with you all.

Why not finish off the bottle you used to cook with while you enjoy your dinner? Guaranteed perfect wine pairing for the meal.

Turkey Bolognese

2 glugs olive oil
3/4 cup grated carrots (use your cheese grater, just on the smaller side)
1/2 red onion, diced
1 lb ground turkey
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried basil
3 ounces tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 T Worcestershire
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
1/2 cup milk
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Parmesan, for topping
1/2 pound cooked pasta

Directions (see Pioneer Woman's site for detailed pictures of each step)
1. In a dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat
2. Add carrots and onions, and cook till not quite soft
3. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add ground turkey, stir and cook till browned
4. Add oregano and basil, and stir to combine everything
5. Make another well, this time adding the tomato paste in the center, stirring till heated through
6. Add garlic and cook till somewhat soft
7. Make another well and add red wine and Worcestershire, stir to combine
8. Add tomatoes, breaking up with your spoon
9. Add milk, stir all together, season with salt and pepper, turn heat down to low and let flavors meld for at least 30 minutes
10. Serve over pasta and sprinkle with parmesan


Recipe of the Moment - Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

This was another piece of our appetizer dinner last weekend. My parents had these frozen breaded shrimp that are perfect for an easy appetizer, but I wanted to make some sort of dipping sauce to go with them. A little snooping around online got me to this recipe. I adapted it slightly for what we had on hand, and it worked out beautifully.

The peanut butter/soy sauce/lime mixture was perfect, and really easy to make since you just stick it in a blender. And paired with the shrimp, it made a perfect appetizer. Thinned out with a little fish stock, this could also make a great sauce for rice noodles or for an asian casserole. I'd eat pretty much anything dipped in this stuff. Mmm mmm mm.

Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
3 T soy sauce
1 1/2 T brown sugar
2 T lime juice
1 1/2 T minced ginger (we used jarred, and it was just fine)

1 t minced garlic
1/2 t chili flakes
1 shallot, chopped

1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth
2. If desired, serve with chopped cilantro on top

Sauce will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator


Recipe of the Moment - Turkey Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

The next fews days will be showcasing the appetizers from the wine tasting at my parent's house in Phoenix last weekend. I wanted there to be a lot of variety, yet with components that were easy to make and filling, so that there didn't need to be a ton of different appetizers to make.

My parents already had some great looking asparagus in their fridge, and so I immediately thought of doing a bacon-wrapped asparagus dish. To be fair, I merely conceptualized this dish and told my Mom what to do. All of the arranging of the food was done by her, so the final result is her handiwork. And they turned out wonderfully. Simple to make, one-pan prep and clean up, and a delicious outcome. Sounds like a staple to me!

Turkey Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
(adapted from this recipe)

1 large bundle asparagus, ends trimmed (we had about 20 spears)
1 pkg turkey bacon (can use real bacon, if you prefer)
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
2. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt and freshly-ground pepper over all the asparagus spears on a foil-lined baking pan
3. One by one, wrap a strip of turkey bacon around each spear, taking care to place them on the baking sheet so that both ends of the bacon are held underneath the spear while baking (alternatively, you can use soaked toothpicks to hold the bacon in place, but we found it wasn't necessary)
4. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, until the bacon starts to look crispy but without drying out the asparagus


Recipe of the Moment - Earl Grey Cookies

With visions of Alinea dancing in my head, I wanted to come up with something wonderful for the Project Runway finale last night. Sarah was doing the salad and I was doing the sangria (and Brad was just enjoying it all). However, since I don't own any liquid nitrogen or agar or lecithin, not to mention truffles or shad roe or hibiscus, I had to settle for something a little less gastronomic.

One of the Alinea courses was an Earl Grey course, which happens to be my favorite type of tea. There were little tiny bits of crumbled Earl Grey cookies at the bottom of the plate, and they were delicious. Cookies I can do. Especially because I already have the tea handy.

This recipe is from Real Simple magazine, and I figured I could trust Martha to make some great tea cookies. I adapted it to fit my kitchen and ingredients. What you see below is my slightly different version. They were delicious, as predicted. And very easy to make. They were like my family's classic Faircakes, only with a light tea flavor and less butter. And I topped them off with some homemade Earl Grey whipped cream. Mmmm mmmm mmmm.

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup confectioners' (powdered) sugar
2 T. Earl Grey tea leaves (cheap bagged ones are actually better, as they have smaller leaf bits)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1 t. water
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. Grind tea leaves with a mortar and pestle until fine.
2. In a stand mixer, mix the two sugars, tea leaves, and salt together
3. Add vanilla, water and butter and stir until combined
4. Add flour slowly and mix until dough comes together
5. Divide dough in half, roll each half into a 2 inch diameter log, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
6. When ready to bake, heat oven to 375 degrees
7. Slice logs into 1/3 inch disks, place on parchment-paper lined tray, 2 inches apart
8. Bake 10 - 12 minutes, until edges are just slightly browned (my oven runs hot, it only needed 10)
9. Let cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool, then serve!

Earl Grey Whipped Cream

1/2 bag's worth Earl Grey tea leaves, ground fine
1/2 pint whipping cream
1 t. vanilla
1 - 3 T. sugar

1. Whisk chilled cream vigorously in a bowl, until it starts to thicken (alternatively, use a hand mixer, a much faster method, but one unfortunately unavailable to me)
2. Add in the tea leaves and vanilla, whisk to combine and thicken more
3. Add sugar to taste, I only used about a tablespoon and a half, but if you want sweeter whipped cream, use more
4. Whisk till peaks stay set and it looks ready to enjoy! (If preparing early, put cream in the fridge and whisk again right before serving)


Place of the Moment - Alinea

Last night, Brad took me out to dinner for my birthday. No big deal, right? Wrong, my friend, very wrong. This place was incredible. It's called Alinea, and to show why this was the best meal I have ever eaten, I'm going to walk you through each of the 12 courses we ate, one by one. I did not take my camera, every picture on this site was taken by the blogger of Gourmet Pigs. They posted these the day before we went, so the food looks very, very similar.

The format goes thusly... you have no idea what you're going to be served, and the food comes at its own pace, one course at a time. I also did the wine pairings with the food, so the memorable ones of those I'll mention as well. Each course is different and delicious in and of itself, and each has its own utensils and serving apparatus. You'll see... On to the food!

English Pea

This was frozen peas (and by frozen, I mean dehydrated and/or frozen with liquid nitrogen, or some such awesomeness), honeydew melon, iberico ham, sherry vinegar, burreta cheese, basil, and other bits all put together for a few great bites. It was like biting into delicious, savory dippin' dots

This was served with my favorite drink of the night. It was a Szigeti Cuvee Prestige Brut with some drops of Iqhilika mead and Peychaud bitters. Yes, sparkling wine with mead and bitters swirled in. The best sparkling wine I have ever had. Flavorful, full of body, I wished I had another few glasses... until there were so many other wines served to us. 

Shad Roe

This had a bay branch growing out of it for the aromatic properties, and it was a tempura battered and fried single bite of shad roe, wrapped in bacon, with shallots and Dijon mustard.


This looked like a shot of liquor of some sort, but it was, in fact, a distillation of thai flavors. You should have smelled this thing. It was so aromatic, and tasted just like all the flavors of the Thai food we'd eaten the night before in one little swallow. 

Pork Belly

So we'd already had these little flags of rice paper on our table, and we'd been told we'd use them later. So sure enough, they're set out on this little holder contraption, filled with a bunch of pureed pork belly, then you're told to garnish the whole thing however you want with the bits on the glass plate. There is black salt, cucumber, dehydrated garlic flakes, bananas dipped in chocolate powder, lime gelee, coconut, red onion, basil seeds in a lime juice thing, cashews, and two other bits. It was amazing.


This was a deconstructed sturgeon potato leek soup. There was an applesauce ribbon over it all, with bits of pureed leek, some crouton dust, radishes, a potato crisp, and who knows what else. Yummy.

At this point, Brad got a glass of a 2005 Anima Negra from the island of Majorca. The major varietal is Callet, and it was a very delicious wine. I loved the creativity of the wines they offered and the fact that so many were so new to me. 

King Crab

So this was a three-course course. The top was some crab and fennel with a lemon foam (I think) and some other jellied/frozen bits. Then the top of the bowl comes off and there's more crab and fennel flavors in a slightly more substantial/traditional form. Then down blow, there's a creamy reduction of the flavors with some more crab bits floating in it that tasted like the best crab bisque you've ever had, if it was in Thailand. Very fun.

This was paired with a 2006 Albert Mann Pinot Gris 'Hengst' Grand Cru. It was a grapefruit-crisp Pinot Gris that was very nice.

Filet de Boeuf

This was a plate of beef/meat bits. It was the most substational course of the night. There was a wagyu round in the center, a sculpted button mushroom, a cockscomb, sweetbreads, and some other pureed beefs. I'm still not turned on to red meat, so this wasn't my favorite. But the flavors were wonderful. 

Hot Potato/Cold Potato

This was a paraffin wax bowl with a cold potato soup in it, then a skewered bit of hot potato and truffle that you let fall into the bowl and slurp like an oyster. 


This was a few different preparations of duck surrounded by a chamomile foam with some morel mushrooms as well. One of the bites was the most tender piece of meat I've ever had. And it was my first taste of foie gras, which I didn't know I was eating or I would have left it on the plate on principle. Though, admittedly, delicious.

This was served with a 2005 Quinta de Foz de Arouce 'Vinhas Velhas de Santa Maria' from Portugal. A red varietal called Baga, which I'd never had, with a lot of structure and good flavor, it was my favorite wine that was served. Though there were some fine pairings with the other offerings, this is a wine I would drink on its own and truly enjoy. 

Black Truffle

This was called a truffle explosion, and we were warned to take it in one bite or it would explode everywhere. A sort of ravioli filled with truffle and topped with a parmesan sliver, a very juicy bite that just melted in your mouth. 

Earl Grey

This started the dessert courses. The pillow was inflated with the aroma of Earl Grey and it slowly deflated as you ate, swirling the smell around you. On the plate was some white chocolate, some bits of earl grey cookies, caramel (I think), and other sweeter flavors. It was my favorite of the desserts. 


This picture is actually from the full 24-course tasting menu, and it gets served on your actual table. Ours was the same components, just served on a plate. Frozen dark chocolate, solidified chocolate mousse, menthol cream, and coconut. The dark chocolate was amazing, but the menthol was a little overpowering for me. Still an intriguing presentation.

Bubble Gum

This was our last course of the night, and it shows up in this tube. It is hibiscus bits, creme fraiche, and bubble gum flavored tapioca at the end. You just suck it out in one go and swallow it down. Definitely tasted like bubble gum.

So I'm sure you can all see why I was so enthralled with this place. It was the most interesting meal I've ever had. Bravo Chef Achatz, bravo. 

Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday

We have a winner for this week! When we were in Phoenix, we got to host a wine tasting for the family and some friends. It was great. There were also a bunch of delicious appetizers that will show up in a later post, have no doubt.

We tasted 6 different wines, along with Dad's magnum of 2006 Orfila Sangiovese.

For me, the best of the night was the 2008 Tormaresca Neprica. It's Italian, so I would already have been pretty biased towards it, but I didn't know what I was drinking, so I legitimately picked it out without knowing. The blend is 40% Negroamaro, 30% Primitivo, and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon (get it? NePriCa...). It was earthy and a little fruity, complex, rich, and best of all, it's only $9 at Costco! Dad liked it best too.

Good job Costco. Great cheap wine of the week. And good pick for the tasting Dad!

New Format

Hey friends.

First of all, thank you for all my birthday wishes! It has been a great birthday, with a weekend in Phoenix with my parents and one of my German exchange student brothers Julien. We ate a bunch of great food, played a lot of cornhole and Ticket to Ride, and just hung out. It was wonderful. And so far back in Chicago we've eaten some great Thai food with friends, and tomorrow night Brad's taking me to some super-fancy restaurant where we're going to eat a 12 course meal. I promise to write down everything we eat and tell you all about it. (I sincerely wish I owned an iPhone so I could surreptitiously snap photos of the food as well, but oh well...) All in all, it's shaping up to be a great year already!!

Just a note on the blog. I'm toying with the idea of going more in-depth with my food portions, which means that a weekly recipe wrap-up would just be a ridiculously long post if I only did one a week. So watch out for some "recipe of the moment" pages instead of a weekly wrap-up page. I'm also going to reproduce the recipes I use in their full format each time, so you don't have to keep clicking away (though I'll still provide the links). This will also let me be more clear about any tweaking I did with each recipe.

Anyway, it's going to look a little different around here, and now you've been forewarned. The cheap wine of the week wednesdays will stay the way you know and love for now.

Have a wonderful night, and know that you and your friendship and love give me so much joy!

Alcohol doesn't freeze...

We didn't drink any good cheap wine this week. In lieu of that, I want to show you what happened in our fridge this week.

I open the fridge and notice a weird brownish liquid underneath the veggie drawer. Thinking that there was just some really old cilantro I hadn't remembered that had leaked (gross!), I left it alone for another time. Later that day I needed tortillas for dinner, so I open the fridge again and pull the tortillas out and there's some liquid on the plastic bag as well, a shelf above the possibly rancid cilantro. That's interesting. And hey, wait a second... it smells like beer in here. And there is a little shard of glass on this tortilla bag.

What the?

This happened

Yep... our fridge was turned down too cold, and a beer we had shoved in the back hoping someone else would drink it froze... and expanded... and EXPLODED all over our fridge. Plus a Coke can that also decided to expand its horizons.

So don't believe those folks who'll tell you that alcohol doesn't freeze. If it's like beer and has enough water in it, it will. Vodka won't. Though I learned recently that you're not supposed to put your vodka in the freezer if you want to make a mixed drink correctly. Who knew? I'll keep it on the shelf from now on.

Till next week (by which, I hope to have actually imbibed some cheap wine worth drinking...), have wonderful days!

Weekly Recipe Wrap-Up

Here're some of the recipes we ate this week.

We had a great concert at our church on Friday called Acoustic Blend (you can see some pictures I took of the event on Facebook here). To add to the night we had some snacks available and coffee and tea and such. I contributed brownies. Nothing super special, just followed the recipe on the box (Hershey's Ultimate Fudge Brownies). But they were really good. Even a few days later for the church potluck!

Brownie glamour shot

One of our healthy/cheap meals of the week was this great tilapia with green beans recipe. Now, normally I don't like tilapia. It's too light and it doesn't really taste like anything. But this recipe called for a light breading and frying in a little bit of butter (cook's note, half the butter with a couple tablespoons of olive oil cuts down a lot of the bad fat). And it was really good tasting, and really fresh with the added green beans and cherry tomatoes.

Fried green bean tomatoes

Flaky tilapia fillet... mmmm...

Another good dinner of the week was for our community group dinner, which we got the chance to host.  For a good crowd-friendly recipe, I pulled out the trusty Wolfgang Puck mushroom turkey burgers. Delicious, easy to make, and better for you than beef burgers. Unless they were lying, everyone really liked them. And our friends brought over some red onion and cilantro to top them off, which was a perfect accoutrement. 

Melted fontina cheese was also a winner

Another quick meal was a bacon, spinach, tomato and avocado sandwich (hereafter known as a S.T.A.B... or a B.A.S.T?).  Melted fontina on wheat bread finished them off, and they were really yummy.

It S.T.A.B.s you with goodness

And that's about it. I also made this NYT caesar salad recipe from the Minimalist for our church's potluck on Sunday night celebrating our one year anniversary of being a church! But I was rather distracted by the Masters all day (yay Phil!) and didn't make it very well. It was fine, but not blog worthy. But I assume the recipe is worth eating anyway, even if I didn't pull it off that night. So that's something else for you. 

Have a lovely week friends! We'll see you back next week for some more great food and fun.

Cheap Wine of the Week Wednesday

Hi friends.

We again drank no good cheap wine this week. But I wanted to share a little something tonight about what to do with bad cheap wine, of which there is plenty in this world. You know the feeling. You're standing in front of the wines at the store, pretending like you know what you're looking for, hoping everyone thinks you look all suave and sophisticated since you're beside the cabernet, and you have no idea what to buy. So you grab some $8.99-on-sale bottle and head out the door. Well, you pay for it first. Then you head out the door.

And you get home, cut the foil off, pop the cork (though, at $8.99, there is a pretty decent chance it's got a screwcap on it), pour out a little bit, try it... and wrinkle your nose in distaste.

This is a perfect example of the shock of a bad cheap wine face, circa the national prayer breakfast 2006

Now, there are those of us who will continue to drink it because nine bucks is nine bucks. And there are those of us who will put the cork back in and hope we find something to cook with it tomorrow night before it goes too bad. There are even some who will just pour it down the drain because it's really that bad.But before you go to extremes, like drinking plain yucky wine, there is another option. Our new best friend... sangria!

Yes, I mentioned this on Sunday since Sarah brought up the glorious idea last Thursday. And sangria is the perfect solution for bad cheap wine. You really don't want to use anything expensive in sangria, since you won't really be able to taste anything except for wine-y-ness anyway. So the minute you decide this cheap wine is not worth it's weight in straw... dump it in a pitcher or a bowl, cut up a bunch of fruit, throw in some sugar, cover it, and stick it in the fridge overnight.

Like so

Then tomorrow, add some ginger ale, or sparkling water, or sprite, and if you want, some other sorts of liquors. And viola! A useful, yummy, perfect-for-spring-and-summer drink. Much better than that bad cheap wine you thought you were stuck with, no?

Here are some sangria recipe sites:

Enjoy! And be free of the curse of bad, cheap wine!

Weekly Recipe Wrap-Up

Happy Easter, friends! It's a joyous day, and it's joyously beautiful here in chicago, with lots of trees budding and birds singing to celebrate the risen Lord!
And in the spirit of spring renewal, we're finally getting some more food pictures up on the blog!

Brad and I are in a place right now where we're starting to pay a lot more attention to our budget. And, unfortunately, the food I like to make is not always the food our bank account likes for me to make. But we also don't want to swing towards mac and cheese every night and consequently gain 20 pounds each this year. So this installment of recipes, and many more in the future, are my first attempt at budget-friendly, healthy meals for us.

So, marching on!

The first recipe of the bunch was Linguine with Tuna Puttanesca. I had most of the ingredients for this in my pantry already, and it looked quite yummy. I used thin spaghetti instead of linguini, and I chopped up some leftover piquillo peppers to add in as well. They were a great addition to this acidic, tangy sauce.

All in all, very light, fresh-tasting, and enjoyable!

The next night, I made bean and cheese burritos, one of our cheap favorites. But I had one extra tortilla leftover, so I decided to use some of the leftover kalamatas and some veggies in the fridge to make a little cheese crisp appetizer. Delicioso!

Another recipe idea came from having a bunch of eggs in my fridge that I never use. It's feeling a lot more like springtime, so I decided to make a spinach, egg, and bacon salad. Nothing too special there, but it tasted amazing. I found a dressing for it on this blog, and now I have a new balsamic vinaigrette recipe. Perfect.

The best part about this dinner was that our friend Sarah, who comes over on Thursdays to watch Project Runway with us, had the wonderful idea of making a sangria, since it was perfect weather for it. So she brought all the ingredients for a really fruity, sparkling sangria that was a perfect addition to the night. I think we're going to make "salad and sangria Thursdays" a running theme. 

The last meal for this installment was our dinner last night with some friends. Seth, who goes to school with Brad, his wife Shauna and his nephew Max, who was in town for spring break, all came over for a game day extravaganza. We played Settlers all day long. And dinner was one of my favorites. Vodka sausage pasta. It's based off this recipe, though with the sausages fried up in the pan following the shallots and garlic, before simmering in the tomatoes.

It was yummy. And the bread and salad they brought topped it off perfectly. Plus great root beer and cream soda. The pizookie we made for dessert wasn't so bad either.

That's all for now. Hopefully we'll find some more cost-cutting-yet-still-good-for-you meals to make this next week. Though we'll have leftover pasta for just about every meal for four days.

Until next time, have a blessed Easter night!