Category Archives: wine

Food fighters

Episode three of Top Chef is filled with last minute surprises and twists, in addition to having the cheftestants cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the band Foo Fighters.

During the Quickfire Challenge, the cheftestants randomly choose a page from the Top Chef recipe book and have to get inspired by previous contestant’s dish.  After several minutes into the challenge, Padma tells them to S-T-O-P.  Surpise Twist #1 – the challenge is changed and the cheftestants must take their ingredients and make a soup.  The Quickfire is sponsored by Swanson after all.  Guest judge, and James Beard Foundation’s 2008 Best Chef, Grant Achatz, chooses Jamie’s chickpea soup, Danny’s ham and egg soup and Leah‘s white asparagus soup as the top three dishes.  Jamie’s over-confidence would annoy me, but it appears she’s very, very good.  Not good enough, because it is Leah, who doesn’t hide that she hates the flavor of white asparagus, wins the challenge.


As winner, Leah gets to pick her team for the Foo Fighters Thanksgiving Elimination Challenge.  The Elimination Challenge has Team Sexy Pants (Leah’s team) going up against Team Cougar.  Aside: there should have been more air time discussing how terrible these team names are.  Anyway, the teams arrive at the concert venue and Surprise Twist #2 – the Thanksgiving dinner is to be prepared using microwaves, toaster ovens and one burner.  Plus, they have to cook outside.  Surpise Twist #3 – it starts to rain.  My favorite line of the night comes from Fabio, of the “Euro Duo,” who says, ” I’m not going home because of rain in my tiramisu.”  It may have been the Italian accent that got me.


Team Cougar cooks the best turkey, and Team Sexy Pants fixes the best desserts.  It is a close one, but Team Cougar makes the most mistakes so they lose.  The Hair’s pumpkin parfait and Danny’s al dente potatoes are no good, but it is Richard who gets sent home because of his failed s’mores. The judges thought it looked liked someone spat on the s’mores.  Too bad for “Team Rainbow;” it looks like Jamie is on her own.

For the drink pairing – in a recent post, DC Foodies, suggested a few wines for Thanksgiving dinner.  Since a meal like Thanksgiving has so many different dishes, they think you should play towards the middle and keep bonny-doon-winethe reds light and the whites big.  I agree, which is also why I recommend a Rose.  It has all the refreshing qualities of a white wine mixed with some of the depth in a red.  One of my favorites is Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris de Cigare.  Bonny Doon has always been one of my favorite wineries.  It is a funky vineyard in California that uses esoteric techniques (one of the first to use synthesized corks, and then the screw cap).  It also happens to have cool, artistic labels.  Their wines are very affordable and available in many wine and grocery stores.  S&C recommends you give any of them a try.

Hot dawg

The second episode of Top Chef had the chef’testants making hot dogs and serving lunch at Tom Colicchio’s NYC restaurant Craft.

The writing was on the wall for Baltimorean Jill who lost the hot dog Quickfire Challenge.  She was the only one who didn’t make her own hot dog.  She prepared a store bought thing in a spring roll, and it.did.not.look.good.  The cute Indian girl, who wants people to think she can cook stuff other than Indian cuisine, won with an Indian-style dog, nonetheless.

The Elimination Challenge separated the chefs into three groups (appetizer, entrée, dessert), and had them prepare a “New American” lunch menu.  I don’t really know what constitutes “New American cuisine,” and apparently the chef’testants don’t either.  The judge were underwhelmed, including the woman-with-an-amazing-resume, Donatella Arpaia, who was guest judge.

The Losers:

Jill used an ostrich egg for quiche, and Gail said it tasted like glue.  The ever emotional Ariane made some kind-of super sweet cherry dessert that Padma spat it in her napkin.  Gross on both accounts.

The Winners:

Looks like desserts are our hometown girl Carla’s specialty.  Her apple turnover with a slice of cheddar isn’t particularly “new,” but Padma loved the crust.  Jamie of “Team Rainbow” impressed with her chilled corn soup with chili oil and mint.  But it was, Fabio of “Team Europe,” (or “Euro Duo” as I’ve also heard them cleverly referred to), who won with his beef carpaccio and gastronomical olives.


The Drink:

Red wine is the inevitable choice for the beef carpaccio pairing.  For delicate beef dishes such as carpaccio and steak tartare, a young Bordeaux is the best match.  A Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend will compliment, not overpower. Bon Appétit!

Seven good years

Mr. and Ms. S&C have been married seven years now.  It has become a tradition to celebrate the occasion with a super fancy dinner – one of those dinners you can only afford once a year.  After year one, we went to Marcels, and we’re still talking about the duck confit and chesnut soup we had.  Last year, we visited the tasting room at Restaurant Eve, and it was a marathon of 12 courses.  On Saturday night, we headed to CityZen, at the Mandarin Oriental, with high expectations.

We opted for the amazing six course tasting menu and the sommelier’s wine pairing.  Before I get to the food and wine, let me say that they do everything right over at CityZen.  They anticipate your every need, and no detail is too small.

The gentleman started the evening off with a Chivas and soda.  He appreciated that the soda was served on the side, so you can add as much, or as little, as you want.  The lady began with one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, the Peachy Keen, made with a peach-ginger flavored vodka, iced tea, and peach puree.  It tasted like peach iced tea and was a little too sweet for my liking.  That’s okay, she knew she had six rounds ahead of her.

The complete tasting menu and sommelier’s pairing is below.  The first course of tuna was paired with an excellent, light Reisling that wasn’t too sweet.  The sweet Semillon, however, was a perfect match for the rich foie gras.  The branzino may have been my favorite course, and it was paired with one of my favorite types of wine, Pinot Noir.  An earthy Grenache/Mourvedre accompanied the succulent veal shortribs.  A trio of micro-brewed beers was a surprise pairing for the plentiful cheese cart that was wheeled over.  And lastly, Port was served with dessert, which was probably my least favorite course.  While a fun idea, I just didn’t love the warm peanut butter and jelly concoction.

CityZen’s Tasting Menu and Pairing

2005 Schloss Gobelsburg, Urgestein
Kremstal, Austria

2005 Margan Family
Botrytis Semillon
Hunter Valley, Australia

1999 Lignier-Michelot
Pinot Noir
Chambolle-Musigny, France

2005 Domaine de Font Sane, Terrasses des Dentelles
Gigondas, France

Trio of Micro Brews
Hofbrau Munche Hefe Weizen
Brooklyn Brown Ale
North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

1995 Smith Woodhouse Late Bottle Vintage
Touriga Nacional/Tinta Cao
Duoro, Portugal

Assorted artisanal cheeses paired with a trio of micro-brewed beers at CityZen

All in all, I can’t imagine a better dining experience, or a better way to spend my last seven years.

posted by Ms. S&C

Happy valley

S&C went tailgating over the weekend.  Headed to State College, PA,  to see friends JD and Bob, and see Penn State take on clobber Michigan.  It was super-fun being in a college town, and one that is crazy about football.  Tailgating is, of course, awesome.  S&C really likes hanging out with friends during the day, eating, and drinking.  Not to mention, the fall foliage was gorgeous up there.

To celebrate the festivities, we prepared an autumnal punch, recipe courtesy of Ms. RB, our friend out of Texas.  This punch is very mellow, so it is definitely appropriate for an afternoon of drinking.  If you’re planning a Halloween party, or attending some other fall-related shindig, serve this punch.  It is a winner.

Autumn Spiced Punch

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 12 cinnamon sticks, broken
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 4 cups cold apple juice
  • 1 12 oz can apricot nectar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 bottles white wine, preferably Sauvignon Blanc

In a saucepan combine water, sugar, cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Bring to boil, reduce heat.  Cover and simmer 10 minutes.  Cover and chill for 12-24 hours.  Strain spices from syrup.  Combine syrup with fruit juices.  Pour into punch bowl (or plastic pitcher, if you’re tailgating) and add wine.

And, in case you’re interested, our tailgating menu included: chicken wings, pork barbeque, coleslaw, and baked beans.  Perfect for the back of a pick-up truck.

After the game, we headed to The Tavern Restaurant, a town favorite, and famous for a drink called the “Original Sin.”  The Original Sin recipe is top-secret, but apparently is 50% alcohol (including brandy), mixed with club soda, a secret fruity mixture (definitely includes maraschino in some form), and topped off with champagne.  It reminds you of a spiked punch you may have had in high school.  If you’re there, you have to try it.

Thanks for the great weekend State College friends!  Reserve a tailgating spot for us next year – we’ll be there, ready to party Nittany Lions style.

Autumnal equinox

In honor of summer’s end and autumn’s arrival, we toasted the changing of the seasons with a large pitcher of sangria over the weekend. Many thanks to friends James and Nicole for the lovely fiesta.

This recipe is a modified version of ones adapted from The Recipe Girl and Cook’s Illustrated. Cook’s says you don’t need to go with the expensive stuff when making sangria. I trust them on that, so I picked up Tres Ojos Old Vine Garnacha from Whole Foods for $7 a bottle.

The Ingredients/Recipe:
(Recipe is for two bottles of wine)

  • Prepare at least 3 hours in advance (can be up to 24 hours in advance)
  • Slice 1 lemon, 1 lime, and 2 oranges in whole slices, then quarter
  • Place all citrus in a pitcher, add 2 bottles of red wine (preferrably Spanish)
  • Add 5-6 shots of orange liqueur
  • Refrigerate for several hours, to allow time for the fruit flavors to blend with wine
  • Pour and top, generously, with seltzer water (note: it can be very tricky to pour and get an adequate mixture of fruit in each glass; recommend that you pour the wine first, spoon in fruit mixture, then top with seltzer)

S&C’s also has a recipe for white wine sangria, if you’re interested.

Feeling inspired

The Drink: Sangria blanca

There were several inspirations for this cocktail. Friends Jason and Amy recently introduced us to frozen grapes – a delightful and refreshing snack for the dogs days of summer. I knew immediately after trying those frozen nuggets that I would put them in a Sangria. Not only did I love the sweetness, I loved that they could be used as flavored ice cubes for a cocktail.

Then, my high school friend, Emily, emailed asking for a drink recommendation to serve adults at her one year old’s birthday barbeque. She said she would like to serve wine, or maybe champagne. Bingo.

I’ve been playing with variations of white wine sprizters all summer long, but surprisingly, I’ve never made Sangria. Sangria, a popular “wine punch” from Spain and Portugal, offers a lot of versatility. You can adjust for your own taste and use a variety of fruit, depending on what’s in season. Knowing that my farmers markets has the most incredible peaches and nectarines right now, they were given in this cocktail.

The Ingredients/Recipe:

This version of Sangria blanca is a Shoes & Cocktails exclusive!

(Recipe is for two bottles of wine)

  • Prepare night before – frozen grapes (freeze 2 large handfuls of seedless, white grapes)
  • Prepare at least 3 hours in advance (can be up to 24 hours in advance) – slice 2 peaches and/or nectarines in wedges
  • Slice 1 lemon in whole slices, then quarter
  • Place peaches and lemons in pitcher or carafe, add 2 bottles of white wine (preferably a Spanish white or another dry white wine)
  • Refrigerate for several hours, to allow time for the fruit flavors to blend with wine
  • Add frozen grapes to carafe, and stir
  • Add raspberries, and any remaining grapes, to individual glasses
  • Pour white wine and top with seltzer water (note: it can be very tricky to pour and get an adequate mixture of fruit in each glass; recommend that you pour the wine first and then spoon in fruit mixture)

The Occasion:

Attention supper club friends! I am totally making this sangria for the next dinner party. Let’s hold it soon, while peaches are in their prime.

Whether you are planning your one year old’s birthday party, supper club, or you need to use the left-overs from your trip to the farmers market, look no further than Sangria blanca. This cocktail is light, refreshing, and quite a show-stopper. Which is why I plan on pairing it with these striking paisley print pumps.

The Shoes: My Paisley Peep-toe Pumps

I’ve had these Nine West pumps for almost three years, and I continue to get compliments. Strangers literally stop me on the street. The peep-toe pump is a tried and true design. And though I haven’t highlighted them yet, Nine West, continues to be my go-to brand for everyday shoes. They are affordable, decently well-made, and there’s always a good selection. The hint of raspberry goes perfectly with the Sangria, no?

posted by Ms. S&C