Archive for the ‘wine’ Category

Late Summer Sangria

August 15, 2011

I have vivid memories of sitting at my grandparent’s dining room table, watching my grandfather slice a peach directly into his glass of red wine.  It was his one indulgence.  Just one glass a night, but he always savored it completely.  As a kid I remember thinking it was just one of my grandfather’s quirky ways, like putting salt on his salad, but as an adult I realize he knew what he was doing (on both counts)!

Fruit in wine is a wonderful treat any time of year, but when summer stone fruit is in season like right now, it’s extra delicious.  I made a great big batch of summer fruit sangria for a party over the weekend, and it’s about as simple as it gets.  I sliced up a combination of peaches, plums, an orange and a container of raspberries and combined it with a touch of sugar and three bottles of Spanish Rioja.  I let it macerate all day long, and then right before my guests arrived I added two liters of plain seltzer water to make it a little sparkly, light, and slightly chilled.  The result was delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to my chili-pepper-inspired menu.

Toss together a batch for your next party!

Summer Fruit Sangria

Serves 6-8

1 ripe peach, 2 ripe plums, and 1 orange, sliced thinly

1 small container  blueberries or raspberries

2 tablespoons of sugar

2 – 750 ml bottles red wine (any dry wine is fine, but I prefer Rioja or Temperanillo)

1 liter seltzer

Place all the fruit, sugar and wine in a large pitcher or glass container and allow to sit for several hours.  Right before serving, add cold seltzer, and if desired, a few handfuls of ice.  Serve and enjoy!


Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

White Wine Sangria with Mint

June 13, 2011

Inspiration.  It comes in many forms, in varying degrees of intensity, at unsuspected times, and in unusual locations.  While I was in the waiting room of the doctor’s office I was flipping through a food magazine which I had tucked into my purse, anticipating I’d be there for awhile.  As I looked through the pictures, read the accompanying stories, and browsed through the recipes, I was almost giddy with excitement.  All I wanted to do was run out of that office, plan a menu, whip up some pitcher drinks, and invite friends over for dinner.  The funny thing is that I didn’t actually want to make any of the recipes I was reading about—but yet they inspired me to want to go home and cook and create some of my own.  Yes, these are the things that make a food geek tick.

I love entertaining with pitcher drinks (supplemented with bottled beer and some wine) because they are just fun and easy.  It’s too much work to make drinks on a per person basis, so I just pick a drink that goes with the theme of the menu and whip up a big batch.  This particular warm day I decided to make a white wine sangria with grapes, cherries, some orange slices, and my delicious minted simple syrup.  I’m a very visual person and just imagining the colorful fruits swimming around in a pitcher of white wine made me happy.  Who doesn’t love to pour themselves a glass of cheer?

White Wine Sangria with Mint

Makes 1 pitcher –about 6 -8 glasses (double and redouble as needed)

1 – 750 ml bottle white wine (dry is better, but don’t spend a fortune on it)

2 cups of fruit, a combo of grapes and pitted cherries (or other small fruits)

1/2 navel orange, thinly sliced and quartered

2-3 tablespoons minted simple syrup (see below)

1 liter seltzer

fresh mint leaves

In a large pitcher, combine the wine, simple syrup, and fruit.  Allow to macerate for a couple hours in the refrigerator (okay to skip this step, but I recommend doing it!)

Before serving, add seltzer, fresh mint leaves, and some ice.  Serve cold.

(For minted simple syrup, I combined a bottle of purchased simple syrup in a saucepan with a handful of fresh mint sprigs.  Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow to steep while it’s cooling.  Cool completely and strain out the mint before adding to the sangria.  To make this from scratch, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved, add mint, and allow to steep as directed above.)

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

The Ice Wine Diva

May 30, 2011

I recently received a tee-shirt as a gift which read “Wine Diva” —all in pink sparkles.  My friend said when she saw it she thought of me, which made us both laugh.  Yes, I do drink my share of wine, but a diva I am not.   Not about wine or in general, but I still love the shirt and will wear it with the same enthusiasm that I wear my sparkly Harley Davidson shirt (which is even further from the mark than the diva shirt, considering I’ve never been on one and have zero interest). 

A few weeks back a friend came for a party with a bottle of white wine that wasn’t chilled, so I suggested we pop it into the freezer for a few minutes.  Well, to make a long story short, in the meantime we’d opened other bottles and were drinking my champagne sangria, and completely forgot about the wine.  I didn’t discover it until the next day when I opened the freezer to get some frozen waffles for my kids, and there it was, cork blown straight out, and frozen solid.  I had no idea wine would freeze!  I knew alcohol didn’t freeze, and that many people keep things like vodka and limoncello in their freezers.  Well, I guess wine doesn’t have enough alcohol to qualify as freeze-proof, and my proof was right in front of me.

I defrosted the wine and honestly it was fine (like I said, I’m not a diva about such things).  But as I was sipping my very chilly glass something dawned on me.  What if I made wine-cubes similar to my coffee-cubes, so in summertime when it’s particularly hot and I’m feeling especially un-diva-like I could pop a few of those cubes in my glass and not worry about watering it down?   Maybe it was the wine talking, but I thought it was a stroke of brilliance and pulled out my heart-shaped ice cube trays and filled them up.  Hey, if you’re going to put ice cubes in your wine, they might as well be heart-shaped! 😉

The unofficial start to summer has arrived—and divas don’t do well in the heat!  Soon, when it is 95 degrees and you’re sitting on your patio sipping a nice crisp glass of wine at the end of the day, you’ll be thanking me as your cubes clink together in your plastic wine glass. 

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Champagne Sangria

March 28, 2011

I was hosting a celebration at my house, so champagne was definitely in order.  I thought about making my Pomegranate Champagne Punch, a recipe I’d created for one of my corporate clients, Bigelow Tea.  However, as I walked through the aisles of my favorite wine shop, I had a lightbulb moment…what if I made sangria with champagne?   I thought I was really on to something here, and couldn’t wait to get home to start mixing. 

The first thing I did was Google “champagne sangria”.  Sure enough, Giada had already beat me to the punch (no pun intended).   I used her recipe as inspiration, made a few adjustments, added a little of my flair, and the result was both pretty and delicious.  I was so excited about my drink that I even ran out and bought this glass dispenser for the party.  Well,while  the drink was a huge hit, the dispenser gets a ‘fail’ because the pulp from the juice clogged up the spigot after pouring about five drinks, so I had to switch to a pitcher.  Oh well, it looked pretty while it lasted.

Put some bubbly into your sangria….it’s the perfect celebration cocktail!

Champagne Sangria

Serves a crowd!

2 bottles sparkling wine or champagne (I used Cava, but dry Prosecco would also work)

1 1/2 cups minted simple syrup (see below)

3/4 cup limoncello liquor

1 cup orange juice

1 cup strawberries

1 lemon, zested and sliced

1 lime, zested and sliced

fresh mint leaves

Put all ingredients into a large pitcher with a couple handfuls of ice, stir, and serve immediately!

(For minted simple syrup, I combined a bottle of purchased simple syrup in a saucepan with a handful of fresh mint sprigs.  Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and allow to steep while it’s cooling.  Cool completely and strain out the mint before adding to the sangria.  To make this from scratch, combine 1.5 cups water and 1.5 cups sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil until sugar is dissolved, add mint, and allow to steep as directed above.)

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Italian Beef Stew with Slow-Cooked Taste

January 31, 2011

It was one of those days when I had the best of intentions.  I was going to hit the gym, the grocery store,  meet a few friends for lunch, load up my crock pot, and then go about the rest of my day.  Well, somehow a dozen other errands cropped up and I didn’t get home until 4pm.  There was clearly no time to slow-cook.  I love the idea of using a crock pot, but let’s face it, it requires a fair amount of front-end organization.

With a counter-full of stew ingredients, I had to think fast.  I had to pick up my kids from school at 4:30 so time was short. I couldn’t do the entire thing stove-top because I had to go out and couldn’t leave my gas burner unattended.  I decided my next best option was to do it in the oven.   I rapid-chopped all my veggies, sautéed them in a big enamelled cast iron Dutch oven, and tossed in the cubed stew beef.  I added some tomato, red wine (it was opened and a day beyond it’s drinking prime, but perfectly good for cooking) and some fresh thyme and threw the entire covered pot into a 350 degree oven. 

When I returned about an hour later, it was just about perfect.  The tomato and wine had reduced down to a thickened, rich sauce, the meat was tender, the veggies perfect.  I let it continue to cook while I made some parmesan polenta on which to serve the stew (since there were no potatoes in it, the polenta served as a starch).  About 10 minutes later, everything was complete and ready to serve. 

And there’s one more bonus— usually to get the best flavor in a crock pot you need to brown everything in a pan before loading it into the slow cooker.  Now you have a pan AND the crock pot to clean.  When you do it the way I described, only one pot is used (be sure you choose one that is oven-proof—both the pot itself AND the cover).  So, maybe there are benefits to being disorganized after all! 

Italian Beef Stew with Parmesan Polenta

Serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped

3 carrots, chopped into 3/4″ pieces

3 stalks celery, chopped into 3/4″ pieces

2 cloves garlic

1.5 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes

1 cup tomato sauce (from a can or jar)

1.5 cups dry red wine

5-6 sprigs fresh thyme

olive oil, salt, pepper

1 cup quick-cooking polenta

1/2 cup (or more to taste) grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a 5 quart Dutch oven heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

Saute onions, carrots and celery until softened a bit.  Add garlic and saute an additional minute.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add stew meat and brown on all sides. 

Add tomato sauce, wine, and thyme and bring to a boil.

Cover and transfer to the preheated oven.  Allow to cook, undisturbed for one hour.  Check to see if meat is tender, and return to oven if necessary for 10-15 additional minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 cup polenta and whisk vigorously until thickened (about 5 minutes).  Add parmesan and butter off the heat and stir to combine. 

Place a serving of polenta in each dish and top with a helping of stew.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

That Wine Rocks!

December 27, 2010

Classic rock:  Dark Side of the Moon.  Forty Licks.  Synchronicity. Woodstock.  

Modern medicine:  Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon.  Forty Licks Merlot.   Synchronicity Red Wine Blend.  Woodstock Chardonnay.

If you know someone who loves wine and loves rock, here’s a fun new collaboration between the two that makes a great gift.  Wines that Rock is a new label pairing classic album covers with great wine.  Best of all, it’s really reasonably priced ($11.99-$15.99).  I don’t normally talk wine too often, because I just drink what tastes good to me.  I’m not overly concerned with the nose or the leg or any other body parts.  If it tastes good and doesn’t empty my wallet, it gets a thumbs-up from me.  But as a very visual person, I have to admit I’m drawn to cool labels so I get extra excited when something I like also comes in a pretty bottle. 

Okay, it might sound gimmicky, but I have to say, I really enjoyed this wine, and not just for the cool labels.  I’m not usually a big fan of Cab (and especially not a fan of big Cabs), but I found the Dark Side of the Moon Cab to have just the right amount of weight to it.  My husband loves big Cabs, so I wondered if he’d think it was too light, but he loved it too.  I also enjoyed the Synchronicity Red Wine Blend, which is a blend of Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Viognier.  That’s a lot going on, but somehow it comes together nicely.  It’s light and has a lot of berry flavors in it, and is described by the makers as being very “food-friendly” (and I agree).  The Woodstock Chardonnay was also delicious, and I do not normally love chardonnay.  It isn’t oaky, which I prefer.  It’s fruity and crisp, making it a perfect summer wine.  I cannot speak on the Merlot because it was sold out at my favorite wine shop!

I recently gave my friend a bottle of the Synchronicity red blend for her birthday.  She is quite possibly the biggest Police fan on earth, and proclaimed it “the best gift EVER!”.  So there you have it.  Wines that Rock make the best gift ever. 

Rock in the new year with a little music in your glass!  Happy 2011!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Summer Wine List

July 5, 2010

I love having a nice glass of red wine with my dinner, but once summer hits, the thought of a big red weighs me down.  Like most people, I make the switch to lighter reds, rosés, and whites.  With the help of a few friends and my un-snobby wine-snob cousin (love you Andy!), I’ve come up with a list of my favorite summer wines, perfect for patios, porches, picnics, or parties.   I’m a pretty un-fussy wine drinker, so this list is based on what tastes good to me.  I make no claims about their status in the wine world—- they are just great, easy wines to drink for summer.  So grab your corkscrew and kick off your flip-flops.  Summer is here!


My new favorite white is Albariño, introduced to me by my friend Heather.  Absolutely delicious.  Very light, dry, but not super dry.  To me, this is white wine perfection.  A grape varietal from Spain, it’s one you want served cold and goes with just about any foods.  I’m still trying different brands and haven’t come up with a favorite yet, because honestly, I have yet to have a bad one.  Most I’ve tried are in the $13-17 range. 

In the same price range is another new favorite, 3 Stones Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  My cousin told me about this and the  very next day another friend told me I just *had* to try her new favorite white, and this was it.  Also delicious and light, perfect for summer.  Even people who do not care for Sauvignon Blanc will love this. 

I also discovered a new bargain white, recommended to me at the wine store as a “must try”.   Torrontés is a dry Argentinian white, light and crisp.  We got a 2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Torrontés, which at $8 is a no-brainer. 


Although rosé wine gets a bad rap, they really have come a long way since the days of super-sweet White Zinfandel.  The French rosés tend to be a little drier, and the Spanish rosés are, as they told me at my favorite wine store, “more fun to drink”…but I think that is wine-people code for “less complex”.  I love them because you get a little of that red flavor without the heaviness.  I have been tending toward Spanish rosés made from rioja and garnachas and have been very happy.  Convincing my husband to drink pink wine has been more of a challenge, but we’re getting there.


I just read an article about how some of the lighter reds, like Pinot Noir, can be kept a little cooler in summertime and actually lend themselves to this in warmer weather.  So, pop that pinot in the fridge for 15 minutes before firing up your grill and enjoy.

So stock up with these summery selections and enjoy a cooler glass of wine!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Celebrate 2010 with Pomegranate Cocktails!

January 10, 2010

I love pomegranates.  They may not look like much from the outside, but once you break into them, the ruby-red interior is a sight to behold.  The sweet little seeds are delicious, and loaded with antioxidants.  They’re fantastic sprinkled on salads, but I am having fun using them in all sorts of ways, including pomegranate cocktails.  It’s a new year!  Why not?

By using pomegranate juice as a mixer(try to look for 100% juice–it’s pricey, but worth it), the sky’s the limit for your drink creations. My first concoction was with the juice, vodka and triple sec, which created a pretty and delicious flavored martini.  Drop in a few fresh pomegranate seeds for garnish and you’ll be transported to a swanky cocktail lounge right in the comfort of your own home.

 Next, I mixed it with champagne to make a fun punch which I served at a party this weekend (recipe below).  Because I had so many pomegranate seeds left over, I decided to also make some pomegranate ice cubes.  I just put a few in each hole of the ice cube mold (I have cute ones that are star-shaped), filled with water, and froze.  Pop them out and they make an adorable way to chill your cocktails.   I  floated them in my pomegranate champagne punch and it was the just right touch.  Why use regular ice when you can have pomegranate ice?

I will pass along a tip for extracting those seeds from the pomegranate.  They tend to fly all over the place when you’re popping them out of the fruit.  All you need to do is fill a big bowl with water, submerge the pomegranate into the bowl, and pop them out under the water.  Then all you need to do is drain the bowl and you have your seeds, and they won’t be all over your kitchen.

Champagne Pomegranate Punch

1 – 750 ml bottle champagne, prosecco or cava (I love Spanish Cava–Cristillino brand is great an inexpensive)

1 cup citron vodka

1 cup pomegranate juice

1/4 cup simple syrup (I buy it in a bottle from Trader Joe’s)

1/2 lemon or orange, cut into thin round slices (for garnish)

Mix all ingredients together in a large pitcher.  Add pomegranate ice cubes (see note above) and serve cold.

NOTE:  Add more vodka, juice or simple syrup to taste.  I didn’t measure—I just poured and tasted until it was delicious.  🙂

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Wine to Fit Your Style (and wallet)

May 22, 2009

wine-bottlesAlthough I love to drink wine, I’d hardly consider myself a “wine snob”.  I’m perfectly happy with a $10 bottle, and have found lots of favorites in that price range.  Perhaps if I were better versed in oenology (the study of wine and wine making) and viticulture (the study of vine growing and grape harvesting), I may feel differently.  However, for the time being, as long as it isn’t in a box or a jug, I’m usually pretty easy to please.

I happen to live in an area with fantastic wine stores that employ incredibly knowledgeable salespeople, so seeking out the best values in wine is relatively easy.  However, not all wines are created equal.  There are plenty of wines you may not enjoy in any price range.  Choosing a wine solely by the price is a sure-fire way to end up with some duds.   

While visiting my parents in Florida we came across a wine store that was perfect for people like me, who enjoy wine, know what characteristics they like in wine, but have otherwise limited knowledge on the subject.  The store (a franchise called Wine Styles) is organized not by grape varietal (pinots in one section, merlots in another), but rather by “style” of wine.  Each section is marked with a sign, identifying the type of wine found there.  The categories include  “crisp”, “silky”, “rich”, “bubbly”, “fruity”, “mellow”, “bold”, and “nectar”.   Each section has a wide variety of different wines in every price range.   What I like about this format is that there is sometimes style or flavor variation even within the same grape, so one chardonnay may be “silky” and another may be “mellow”.   By shopping by style rather than price and/or grape variety alone, chances are you’ll end up with something you like AND that fits into your budget.

Looking for something to sip on your patio in warmer weather?  Maybe you’ll head for the “crisp” section.  Need a wine to go with the steak you’re putting on the grill tonight?  “Bold” may be the destination for you.   Whatever your level of wine knowledge and whatever your budget, this type of format makes shopping easy for everyone.  Even the wine snobs will like it!

Some of my favorite bottles $12 and under:


Conde Valdemar Crianza

Luzon Verde Organic Jumilla

Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir

Il Bastardo Sangiovese


Oyster Bay Savignon Blanc

Barefoot Savignon Blanc

Montsant Falset Rose (wait for the ’08 vintage to come out)



Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Above photo by Wine Traveler