Saturday, March 3, 2012

My introduction to wine.

 I know close to nothing about wine. I do, however, know what tastes good to me. I also know how to read articles on Wikipedia. (Wikipedia is like the “For Dummies” series of my generation. I love the quick information to help me understand something with minimal effort…the information might not be accurate enough to use in a term paper, but for something like this, I can’t praise it enough!) With all of that being said, I decided that I wanted to try some wines recently…and what fun is that unless I can document my experiences here?!
Ok. Before you can drink a wine, you obviously have to go to the store and pick one out. I went to a local grocery store here, Hy-Vee. They have a pretty decent liquor department, so there was a lot to choose from. I know nothing about wine, other than that there are reds and whites. I decided I wanted a red wine because of the health benefits
For the first wine, I choose a lower priced (around $9) bottle of Hazana 2007. I believe it was a Cabernet Franc. This wine was wonderful! It was drier than I usually like, but sweet and kind of light. The color was a pretty cherry-red (even though I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo of this one.) I don’t have too much to say about this wine, because when I was drinking it, I didn’t really think about making a wine-related blog post. I’ll try harder next time, I promise!

The second wine I purchased last night, and really like even more than the Hazana. This wine is called Running With Scissors! The name and packaging appealed to me right away, as I am a sucker for good marketing! This wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon from 2009, and it was priced around $10 at Hy-Vee. The first thing I noticed is that I suck at opening wine bottles! However, after Shane helped me out, I discovered that even the cork is cute with this wine! Haha.
I'm a sucker for cute details. 

Anyway, on to the actual wine.
The color is a beautiful dark burgundy color that was very appealing. The aroma is bright and reminds me of cherries or currants. This wine is much less dry than the previous one was, but still as sweet. It tastes like the currants it smells like and there’s really no bitterness at all. (This is why I was apprehensive about drinking wine in the first place…I assumed it would be bitter, and I wouldn’t like it because of that. I was wrong!) It’s really smooth and easy to drink. There is a pleasant aftertaste of fruit and almost a little hint of something like chocolate. I’m a fan!
...notice the skull wine stopper.

I’m really excited about the fact that the first two bottles of wine that I purchased (blindly really, since I had no idea what I was doing) turned out so well! I would recommend both of these wines to anyone looking for an inexpensive bottle of wine to go with their dinner. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An English Pastime

     Okay maybe this is not an English pastime, but an exploration of the world of teas and tisanes. I generally drink water these days and to me it tastes the best of any beverage, crisp and clean. That is unless you drink from a water fountain, in this case it tastes like blood, pennies, and despair. However sometimes a little flavor and caffeine are in order. Instead of drinking lots of soda, juice, milk or smoothies, I decided tea was a great way to go. I have always enjoyed fruit flavored teas bought from the big box stores. But their options are kinda limited and quite pricey for just 20 tea bags.
     I used to mail order teas from a retailer by the name of Special Teas, but alas when it was time to re-order they had been absorbed by a national tea emporium chain. While I was trying to find a comparable source for tea I went on vacation. Chelsea and I visited the state of Hawai'i and we came across a store that sold fresh Japanese style tea. This store was Lupicia. I was in awe by the sheer number of teas you could sample and smell before committing to a purchase. This started my downward spiral of massive bulk tea purchases, but I do not regret it...yet.
     A group of my friends (Chelsea, Joanna, Mikey, and Dan) agreed to have a little tea tasting and rating. We smelled and tasted 8 teas from Lupicia, Teavana, and ArgoTea. I will be presenting comments and wondrous pictures of tea for everyones delight.

The first 4 teas come from Lupicia, an importer of fine Japanese teas.


      According to Lupicia's website, this tea is flavored with Japanese cherries and having a sweet fragrant aroma. The tea also included bits of pink peppercorns and rosemary. This tea was enjoyable yet slightly unusual in that it contains not so traditional sounding flavors. This tea was described as having the aroma of 'being fruity, almost tropical' and 'good, slight cherry scent'. The tea had 'spicy notes, and a light pine flavor' and 'a sweet rose flavor'. This black tea had an average rating of 6.2/10, 1/10 being the lowest.

Cassis & Blueberry

     This tea was also from Lupicia. They described this tea as having a fresh cassis and blueberry flavor to it. There were even large dried blueberries present in tea! The scent of the tea was described as ' blueberry muffin, sweet' and 'a pleasant sweet smell, fruity, and reminds me of childhood'. The overall taste was 'a sweet blueberry, awesome taste!, kind of a floral blueberry and very tasty'. This black tea had an average rating of 8/10, 4/10 being the lowest rating.


     Another great tea from Lupicia, described as sweet strawberry, vanilla and cute pink rosebuds. Yume also is noted as meaning dream in Japanese. The smell was said to be 'slightly sweet vanilla with bath salts' and 'I have yet to smell anything like this, smells good'. The flavor was 'vanilla, kinda floral' and 'a little disappointing, kind of bland'. This black tea had an average rating of 7.6/10, 5/10 being the lowest.

Loke Lani

     The final entry from Lupicia is called Loke Lani. I unfortunately cannot find it on their website anymore. The packaging simply states that it is a tea flavored with pink rose petals. The aroma was described as 'earl grey + rose potpourri' and 'floral, slightly sweet or nectary'. The tea was described as tasting 'kind of peppery', 'a little harsh' and having 'a light sweetness to it that I love'. This black tea had an overall average rating of 6.2/10, 4/10 being the lowest.

Earl Grey Creme

     This is the only entry today from ArgoTea. This black tea took a traditional flavor and updated it. They describe their tea as being a smooth black tea with bergamot and vanilla. The tea smelled 'citrusy, vanilla and anise' as well as 'a light peppery almost tobacco scent, lemony undertones, a very clean smell'. The taste was described as 'sucking, tastes mildly of trees and not good trees' and smoother and richer than many earl greys'. The average rating was 4.8/10, 1/10 being the lowest.

Fruta Bomba

     Teavana enters our tasting with this delicious green tea. The tea is described as crisp citrus from pineapple, apple, and lemongrass with sweet peach and papaya. The scent was described as 'apricot or peach, very sweet and citrusy' and 'dried apricot'. The taste was 'very sweet, apricot and typical green tea aftertaste' and 'pleasant, light summery taste'. The average rating was 9/10, 8/10 being the lowest.

Sweet Fruit Garden

     The next offering from Teavana was a wonderful tisane. They describe this tisane as being a bold infusion of mixed berries. The scent was described as a 'fruity bubblegum scent' and 'fruit, particularly raspberries, and sweet nectar'. The tea had a 'very harsh lemony bitter sweet taste' and 'bright, citrus undertones with a fruity floral taste, but there are flavors that I cannot quite place'. The average rating was 8/10, 7/10 being the lowest.

Cacao Mint Black

     The final entry is a black tea from Teavana. They call this tea a full bodied nutty and cocoa infusion with minty undertones. The tea smells like 'peppermint patties''Andes mints' and 'OMG! chocolate mint cookies, like thin mints from the Girl Scouts'. The flavor is described as a 'light hot cocoa taste, mint especially comes through with the steam' and 'watered down mint hot cocoa, pleasant minty after taste'. The tea was also noted as a good choice for a hot winter drink. The average rating was 7/10, 4/10 being the lowest.

     Tasting different steeped beverages was an enjoyable experience. Especially the banter over who liked what that came after. I recommend grabbing a tea and brewing a nice giant mug. Whether you like it unsweetened or like southern sweet tea, tea is always a great beverage. They are also full of healthy antioxidants! Try any of the teas mentioned here found at a local specialty tea store, or at one of their websites.


Kefta Wraps

     Wow! It has been a while since I have last been on and a lot has gone on since. This is going to be the first of two posts. This one is going to be short and sweet.
     As mentioned before, I love middle eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. After visiting another favorite restaurant I decided to try my hand at making kefta. Instead of doing a kabob style kefta, I wanted to make a yummy wrap! I found a simple recipe and made some amendments with what I had available. 

Kefta Patties Recipe:
  • Half pound ground beef, I used 96/4 extra lean 
  • 1/4 cup chopped leeks or onions
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1/4 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried mint
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • Juice of half a small lemon, ~3 tsp

     I mixed all ingredients until mixed thoroughly and placed in the fridge to allow the flavors to mix. After about 30 minutes I formed the meat into 2 4oz patties, long like. I pan seared them in a little olive oil until cooked through. To serve I wrapped the patties in flavored tortilla wraps and crunchy veggies, I choose cabbage since it is better than wilty lettuce. Makes 2 wraps.

Kefta patty with cabbage in a jalapeno cheddar wrap.

     The patty came out perfectly! It had the same tangy rich flavor as kefta I have had in restaurants. Even though I used lean meat, it was super juicy. The only thing that would make this better would be some tzatziki or garlic sauce from Sahara Palace. One wrap is 10 points on WW, and if you are super hungry both wraps come in with just 19 points! I recommend this to anyone who is looking to try new flavors in a hand-held meal.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mushroom Risotto: My first time

Well. I was going to make a post about the Mediterranean restaurant that Shane previously posted about, because I was also there, and ate similar food to write about. But it was a very similar experience, so instead, I made risotto for the first time and decided to write about that instead!

First of all, I should tell you that not only have I never made risotto, but I have never actually eaten it either. I'm please it report that it was successful on both accounts!

I'm surprised how long it took to make, and how much stirring it required. I mean, I guess I knew this, but still. Doing it yourself is different when watching it on the Food Network...real life doesn't have that handy little time-lapse feature while you are doing the boring parts of cooking.
Stage one: Sauteing the mushrooms, onions, and garlic. 

I used baby portabella mushrooms, yellow onion, and a few garlic cloves and sauteed them in a skillet with some olive oil. I also added 1/3 cup of some white wine that was left in my apartment after a Christmas party...haha. After the mushrooms were cooked, I removed them from the skillet and set them aside. 

Now comes the boring part of cooking: the stirring and adding veggie stock...very...slowly.

I first melted a pad of butter in the skillet and added 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice to the butter and stirred it around until all the rice was nice and kind of toasted. I then began the process of adding veggie stock (I had the stock simmering in a pan next to the skillet so it would be hot when I added it to the rice. It took 5 cups of stock.) One ladle-full at a time, I added the broth to the rice and stirred until it was absorbed, then I added another ladle and did the same until it was all absorbed.

This is about 1/3 of the stock. 

 This is how it looked after about half of the liquid had been incorporated. 

All the stock has been absorbed by the rice and I added the veggies back into the mixture.

At this point, after stirring the mushrooms and onions back in, I also added 1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese into the risotto. It was so creamy and amazing, and had this great rich texture and taste. It felt very fancy for something that I made! 

I ate it with some asparagus and baked chicken: 

I know it's been mentioned here before, but I am currently on Weight Watchers. Low and behold, this risotto recipe is actually a Weight Watchers recipe! It's only 7 points for the amount (1 1/2 cups) on the plate. With the chicken and asparagus, this was seriously a 10 point meal, and I was so satisfied and actually pretty full when I was done eating. Shane had some too, and liked it enough to comment that he would like to make it for his mom, since non-dieters would seriously love this too! 

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Trip to the Mediterranean

     I am completely willing to try just about anything, well almost. One of my favorite cuisines happens to be so called Mediterranean. A self proclaimed healthy and low fat eating experience, this food is quite unique and spectacular. I also noticed they don't use so much salt that it is all you can taste. Chelsea and I went on a little adventure to local restaurant called Mediterraneo Grill, located on Lincoln Highway in downtown DeKalb. The atmosphere was quite relaxing in a reduced light environment. The music set the mood, and the owner even double checked to see if we did not mind the music that was playing, some sort of Middle Eastern music. We had a four course meal for around 20 bucks each.
     We started with a hummus and warm pita appetizer. I am a sucker for good hummus, especially if it is homemade. The hummus was extra nutty and had a slight astringent taste, I would probably contribute that to the addition of tahini. Drizzled all over the top was a sweet, fruity, and light olive oil. Just a spectacular starting plate.
Hummus with olive oil, and a wee Kalamata olive.
     With my entree I decided to go with a bowl of vegetable lentil soup. It was amazing how much flavor was packed in the little bowl. I have had some pretty bland lentil soup before. The lentils were perfectly soft, without being mushy or soggy. You could taste a plethora of vegetables as well, but since the soup was so slowly cooked they were no longer recognizable. There was a rich herb taste, followed up by a slight sourness. A little lime perhaps?
Some kind of wonderful!
    The next course was a kabob sampler plate. This plate was a mountain of rice. To me this rice was similar to basmati rice that I have had. It was slightly chewy or al dente, and stained a slight yellow color. It was perfectly seasoned and contained an herb that I could not quite identify from taste alone. With the plate you end up getting three different meats and a vegetable kabob. The veggies still had a slight crunch with a balsamic like glaze, a perfect combination of sweet and vinegary.
     The first of the meat kabobs is called kefta. I had to do a little research, but it is essentially chopped seasoned meat of some kind that is shaped into a cigar shape and grilled. Here it was made from sirloin. I could not say for sure what was in it, but I noticed hints of onion, cinnamon, and lime. During my research I found that allspice was a common seasoning for kefta, that is what I must have singled out as cinnamon. The next kabob was tender pieces of steak, which were cooked to about medium. They had a garlicky spiced taste to them, and the little bits were so unctuous. The spice rub reminded me of a mild indian curry, not spicy but flavor rich! Finally was a chicken kabob, which was super moist and it could be cut with a fork. Similar to a tandoori chicken, the taste of the marinade reminded me of coriander, turmeric, and cumin. Like all the other meats there was a delightful acidity to the marinade used on the chicken.
(F to B) Kefta, chicken, beef, and vegetables
on a bed of seasoned rice. 
     Finally, if I wasn't already stuffed to the gills from this smorgasbord, I decided to top off the meal with some baklawa (or baklava). I am a huge fan of sweets, and this one is the bee's knees. A flakey and delicious phyllo pastry with sweet and spiced chopped nuts, all covered with a sticky honey based syrup. Here I kept getting full body shivers from their baklawa, it was super delicious and unlike any I have had before. The buttery phyllo was nutty and sweet. The filling must have been walnuts and pistachios, or at least pistachios on the top. A must have in any Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurant!
A dainty and spectacular end to a
wonderful meal.
     We enjoyed this place so much we will definitely return. The service was enjoyable and the staff was very friendly. A must for anyone visiting downtown DeKalb!