Category Archives: wine

What I’ve been doing instead of writing, blogging, reading…

DIY Cork Reindeer

May I introduce my wine cork reindeer herd. Each of these little guys is hand crafted, which means a day full of finger-gluing, pin-stabbing, and craft-store-panic-attack fun.  But they are pretty damn cute.  Consider this my official Christmas photo, because I spent so much time on them, I neglected to photograph my own family. Priorities, you know…

Great Gifting: Homemade Limoncello

“Pure sunshine in a bottle.”

That’s my favorite description of Limoncello, the refreshing and iconic drink of the Italian Coast. Hubby and I fell in love with the lemon liquor during our honeymoon in Italy. After each dinner (and occasionally even lunch) our cameriere (waiter) would deliver the delightful chilled shot glass of brilliant yellow liquid. Whether sipped or shot, a glass of this elixir leaves you with a slight afterglow, as if you have been kissed by the sun.

Since we couldn’t stay in Italy forever (oh, how I wish we could have) we had to hunt down our new favorite after-dinner digestivo stateside.  Ten years ago, that wasn’t so easy.  Luckily, a co-worker’s Italian Mamagraced us with her family recipe. Making limoncello became Hubby’s passion, nearly an obsession, as he tried to duplicate the taste he so fondly remembered from our lazy days in Italian cafes.

Don’t worry, we shared. Limoncello became a holiday tradition. Friends and relatives threatened to withhold our gifts if we didn’t give them another years supply under the tree. Yeah, it was that good.

When we bought our home years ago, one of the first garden purchases we made was our own little lemon tree. Kept in a huge pot by the pool, our little tree produces a healthy crop each year. As soon as they are ripe and ready, it’s time to make the cello. Hubby zests and I save all the juice and freeze it for later use. A few years later, we added another tree (which finally produced fruit for the first time this year!)

I’m going to share our TOP SECRET recipe with you. This recipe makes quite a big batch — enough to last you a year (unless you have a wicked drinking problem) and to share. Make it. Put it in a cute bottle. Heck, you could put it in a plastic water bottle. Your friends will LOVE you…

Italian Limoncello

1 kilo lemons – 2.2 lbs (about 10)
1 liter grain alcohol*
1.25 liters water
700 grams (3 1/2 cups) sugar

Step 1

  • Using a zester or a fine grater, remove only the colored part of the lemon rind. Avoid the white pith just below — it is bitter and will change the flavor. (This part is messy, but your whole house will smell like a citrus grove.)
  • Pour the grain alcohol into a large glass jug or jar (must have a lid to seal). Add the zested rind. Let it sit for four days to two weeks at room temperature. (Yes, it must be glass. Large mason jars or recycled gallon sized wine bottles work well. The citric acids will corrode plastic.)

Step 2 (four days to two weeks later)

  • In a large pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool.
  • Layer some cheesecloth over a mesh strainer and set over a large bowl.  Pour the grain/rind carefully into the strainer, filtering out all of the rind. Pour the (now vibrant yellow) alcohol back into the glass jar.
  • Add in cooled sugar water.
  • Store in glass or distribute into smaller, decorative bottles. Keep servings in the freezer —it is best ice cold.

*Many recipes call for vodka, but we prefer grain. Higher alcohol content = no chance of it freezing when you store it in the freezer. But if you can ‘t find grain (I’m told some states won’t sell it?) you can use vodka.

*We don’t waste the lemons after they’ve been zested. We freeze the juice in ice cube trays and save it for cooking and lemonade.

*Don’t worry about letting it sit. The longer you wait to drink it, the better it tastes. But make sure to drink it ice cold.

As I stated before, this makes a fabulous gift. You can find decorative bottle many places such as Ross, World Market, Pier 1, TJ Maxx, etc. You can also recycle glass beverage bottles for a simple and inexpensive presentation—the Sweetleaf Tea bottles are the perfect size and the caps even state “Homemade Goodness”

I’ve made many lables over the years, but this is a scan of my original Limoncello tag I’ve used for over ten years. Maybe it’s time to update, but I’ll always love it.

 front                                       back

Now, make go some Limoncello. Take two shots and email me in the morning.

If you do any more I don’t want to hear from you (and don’t blame your hangover on me).

{that’s “cheers” in Italian, you know…}

Echelon Chardonnay & Pinot Grigio: A Relaxing Review

photo by

Above is the perfect example of what I’ve WANTED to do lately…relax in my garden with a delightful bottle of wine, watch the butterflies dance on the breeze, the squirrels play tag, and my family play in the pool.  Add in some food, friends, and a good book and I’d be in nirvana. (Some Nirvana playing in the background would work too…nah, not mellow enough…let’s change that to some Jack Johnson & DMB.)

But with my temporary work schedule (more about that on another post) that’s just a wistful daydream.

I can’t even enjoy a glass of wine during the week — Quelle horreur!  The promising pop of a cork sliding from a bottle, the gentle glug of wine lapping against a crystal glass, the complex aroma swirling through the heavy air, that first sip of nectar… 

Can you tell I’m in withdrawal?

Luckily, the wonderful people at Echelon Vineyards were kind enough to send me samples of their Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Red Blend wines.  And a handy-dandy corkscrew, much to my Hubby’s infinite delight.  Heaven in a box.

First up was the 2010 Pinot Grigio. This crisp, almost fruity wine was absolutely perfect after a long, hot Florida Saturday.

 The citrus tones complimented the hints of almost… sweetness…an ideal wine  for some alfresco poolside dining. (How I wished I had the time to pop on a pool float with a book and a cool glass of the wine!) I paired it with one of my favorite dinners of chicken in wine sauce with risotto, and the Hubby and I enjoyed a lovely evening in our own little backyard oasis.  Cool, refreshing, and delicious.

After a pedicure, lunch, and shopping with my mom on Mother’s Day, I came home to find my Hubby cleaning the house and prepping dinner. {ahhh…}

He handed me my book and a glass of the Echelon Collection Chardonnay — bliss!  This Napa Valley Chardonnay seemed to gently roll out of the glass, richer and more lush than the Pinot Grigio, yet still lovely on a summer evening.  It’s flavor hinted of vanilla and made me crave an apple pie. The wine was not overly oaky or buttery, as some Chardonnays tend to be. Lovely, mellow, and balanced.

It paired perfectly with my Mother’s Day dinner of grilled balsamic chicken topped with prosciutto. If only there had been enough left to pair with dessert…

Both wines are excellent values for their price point of about $10 and would be a welcome addition to any get-together with friends or quiet evening in.

I do have to add, I loved this little bit of marketing prose by the Echelon Vineyards team:

We think you’re entitled to some recognition too. We believe wine is a simple reward and makes every day a celebration. Whether you’ve completed a 5K run, successfully put the kids to bed for the night, survived a challenging work day, or finished making a killer roast chicken, pour yourself a glass of Echelon and celebrate life’s small blessings!

I couldn’t agree more.  Cheers!

*This product was sent to me for review purposes. I did not receive any monetary compensation. The opinions expressed are my own.  I cannot guarantee a positive review for any product or services, but I can promise a review written with honesty and integrity. 

Celebrating with Cupcake Prosecco

Last Wednesday I finished the first draft of my novel. {cue applause, fist bumps, high-fives, and whoo-hoos }  Surviving my first such labor called for a celebration. It was time to break out the bubbly.

Luckily, my dear Hubby was thoughtful enough to take out the good flutes and pop my bottle of Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco into the fridge to properly chill. The celebration was ON.

 A few bubbly basics: just because a wine has bubbles does not make it a champagne. Any wine which bubbles when poured into a glass is considered a sparkling wine. Varieties are produced around the globe, from South Africa to Germany to even Texas. Most are produced by a similar technique: a second fermentation of the wine produces carbon dioxide which is kept under pressure and creates bubbles. A true Champagne must be made in the Champagne region of France, about 90 mile northeast of Paris. 

Prosecco is a sparkling wine made only in the Veneto region of Italy (think gondolas and grapes).  It is generally a fresh, dry wine, meant to be drunk while still young (the wine, not the drinker).

I first sampled Prosecco while while on my honeymoon in Italy. I have many fond memories of drinking the bubbly (and some pictures that I don’t quite remember) after my wedding in Rome and while wandering through a flooded Venice with a bottle in hand.

So generally, it’s safe to say I like Prosecco. And I most certainly enjoyed the Cupcake variety.

It was much lighter and less complicated than a fussy Champagne. The crisp, clean flavors reminded me of fresh tart apples with a drop of homemade lemonade. It was vibrant and dry with just a subtle dose of sweetness. The nose was slightly citrusy, but the dry effervescence of nearly any sparkling wine usually overwhelms me too much to properly detect the aroma.

The Cupcake Prosecco would be a delightful addition to any celebration, and its price point simply cannot be beat. While it is excellent on its own, it would make a mean Bellini or Mimosa as well.

Cupcake Vineyards NV Prosecco D.O.C. 2010

Pairings: Perfect with nearly any appetizer.

Price:  Suggested retail $13.99, but I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $7.99 (a steal!)

Availability: Nationally

Related Posts: Cupcake Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Review

*This product was sent to me for review purposes. I did not receive any monetary compensation. The opinions expressed are my own.  I cannot guarantee a positive review for any product or services, but I can promise a review written with honesty and integrity.  


Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc: Flippant Food & Wine Friday

Any blog regulars or twitter followers should know how I adore wine. Some women relax with crochet needles, some go for Prozac, I savor a glass (or two) of wine at the end of the day. So when Cupcake Vineyards asked if I wanted to review a selection of their wines…there was no arm twisting necessary…only dreams of untwisting a few caps from bottles of their varied vintages.

And I do mean varied.  When most people picture a vineyard, rows of lush grape vines and villas come to mind, the grapes harvested, bottled, and distributed from the same carefully tended land.  The Cupcake Vineyards winery resides in Soledad, California, far south of the famed Napa Valley. But since each grape variety has distinctly different needs, they also buy grapes from around the world, taking advantage of the unique soils, micro-climates, and generations of experience to expand their wine selection.

Cupcake’s Sauvignon Blanc hails from the cool climes of Marlborough, New Zealand, the country’s largest wine growing region.

I was nearly startled by my first sip of the Sauvignon Blanc. The cool, crisp, nearly tart wine was the virtual opposite of my go-to buttery and oaky chardonnay.  After a few minutes if opened up just a bit, the flavor mellowing into a delightful mix of fresh greens and zingy citrus.

This pale, light-to-medium bodied wine was quite refreshing. The winemaker calls out the bright lemon and lime tastes; I was reminded of a Granny Smith apple (perhaps because I was staring at a bowl full of them). Either way, I was inspired to bake an apple cake as I sipped the delightful wine.

It paired well with a grilled chicken salad, the wine echoing the crispness and freshness of the vegetables. Perfect for a summer afternoon or dining al fresco on a balmy Florida fall evening.

Cupcake Vineyards 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Pairings: White meats (chicken, light fish, shellfish), light vinaigrettes, salads.

Price: Suggested $13.99

Availability: Nationwide

*This product was sent to me for review purposes. I did not receive any monetary compensation. The opinions expressed are my own.  I cannot guarantee a positive review for any product or services, but I can promise a review written with honesty and integrity. 

One-Buck Chuck and my Frugal Food Challange

So back at the beginning of the month I wrote about My October Food Budget Challenge and promised to save ALL of my grocery receipts. The USDA thinks my little family of three should be spending $464 to $963 per month on groceries. I disagree.

Now, I DID mention that I am not including my wine budget. You can’t make me. 
But I do have to show off a Target frugal find from Friday:
No, I DO NOT DRINK Arbor Mist. 
OR White Zin.
(Well, maybe in college, but that was a LONG TIME AGO.)

But I know people who do. 
I’m just trying to be a nice hostess.
(They don’t have to know it cost $1.)
The Martin Codax, however, is a Albarino from the wine reigion of Rias Baixas in Northwest Spain. 
Reviews say its a pretty decent bottle for its $16 price point.
Personally, I like this bottle’s $2 price point much better.
I would have bought more, but I scoured the shelves and it was the ONLY one.
I only hope it didn’t sit in a truck for two years and taste like vinegar when we pop the cork.

Now back to the REAL budgeting.

Week 1 was tricky. I hosted Kiddo’s birthday party and had ten family members over for lunch, cake, and drinks and I had to bring store-bought cupcakes into his class.  There was also a ton of stuff I use on sale at Publix (with coupon matches–come on, how can I turn down pasta for a quarter?) so I had a much bigger shopping week than usual.

Week 1:

Publix $60.37 (saved $95.41 though)
Aldi $52.49
Walmart $15.84

TOTAL $128.70

Week 2:

Publix: $7.43
Aldi: $36.28

TOTAL:  $43.71

The USDA says I should be spending between $108 (thrifty) and $192 (liberal) per week, so even with the big party week, I’m still doing okay.

{sticks tongue out at USDA}
We shall see how it goes. I still have to do a Costco run before the end of the month. Ka-ching.

Filet tastes on a franks & beans budget: My October Challange

While wasting time being productive on twitter last week, I stumbled upon a tweet which piqued my interest. 

Groceries? Money? I followed the link to the Official USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels.  After I pushed my jaw back up from my chest, I found the information exceptionally interesting. According to these scientifically and mathematically formulated charts,  my little family of three should be spending at the grocery store each month:

$4880 – thrifty plan
$633.90 – low-cost plan
$783.80 – moderate plan
$964.40 – liberal plan

$964 per month? We’d have to be dining on filet mignon with a side of every off-season fruit and veggie sauteed in truffle butter each night for dinner. Maybe some homemade tiramisu as well (that darned marscapone cheese IS expensive). I could make all the recipes I wanted to try —  like truffled deviled eggs — from the new Cook Like A Rock Star cookbook I am reviewing for Bookshelf Bombshells. I would never have to clip another coupon in my life.

Now, these numbers are assuming all monthly means and snacks are prepared at home. Hubby and Kiddo brown-bag lunch and we almost never eat out, so these number should mesh, right?

I am not about to reveal our wine budget. 
You must possess top secret wino clearance to be privy to that information.
What a fabulous idea. I believe I will.

I  blogged last year about my grocery shopping addiction. If you haven’t read that post yet, you should — it explains my love affair with grocery stores and the rush I get when I score fabulous deals. Not all of us can climb mountains, jump out of perfectly good airplanes, or afford a vicious drug habit — a girl has to get her thrills somewhere. Everyone needs some hobbies, and well, I love food and I have a puney budget, so I have learned to make due.

I am nowhere near an extreme couponer; those people are certifiably crazy and I’m sure there will be an official disease named for them soon (couponaholic? suffering from extreme unnecessary stockpiling syndrome?). I do not illicit looks of terror form the cashiers when they see me coming.

I shop at three stores. I hit Costco for frozen meats, paper goods, and sometimes produce. I go to Publix for whatever is on sale (BOGO dry goods, frozen foods, and a tiny bit of meat and produce), and I use Aldi for just about everything else (milk, eggs, produce, and many other things are ALWAYS cheaper there).  Oh, and I hit the Entenmann’s outlet for bread and bagels ($1 for whole grain Arnold breads and Thomas’ bagels, okay). 

Yes, this takes some extra time, but time I have, money I don’t. It works for us.

So this month I am going to save all of my grocery receipts so I can discover what I really spend on food. I don’t have a set budget; I buy whatever is on sale. Some weeks I spend next to nothing, some weeks I stock up. I will be curious to see how it really evens out.

I am also starting will a full pantry and freezers (they are always full). Technically, we could go an entire month without shopping and not starve, but that would just be no fun. I will shop as per normal.

I have a couple of birthday parties and family entertaining events to work in this month. How much will that add to the bottom line? I’ll find out and let you know.

This should be interesting. And I will see if I have to eat my words…

Christmas in September?

While running through JoAnne’s this afternoon I was shocked to see holiday decorations already lining the isles. No, not Halloween (that’s already on clearance), not Thanksgiving (currently marked 50% off), but Christmas. In September. But, I’m still getting used to this back-to-school thing…I haven’t even started thinking about Halloween yet…it’s still 90 freaking degrees outside, for Christ’s sake… STOP the PRESSURE! 
Then one ornament caught my eye, then another, and yet another.  WINE ornaments. Hmmmm…Maybe I’ll have to go back in a few months when they are on sale, there is a slight nip in the air, and I feel the slightest hint of holiday cheer…
{Please excuse the photo fuzziness — my phone is practically an antique.}

If you are on my holiday gifting list, please at least pretend to be surprised if you see one of these under the tree.

Cheers my friends

Bombshells and Blueberry Puppy Dogs

Have I mentioned that I am a Bombshell yet?

Bookshelf Bombshells is the brainchild of several close friends who have a few crucial things in common: they all read, they all have opinions, and they all have breasts. Clearly, the way forward would be to share all of those things with the Internet (metaphorically so, for that last bit). Thus was born Bookshelf Bombshells, book reviews and author interviews by beautiful, brainy women. Our staff of literate ladies are hot for everything between the covers, from vicious vampires to juicy memoirs, from hard science to soft romance. We lust for the well-written word.

I was tickled when I was invited to be the Food & Wine Book Reviewer.  A chance to read  cookbooks, foodie memoirs, and drink guides before they are released?  The opportunity to test new recipes before their collections hit the bookshelves? Oh, yeah…I did not have to be asked twice.  I am also the reigning Copy Kitten — which basically means I (along with several other brilliant women) get to proof everyone else’s work. Rather amusing, considering half the time I barely have the chance to proof my own words before I throw them up on this site.

Of course, I chose to test out the recipe featuring one of my all-time favorite indulgences, limoncello.

10cl limoncello
2cl lemon juice
2cl simple syrup (sugar and water mix)
1 cup of blueberries
10cl carbonated water
A delightful frozen cocktail for hot summer afternoons. In a blender or with a hand blender mix the blueberries with lemon juice, simple syrup, and limoncello until they form a rough slush. Add the carbonated water and freeze for two hours. When ready to serve thaw for twenty minutes and spoon the icy slushy mixture into tall glass. Drink with a straw and maybe garnish with a sprinkle of chopped blueberries.
-From Slippery Tipples by Joseph Piercy

Are your lips smacking yet? You know you want to read more. For the full book review (and many more spanning genres from chick lit to urban fantasy with a plethora of others mixed in) head over to the Bookshelf Bombshells site, follow us on Twitter @bookshelfbmshls, or “like” us on Facebook.