Making A Simple Dinner Fancy

 

Because that’s how Wine Esquire rolls.

It’s winter. It’s cold. Are you bored yet? I’m getting there. It was Saturday morning and we were preparing for our first proper blizzard by throwing a soup together in the crockpot. We took our Inaugural Blizzard Walk[1] with the neighbors and so we decided to throw an impromptu dinner party.

Split Pea Soup is a favorite of ours. Not only is it classic, but it’s cheap. For less than $10, we had a gourmet soup ready to go. For your convenience, here are the detailed instructions:

Husband’s Not So Secret Blizzard Split Pea Soup Recipe

(serves 4 with one leftover portion for lunch)

1 pound split peas
Handful of baby carrots
½ yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 stalks celery
1 bay leaf
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 cups water
1 ham steak

Rinse the peas, chop the veggies and throw everything together in the bottom of a crock pot. Sear the ham steak in a cast iron skillet and throw it on top. Add the bay leaf, then salt and pepper to taste. Set the Crock on low for 8 hours and let it simmer. Voila! Fancy dinner!

We’d ventured out earlier in the day[2] and picked up some Portuguese raisin rolls in our travels. Husband grilled them up in the cast iron skillet and we served them with some super simple fancy homemade butter.

Super Simple Fancy Homemade Butter

(serves four – no leftovers, we practically licked the bowl clean)

½ stick butter
½ tsp honey
Pinch or 2 of sea salt (Fleur De Sel[3] if you have it)

Soften the butter in the microwave then add honey and salt and mix it up. The butter shouldn’t be pure liquid, but it should be easy to mix up. Scoop it all up, spoon it into a fancy dish[4] and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes prior to serving.

It’s a shame pea soup just doesn’t photograph well. It was delicious.

We broke out the wedding china, some nice crystal glasses and had ourselves a fancy dinner party. It’s absolutely true that food tastes better when it’s served on beautiful dishes, especially when your soup tureen is sitting on a silver platter. After all, what’s a little hand-washing among friends?[5]

Silver Platter’s Make Everything Better

Now, for the important part. We paired our winter feast with a bottle of The Sum by the Seventy Five Wine Company. A great red blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petite Syrah, 10% Syrah. Definitely fruity; the raspberry jam is out in full force. A great smooth mouthfeel, a touch on the lighter side with a nice dry finish. A great wine to warm you up on a cold winter’s eve with a bowl of good soup and a hunk of good bread.

Vino Vino Vino

The Seventy Five Wine Company was founded in, you guessed it, 1975. The back label recites all the epic and noteworthy events from that year. It was the year Bill Gates founded Microsoft, Saturday Night Live aired their first episode, Charlie Chaplin was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and of course, the Beckstoffer family set up shop in Napa Valley.

Vino Vino Vino

The 2013 was a touch young; it could certainly be laid down for a while to let it mature and develop, but it’s a great drinker now too. The label is fun, and the bottle itself is a heavy clunker that makes you feel like you’re about to be drinking a rich, deep wine. You can grab a bottle for between $20-$25 throughout the US, so give it whirl and let me know what you think!

Until the next glass!
Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] The Inaugural Blizzard Walk started several winters ago when Husband had the ingenious idea to walk around during a blizzard when everyone else is sanely snuggled up in front of their fireplace. It’s quite fun actually, seeing everything peaceful, quiet and white. It’s even better when you bring a flask with you. Just sayin’.
[2] Yes, in the blizzard. I really needed some yarn. What can I say? Me and the two old ladies at Hobby Lobby weren’t afraid of a little snow.
[3] Translated to “Flower of Salt”, this sodium variety comes from the hand-harvested salt crystals which float on the surface of salt water as it evaporates. Used as a garnish instead of as an ingredient, it is the most difficult salt to harvest, and therefore the most expensive. Fancy, huh? We recently acquired a jar at the Weekend Kitchen, a whimsical little kitchen shop in Essex, the cutest little town in America.
[4] You know, to make it fancy.
[5] Full disclosure, I’m so Type A I won’t let anyone else wash my china. Just in case. #RetiredPattern

What to Drink: Thanksgiving Edition

There’s a few important things coming up on the calendar:

  1. T-Minus TEN days until Turkey Day[1]
  2. T-Minus ELEVEN days until Black Friday[2]
  3. T-Minus FOURTEEN days until Cyber Monday[3]
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market

There’s a lot to do to prepare in the coming days, arguably the most important of which is deciding which wines you’ll be pairing with your Thanksgiving Feast[4]. I’ve teamed up with Vinley Market to discuss what wines go best with turkey, Grandma’s Stuffing and Aunt Mary’s Sweet Potato Casserole. I’m thinking that Zinfandel, Rosé and Riesling should all be making appearances. And if you’re not hosting, you should probably bring a bottle of bubbly![5]

Check out my Thanksgiving Wine Pairings and let me know what you’ll be drinking this Turkey Day.

And while you’re at it, get 10% off your wine order at Vinley Market with coupon code WINEESQUIRE10.

Until the next glass, Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] That means its T-MINUS TEN days and a few hours until 24/7 Christmas Music! YAY
[2] Also, another day off work. #score
[3] Is your Amazon Wish List ready? Mine is. #alwaysready
[4] Or Friendsgiving Feast, as the case may be.
[5] Obviously.

Place Setting Goals (c) Vinly Market
Place Setting Goals (c) Vinley Market

A Generous Pour

Wine tastings are fun. Wine tastings are even funner when there’s food involved too. Wine tastings are the funnest when instead of a “taste” you get full glasses of wine. And that’s pretty much what happens at The Capital Grille’s Generous Pour.

Generous Pour Wine

This yearly wine event runs for eight weeks starting in July and sadly comes to an end today[1].  “Rebels, Rule Breakers & Game Changers” was the theme this year, and the featured wines each had a unique story to tell. For $28 per person, it’s an excellent way to experience seven different wines.

#HartfordHasIt
#HartfordHasIt

Husband and I participated in the event earlier this week at their downtown Hartford[2] location[3]. Our server Nicole was extremely knowledgeable about the wines, and when she explained the tasting as more of a “Bottomless Wine Glass,” I knew we were in for a fun ride.

In typical wine tasting form, we began with the whites which we paired with a selection of white-appropriate appetizers.[4] We started with a tomato, basil and fresh hand-pulled[5] mozzarella salad, generously drizzled with their 12-year aged Balsamic Vinegar. You could tell the mozz was fresh; dripping with flavor, enhanced by a smattering of Fleur de sel[6] on top. I took a bite with each of the three whites and found that the super oaky Chardonnay was the best accompaniment. This was a single vineyard Chardonnay by California’s Chateau St. Jean; they were one of the first, if not the first, vineyard to make a single vineyard Chard, and it’s been in production from their Robert Young Vineyard since 1975[7].

Caprese Salad
Someone should make this for me every day. #fitfam

Next we moved to a few tastes from the sea. Husband’s rich Lobster Bisque, which was finished with a tableside drizzle of warm sherry,[8] paired exceptionally well with the Stellina Di Notte[9] Pinot Grigio. A light, bright, citrusy wine, with not even the slightest metallic twinge, which has put me off of Pinot Grigios I’ve had in the past. The delicate wine cut the lavish bisque and complemented its intense flavors[10].

My lobster and crab cakes met their match with the Provenance Sauvignon Blanc. Let me first say that these were the moistest, richest seafood cakes I’ve had to date. Usually they’re dense, compact, and sometimes overly crisp[11]. These were practically falling apart with thick, fresh pieces of crab and lobster abounding. And the decadent remoulade on the side was low calorie excellent as well.

Wine and Dine
When they give you a triton to eat your crab cakes …

As for the Provenance Sauvignon Blanc to go with them, well, wow. When one thinks Sauvignon Blanc, one doesn’t think Rutherford, California[12]. Famed for its exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, this area apparently produces astounding Sauvignon Blanc grapes as well. This was by far my favorite of the whites, and given that it was a Bottomless Wine Glass kinda night, I may have had a few glasses tastes. A beautiful bouquet on the nose with a touch of honey; hints of melon on the finish, great body. A real winner. It complemented the rich flavors of the juicy cakes and served as an excellent palate cleanser.

While sampling the appetizers, we snuck in the Etude Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir used to be my go-to wine, but I’ve really moved away from it lately. This was a reminder of why I love the grape so much. Smooth, silky and delicate. It was a great sipper on its own and served as a perfect segue from the whites to the more intense reds we were about to jump into.

Generous Pour Wine

The amuse-bouches[13] is always one of my favorite parts of fine dining. You never know what’s going to pop out in between courses. Typically it’s a tiny flavorful appetizer to get you salivating and whet your appetite. Apparently the Chef at Capital Grille was feeling good that night because the bone-in lamb medallions were anything but bite sized,[14] and seriously jam packed with flavor[15]. Paired with Penfold’s Bin 2 Shiraz and Mourvedre blend, it was utterly outstanding. Cooked to perfection, the lamb was succulent and juicy. The wine was inky, spicy, deep and rich. The bold flavors went together like peas and carrots.

Penfolds Shiraz Wine

By now, as you may have noticed, we’d eaten quite a bit of food. The worst part about multi-course meals is forgetting to save room for the main course. Which is exactly what happened to us[16]. If you didn’t know, Capital Grille is first and foremost a steakhouse. Every piece of beef is dry aged in-house for at least 18 days and hand cut to order. They are serious about their beef. [17]

Husband went with the special that evening, Steak Oscar, a filet mignon, extra special because it was bone-in, topped with luscious pieces of crab meat. I went for the Gorgonzola and Truffle Crusted Dry Aged NY Strip[18]. Both meals were impeccably prepared with warm red centers that cut like butter. The ginormous portions of potatoes au gratin and bacon-topped Brussels[19] sprouts were rich and flavorful, and though we ate as much as we could, it looked like we barely made a dent[20].

Steak Oscar
Photo Cred: Husband (C) 2016

Now, when you have beef, you need red wine,[21] and when you have really good beef, you need really good red wine. Let me tell you, the last two Generous Pour wine selections did not disappoint. Wow wow wow. From famed California Cabernet Sauvignon producers, we tasted juice from Stags Leap and Beaulieu Vineyard. Holy cow. The epitome of the fruit bomb,[22] both wines were big, bold, beautiful and luscious. Total food wines, these were perfect complements to the insanely rich steaks.

Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

The Leap by Stags Leap, which is usually available solely at their Napa Valley tasting room,[23] was flawless. Lots of jam, maybe some raspberries, with an earthier finish and notes of toasted wood. Gorgeous. The Tapestry by Beaulieu Vineyard was a more traditional Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Big chewy tannins on this one, a touch drier than the Stags Leap. It’s literally impossible to choose a favorite because both were excellent examples of what wine is meant to be[24].

Beaulieu Vineyards Tapestry Red Wine

We continued sampling the last two Cabs for a bit, just to make sure we could discern the differences and truly appreciate them[25]. To spice things up we had quick espresso pick-me-up before dessert[26]. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I went with their simple homemade vanilla ice cream which was served with an intensely moist and delicious orange biscotti. I paired it with a bit of bubbly, a split of Moet Imperial Brut[27], while Husband went with an Onyx Moonshine on the rocks. We relocated to the outdoor patio and finished up al fresco[28].

City Scape and Champagne
A little bubbly to end the evening

An incredible meal, with impeccable service. If you’re near a Capital Grille, make sure you check out their Generous Pour wine tasting, and everything else they have!

Capital Grille
Thank you David and Nicole!

Thank you to the Capital Grille for hosting us! xoxo

Until the next glass!

Generous Pour Capital Grille
Gratuitous Snapseed Edit #ForTheWin

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Today being September 4, 2016.
[2] Because after all, #HartfordHasIt.
[3] A portion of our meal was generously covered by Capital Grille. Thoughts, opinions and tasting notes are my own.
[4] Starting with the incredible bread basket with a hearty serving of soft butter topped with sea salt. Not sure where all the butter went, but it disappeared pretty quickly. #NoBreadWeekdays are suspended when Wine Esquire gets invited to dinner. Or when I can’t find anything else to eat. It’s kind of more like a goal instead of a strict rule. #RulesAreForBreaking
[5] They literally hand pull mozzarella every two hours. #Normal.
[6] That’s code for high end sea salt, harvested as it begins to form a fine crust on the surface of seawater.
[7] It retails for around $20 a bottle, not too bad for an excellent Chardonnay.
[8] Which he described as MagnificenT, with a capital T. At the end.
[9] Which roughly translates to Starry Night.

Pinot Grigio
[10] Not that I had more than a bite of this; Husband spooned up every last drop.
[11] Read: Fried. Not that those aren’t good too, but these were ridiculously good.
[12] At least I didn’t.
[13] Fancy word for tiny appetizer.
[14] All we needed was a pair of sterling silver lamb chop sleeves, also known as manche a gigot, like we had on New Year’s Eve.

manche a gigot
Our New Year’s Eve Feast

[15] Something about their Kona coffee rub…just incredible.

Lamb Medallion amuse-bouches
[16] Don’t worry. I always save room for dessert. And more wine.
[17] They are also serious about their service, and their attention to detail is outstanding. We had a table overlooking the kitchen and could see what was going on behind the scenes; the manager inspected each and every dish before it came out to be served. This level of service is a rarity, and it makes all the difference.
[18] Nice and light, right?
[19] Word really wanted to capitalize Brussel here. I was confused so I Googled it. Apparently this type of cabbage is named after the location where it was first cultivated, somewhere near Brussels, Belgium, so the “B” IS supposed to be capitalized, AND the correct way of saying and spelling it is Brussels sprouts (with an s). Who knew!?
[20] Hello, leftovers!

Wine and Dine
All the food…

[21] It’s a requirement. Legally speaking.
[22] My wine sweet spot. #fruitbomb
[23] A partnership for the Generous Pour allowed us to sample this exquisite blend of their best Cabernets in the comfort of Downtown Hartford.
[24] Big, Bold and Fruity.
[25] #BottomlessGlassesForTheWin
[26] I know, I know, how could I eat dessert? But, see note 16, supra. I always have room for dessert. #priorities
[27] Because one always needs a bit of bubbles.
[28] We closed the place down. Our meal, which had started at 6:30, ended around 11. #SlowFood

Wine Corks

Weekend Getaway in Amish Country

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A Tale of Wine, Buggies, Brunch and State-Run Liquor Stores

It was a Friday morning at the Firm and I was planning to take the day off leave early around 11 a.m. But closings, phone calls and emails managed to get in the way, per usual. I arrived home around 2:30 and we were on our way to visit our friends in Amish Country by 3:15.

As we drove further away from home, the cornfields in fields and valleys sprung up on either side of us. It’s amazing how the landscape of this country can change so dramatically and driving through this new territory was breathtaking. ::insert dramatic landscape picture here::[1]

We arrived at our destination around 8:30, only three and half hours late after we planned. Not too shabby. Several bottles of wine and a few Secret Stashes on the rocks later, we headed off to bed.

Front Porch Goals
Front Porch Goals

I knew nothing about Amish Country prior to our visit[2], but everyone else seemed to. Lancaster, Pennsylvania was our destination and everyone I mentioned it to knew about it. As it turns out, it’s pretty much the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish Country. A bustling city at its core, but drive seven minutes outside downtown, you’ll find yourself surrounded by corn[3], wagonfuls of children being pulled by donkeys, horse drawn buggies and homes disconnected from the grid. The home of the Amish.

Assyrtiko Greek Wine
Note the size of that zucchini! Holy Moly!

What I didn’t expect was such a vibrant dining and drinking scene downtown. Breweries, distilleries and restaurants populate almost every corner of downtown Lancaster, and wine bar choices are plentiful[4]. The architecture has been well maintained and restored to its glory days of yore. America’s oldest continually operated farmer’s market operates every weekend where rows of fresh cheeses, meats, flowers and donuts abound.

Lissianthus Flower
A bouquet of Lissianthus

If you have a chance to visit, there’s lots to do and see. And if you have 24 to 36 hours to spare, I’ve got the perfect itinerary mapped out for you.

Lancaster in 36 Hours

Lancaster, Pennsylvania
I could make this work

The humidity was a bit stifling[5] but we started our Saturday off with a walking tour of School Street Hills, through Franklin & Marshall College and made our way downtown. Block after block of grand old houses grace lush, green tree-lined streets; it was almost like walking a movie set.
Per usual, we got started on the later side of the morning, and by time we arrived at the Lancaster Central Market, the famous Shady Maple Long John donuts had long been sold off to the early birds[6]. Heading out donut-less, we continued our walking tour, with a quick stop to look inside the historic Fulton Opera House.

Next stop was Wacker Brewing and Thistle Finch Distillery about a quarter of a mile away. We grabbed some paninis, pretzels and pints from the brewery, which shares a classic hipster-vibe tasting room with the distillery. The beer was awesome, and given their extremely small set up, so was the pub fare. Our distillery guide took us through the history of the tobacco shed-converted distillery and tasting room, and walked us through the production process from grain to glass. We rounded out the tour with a sampling of their distilled offerings and I walked away with a bottle of barrel-aged gin.

Wacker Brewery Thistle Finch Distillery
Welcome Hipsters

We finished up our tastes, hopped in the car[7] and drove approximately seven minutes out to Amish Country where we wove our way through cornfields, spying our Amish neighbors on their pedal-free scooters[8] and horse-drawn buggies along the way. We stopped at a group of shops and found out that for $60, we could do a bike tour through Amish Country and end up at a private Amish home for a candle-lit dinner. Had it not been for the intense line of looming rain clouds hovering right above us[9], we would have signed up on the spot[10].

After a quarter pound of fudge had been tucked safely in my purse, we headed back home and got ready for dinner at Pour in downtown Lancaster.

Glass of Champagne
Can’t resist a nice glass of bubby

Again, given that we were in the middle of Amish Country, Pennsylvania[11], I wasn’t expecting a top notch dining experience. But as soon as we stepped into the trendy downtown restaurant, my feelings began to change. Low lighting and brick walls adorned with original art work surrounded a group of city-goers at the intimate bar. A quirky, craft-inspired cocktail list greeted us and while the rest of our party sampled the artisanal libations, I stuck with a bit of bubbly[12]. The small but intricate menu changes weekly, and it was tough to choose from the mouth-watering options. We started with a charcuterie selection of delectable meats and cheeses that were out of this world. Humboldt Fog chevre[13] is my new favorite[14]. Seriously. Wow. Soft, creamy with a touch of saltiness. It was incredibly epic.

Wine and Dine

I chose a bottle of Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret to go with our meal.

Bonny Doon Proper Claret
Great label

Claret, as we know, is a Bordeaux style blend of grapes. This one included 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 13% Petit Verdot, 8% Syrah and 1% Petite Syrah.

Proper Claret Bonny Doon
Varietals on the label

Three of us had the porchetta, and boy, it was delicious. A beautiful cut of meat, deboned, stuffed with herbs and wrapped in a thick cut of crispy bacon. Yes. You read that right. Bacon. It was absolutely divine. And the wine label had footnotes, so clearly I was in love.

Wine Footnotes
A lawyer must have written this … #footnotes

There were some serious legs on this baby. It was big and bold and needed a bit of time to open up. When it did, it was peppery with nice notes of plum. On the drier side with a subdued fruit finish. The big wine paired perfectly with our rich, hearty Italian dinners.

When the bill came the sticker shock was palpable. I was expecting a big number. After all, we had indulged in cocktails, charcuterie, a nice bottle of wine and four entrees. But the total was less than $200 for four people[15]. Supremely reasonable, a fantastic value.

Being the hobbits that we are, after dinner we decided to head home and go to bed so we could rest up for brunch in the morning[16].

On our Saturday walk we happened upon Citronelle, a quaint little French restaurant that advertised Sunday brunch. And it was BYOB. So clearly we made reservations for Sunday morning. Now, the booze situation in Pennsylvania is a bit precarious[17]. It’s one of several states where the liquor stores are state run[18]. This means decent prices with little to no selection. We stopped into the “Fine Wine and Good Spirits[19]” shop before dinner to get some bubbly for the morning, and while I was thankfully able to get a bottle of Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs, there was little else to choose from. The ability to get into the state-run stores is based purely on numbers, so small producers without a lot of market share are locked out; this means you get a whole lot of big labels and not much else. A tragedy to be sure for the fine folks living in the Keystone State.

Mumm Napa Brunch
Eggs Benedict and Mumm Napa. Yes please

After brunch we packed up our gear and headed back East. We took the scenic route home through the picturesque Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and so did the massive rain storm that followed us. The Whole Way Home. Our five hour journey morphed into seven, but the scenery was beautiful, and we made up a few car games along the way[20]. A perfect weekend getaway to the heart of Amish Country. And I assure you, we will be back.

Have you been to Amish Country? What’d you think? Would you give up the internets for a life of peaceful farming?

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Oh wait, I apparently didn’t take any. #photoOp
[2] But the five hour drive gave us the opportunity to get an education. The history is fascinating, and most surprising to me, 90% of Amish born choose to remain Amish, even after given the opportunity to experience life in the “real world.” Read here about Rumspringa. They also have an abnormally low rates of allergies, autism and cancer. Makes you wonder what we’re doing with all these I-thingies and interwebs. I don’t know if they’re allowed to drink wine though. #dealbreaker
[3] Literally surrounded. It’s everywhere. I felt like I was back in Kansas.

Conestoga and Cigars
[4] Far better than what’s available to Wine Esquire back at home. #HartfordHasIt … or does it?
[5] Frizzy Hair Don’t Care
[6] Not to worry, we made up for it with some local goat cheese.
[7] Alas, our vehicle did not magically appear; one of our hosts decided to take a soggy jog home during the tour to grab it so we wouldn’t have to walk in the pouring rain. Ever the gentleman, Mr. Dell. My sincere thanks.
[8] The theory behind being pedal free is that pedals would allow one to travel too far from home. Turns out you can’t actually go very far, even with two wheels, if you have to propel yourself.
[9] And my predictably poor choice in footwear for such a jaunt. Dressy flats ≠ walking shoes. At least I looked cute.
[10] We’re already planning a trip back so we can do this in the fall.
[11] No offense.
[12] Obviously.
[13] Translation: goat cheese
[14] I wonder what my cholesterol levels are like. #meatandcheese
[15] Hartford, did you hear that? There was four of us. And we all ate and drank. A lot. And it was really good. Think we can maybe do something like this? Maybe? Thanks.
[16] #priorities
[17] Big deal breaker for Wine Esquire.
[18] State-run operations are rarely good for anyone. #biggovernment
[19] I think their motto should be “Where the Wine is Fine but the Spirits are Just So-So.” Whaddya think?
[20] For the record, Husband is not very good at 21 Questions. #CoveredBridge

Thistle Finch Distillery
The writings on the wall at Thistle Finch #BoogieOogieOogie