Rosé + A Porch Picnic

July 14, 2017

Rosé is the wine synonymous with summer. It's crisp, light, easy, and an ideal refreshing beverage when served chilled. If you're like me, you already know all this and make rosé a go-to wine varietal starting in March and sip on it all the way through September. If you're also like me, you probably shoot in the dark and/or stick to familiar labels when buying said wine. I'm not a wine expert (by any stretch) so I tend to go off price, packaging, suggestions, and luck when buying. That being said, I love tasting and trying wines from vineyards and regions that are new to my tastebuds. Even with my inexperienced palate I know what I like and adding new names to my list of "wineries I like" is always exciting.

This summer I've gone international - as far as wines go - and have been loving everything bottled by Villa Maria Estate. While it's New Zealand's most awarded winery, the brand is less well known in the US even though many of the estate's varietals can be found state side. I'm so glad I recently discovered Villa Maria because the wines are beyond delicious and wallet friendly. And when you're stocking your fridge with rosé for the summer, both those factors become very important!

What I love about wine is that it's an "open and enjoy" drink. No mixing or extra ingredients or fuss - just chilling, pouring, and sipping. My favorite spot to twist open a bottle of Villa Maria (no corks, yes please!) is among friends and family at my place or theirs. The comfort of a home allows us to get comfortable and occasionally be creative. A picnic on the porch has become a fun outdoor hangout spot for happy hours. We keep things simple...wine, some snacks, music, and spots for lounging.

 

Opening a bottle of Villa Maria wine is kind of like opening another world. I’ve never been to New Zealand but drinking Villa Maria – and subsequently learning more about the values and heritage that serve as the foundation for their wines – makes me feel like I’m getting a taste of the country. For anyone geographically challenged (me), New Zealand is a country that sits in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, south east of Australia. Though the New Zealand produces less than 1% of the world’s wine the moderate marine climate, rich soil, and entrepreneurial spirit of the country has contributed to wineries like Villa Maria being able to thrive.

Being the nerd I am, I loved learning that Villa Maria was started in 1961 by a solo founder – Sir George Fistonich – and over five decades later he’s still the driving force behind the wine and their core values of innovation, sustainability, and family. You’d think that an estate like Villa Maria boasting a title of most awarded wines in New Zealand would make their culture more corporate and less soulful but the opposite is true for them. While the quality of their wines ranks as their primary goal, they credit their incredible wines to the people who help them produce the wines and share their passion for excellence. Sir George may have only been 21 when he started Villa Maria but his youthful ambition and excitement is what’s made the company the continued success it is today.

So yes, the Villa Maria wines are exceptional. I wish I could serve you up a sampling through this blog so you could immediately taste some of the varietals if you haven’t yet. But…you’re just going to have to find local retailers and restaurants near you to do so! Don’t worry, Villa Maria has a super helpful “where to buy” tab on their site which makes this part easy peasy.

If you’re not sure what Villa Maria varietal to try first you can of course read all about the tasting notes, vineyard climate, processing, and other facts for each wine on the website right here. I highly suggest the Private Bin Rosé (it’s has a great fruit flavor but doesn’t have a sweet taste), the Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (Villa Maria’s most popular wine – it’s so crisp) and the Private Bin Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc (seriously incredible, same crisp factor as the flat version but made even more fresh and vibrant with the bubbles). The Private Bin collection wines are designed to be approachable, consistent and excellent value and can attest to all of these points…and add that they are all delicious!

Now that you know a little bit more about the company, my hope is that the next time your browsing the wine aisles of your local store or scanning a wine list while at a restaurant that Villa Maria’s New Zealand varietals stand out from the other options!

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Summer Grilling with La Vaquita Queso

June 15, 2017

Summer. The days are longer. The great outdoors is calling. The backyard grills are...grilling. Despite Dallas feeling like the surface of the sun (re: hot. so very hot) Sally and I have been in full outdoor mode. The arrival of a new stroller (he loves it!) and gorgeous outdoor furniture (showing it off in all its glory soon!) have both contributed to our desire to be outside. But it's really the craving to fire up the grill and cook some delicious summer-inspired food that has us most excited about the new season. I don't always dine with Sally and her husband but when I do, we usually try to cook something. The tricky part is agreeing what to make. One type of cuisine we can always agree on is Mexican - even better if the recipes allow us to doctor the dish to be our own.

This past week I had it in my mind that a family taco night needed to happen. I told Sally and Robert that all I needed them for was the grilling and eating - that I would take care of the rest. I'm not typically the one to take the reins but they've been so busy with the arrival of sweet baby and after finding this recipe on Skinny Taste (a go-to recipe source for my whole family) I felt happy and confident to make taco night a reality!

 

True confession: it was the inclusion of Cotija cheese in this taco recipe that caught my attention while I was perusing options. Past posts (here and here) have revealed my affinity for La Vaquita’s Queso Fresco – a really light, creamy, delicious cheese that’s a perfect pairing for Mexican, Tex-Mex and other styles of cuisine – but I haven’t really shared how much I love Cotija. Like all of the La Vaquita cheeses, the Cotija is super fresh and made to reflect the authentic, traditional flavors of Hispanic cuisine. But where the Queso Fresco is mild and bright in taste, Cotija is salty and bold. Due to its aged process and firm texture that can be grated or crumbled, it’s earned the nickname “the parmesan of Mexico.” It’s a great salty addition to savory dishes and packs a great flavorful punch!

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Lettuce Slaw, Avocado and Cotija Cheese: Like I said, this recipe found on Skinny Taste originally jumped at me because of the Cotija cheese. Maybe all the sun I’ve been getting has made me crave some salt? Either way, I was excited to try it out. Because I wanted the taco night to really have options for a “build your own” taco experience, I added the Queso Fresco and some salsa options to the mix. The extra cheese might make the recipe a little less “skinny” but it definitely adds to the delicious factor!

Chicken Ingredients:

  • 14 oz (4 thin sliced) boneless chicken breast cutlets
  • 1 1/4 tsp seasoned salt (I used Lawry’s Season Salt)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp lime juice (I ended up using more lime juice – about 3 teaspoons)

Taco and Slaw Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups (4 oz) shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup (1 medium) vine ripe tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 loose cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup thin sliced red onion
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • pinch fresh black pepper
  • 8 corn tortillas (I also used flour)
  • crumbled La Vaquita Cotija
  • crumbled La Vaquita Queso Fresco
  • 1 sliced (5 oz) ripe avocado
  • 1/2 jalapeño, sliced
  • 4 lime wedges, for serving

Directions:

  1. Season chicken with seasoned salt, olive oil and lime juice and marinate for at least an hour.
  2. Heat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan on medium-high heat.
  3. Oil the grates and grill about 2 minutes. Turn and cook an additional 1 minute, or until cooked through. Set aside on a cutting board and slice into thin strips. (Note: we used a Green Egg for grilling the chicken so our timing was a little different than the Skinny Taste recipe!)
  4. While the chicken is cooking, in a large work bowl mix the lettuce, tomato, cilantro, onions, olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  5. On the grill heat tortillas, turning till they slightly char, about 1 1/2 minutes on each side. (Note: we skipped this step!)
  6. Design your taco. Add chicken, lettuce slaw, avocado and top with cotija or queso fresco cheese (or both!), salsa, jalapeño, and/or fresh lime.

Quick Mexican Brown Rice: Because I didn’t want the tacos to be lonely, I found this recipe (also via Skinny Taste) and figured it would be a perfect side dish. I’ve never made my own Mexican rice so I was a little worried that I’d be in over my head but it really was a very easy recipe to follow.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups frozen or cooked (unseasoned) brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 medium plum tomatoes, small dice
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds and membrane removed, minced (I only used half of a large jalapeño!)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • lime wedges, for serving
  • chopped cilantro (I added some to the mixture and put some leafs on top as a garnish)

Directions:

  1. Cook rice according to package directions. Set aside.
  2.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the onions, tomatoes and jalapeno and sauté until just tender, about 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
  3. Add the tomato paste, cumin, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Stir to evenly coat the vegetables.  Add the cooked rice, stir, and cook for 1 minute or until heated through. Serve with cilantro and lime wedges on the side.

Family taco night was a huge success! The recipes were super easy and packed with flavor and the La Vaquita cheeses were the perfect topping for both the tacos and rice. Summer – while largely being about sun and fun – is really a family sort of season and I feel like we kicked things off in the right way with our homemade meal. There’s just not many things that feel better than eating good food and clinking cold beers with the people you love…even if it does kind of feel like you’re sitting on the surface of the sun while doing it!

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Toffifay + Truffle Popcorn for the Win

February 24, 2017

Oooooh Sally and I just love award season! And of course, the grand finale - The Academy Awards - is this Sunday. Which means we have a special sister shindig watching planned. Everything just seems better when we watch together...we think it has to do with our complimentary yet different personalities and opinions. From favorite dresses on the red carpet to favorite presenters and which nominees we have picked to win - it's our ying and yang commentary that makes taking in the Oscars (and all the other award shows from earlier in the season) so fun.

To celebrate the big night we'll be donning cozy sweatpants (duh), gathering our pups (naturally), and indulging in delicious treats (necessary). This year our snacking spread is focused on sweet and savory. After some voting (it is award season, after all!) we determined that Toffifay would be the ideal something sweet to go along side truffle popcorn. A little test drive of the pairing while filling out our personal Oscar ballots (we downloaded ours from here) proved that it's a match made in heaven!

 

If you’ve never had Toffifay, let us tell you that it’s seriously one incredible candy…we’re girls who love chocolate but prefer it to pack a punch of flavor and Toffifay fits our criteria in spades. Nestled into golden trays are little caramel cups filled with a whole hazelnut and topped with chocolate. Chewy, crunchy and smooth…the combo is addictive and irresistible.

Toffifay is delectable on its own but eating it along side popcorn – especially popcorn topped with buttery truffle oil and parmesan cheese – just makes it even more yum. Here’s how we made our truffle popcorn:

  • 1/2 cup corn kernels popped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons black truffle oil
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Directions: Melt butter (best done on the stove over low heat) and combine truffle oil. Pop kernels (we use this air popper!). Pour butter and truffle oil mixture over popcorn and toss. Add parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and toss again.

Trust us when we say that this is one winning snacking pair! We highly suggest getting in on the Toffifay action while you get cozy for your own Oscar viewing!

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Kale Salad with La Vaquita Queso Fresco

February 23, 2017

I've heard that one of the best ways to shop a grocery store is by focusing on the perimeter versus the aisles. Why? Because along the edge is where you find the produce, meats, dairy, deli...the less processed stuff. The aisles hold temptation like cereal (a former main food group of mine), frozen food, and all things already packaged, preserved, and or boxed and bagged. There's nothing wrong with hitting up the middle section - and believe me I have some frozen pizzas, pasta, peanut butter, and taco chips to prove it - but I do try to keep the perimeter technique in mind when I'm getting my groceries. Aside from it being more "healthy," it's also made me more curious about certain foods and ingredients and led to some great discoveries.

Kale happens to be something I love ordering at a restaurant but have never bought myself. I was thinking this the other day when I was making my grocery list and craving a salad different from the arugula and tomato variety I had been eating for weeks. One of my fave cheeses - La Vaquita Queso Fresco - was already on my list so I did a little Googling for "kale + queso fresco" and found a yummy recipe to inspire me. Bonus, the easy salad included another ingredient I never ever buy but like: radishes. I took some liberties with the original recipe - deciding against using pipitas and swapping in this dressing (from one of my favorite spots in Dallas) then I hit the store.

 

Grocery shopping was once something I loathed but now really enjoy. I think it’s because I’ve made myself familiar with where to find things I need and am not afraid to ask questions when I need help. Case in point: years ago when I made my first recipe requiring Queso Fresco  I was looking for the cheese it in the area by the meats/deli area. Nada. I finally asked where I could find the crumbly cheese and was directed to the dairy section – near where you find all the milk, yogurt, etc. Alas! Queso Fresco. There were a few brand options to choose from but I went with La Vaquita because I saw that it was made locally in Texas. I might not be a Texas native but that doesn’t keep me from buying locally-made goodness. After using La Vaquita Queso Fresco that first time (I think it was for brisket tacos) I was hooked on the super fresh, creamy cheese and have been buying the queso and creamas since. They’re great for Mexican style dishes but I’ve used them in non-Mexican recipes, too.

Lucky for me, La Vaquita is sold at all my go-to grocery stores (Tom Thumb, Central Market and Kroger). And I just have to stroll the perimeter of the store to land on it. Ok…now it’s time for the Kale Salad recipe that is the purpose of this post!

Fresh and Light Kale Salad: As we all probably know by this point, kale is a super veggie. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense commonly eaten vegetables and contains high amounts of vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Eating it raw (like in a salad) is the best way to keep all the vitamins intact. It doesn’t have an overly strong taste (maybe just a little peppery) so it’s easy to dress up and pair with other ingredients. As I mentioned above, my inspiration for mixing the kale with radishes, avocado and Queso Fresco came from this recipe. But I wasn’t super keen on using lime in the dressing as suggested and decided to use this dressing recipe for one of my favorite kale salads in Dallas. Though the lime may have made for more of a “Mexican” flavor, I found that the lemon and garlic went perfectly with the other fixings and the whole combination was super delicious!

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 4 medium radishes
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 cup La Vaquita Queso Fresco

Salad Dressing Ingredients:

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Slice kale into thin ribbons
  • Thinly slice radishes
  • Cube avocado
  • Crumble La Vaquita Queso Fresco
  • Combine dressing ingredients in a salad dressing mixer or whisk in a bowl
  • Layer kale, radishes, avocado and Queso Fresco in a large bowl, top with dressing and gently toss.
  • Add additional crumbled Queso Fresco if desired and/or serve with with some on the side to be added after plated.

Sally – being the lucky sister that she is – got to enjoy this yum salad with me after we photographed it and she was just as into it as I was. We’re definitely going to make it again (and again, and again). It’s super filling on its own and we decided it would be great with some grilled chicken, too. Of course, we added extra spoonfuls of Queso Fresco on top of our servings because the cheese is always our favorite part!

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Cheers to New Adventures

December 16, 2016

Are y'all getting tired of seeing all the photos of my pups all over Instagram? I can't help going overboard with the posting...Blue is loving his new little sister Rosebud and I'm loving this new adventure of being a dog mom to two. I've been through the puppy stage before with Blue but there's a whole different learning curve doing it the second time around.

There are three big issues I'm currently facing: 1) maintaining my work schedule while chasing after a very busy pup (re: playing with her all day), 2) fighting to stay awake and energized now that I'm getting less than the optimal hours of sleep and being frequently woken up for potty visits outside, and 3) making sure that Blue is still feeling super loved and adored now that my attention is split between two fur babies.

I'm trying to embrace the adventure and remind myself that this puppy phase goes by so quickly. The mantra "but first, coffee" has never been more real and I've been expanding my taste buds as I enjoy my daily cups (note the plural) of caffeine. Indulging in Dunkin’ Donuts® at Home Bakery Series® coffee has been the little reward and push I've needed to keep up with my work and "do it all." As for making Blue feel loved - he still gets to sleep with me in bed and I've been making homemade treats with some of his favorite stuff to show him just how spesh he still is.

Does making homemade dog treats in my own kitchen officially make me a crazy dog lady? If making healthy and cost effective treats for my puppy boy makes me wrong, then I just don’t want to be right! Rosebud will most likely get the same treats when she’s bigger but for now, her puppy tummy only gets food. I probably shouldn’t even call them treats…there’s only three ingredients and no meat. God bless the good buyers of Amazon for leaving recipes when I was looking up silicone dog bone molds. Here’s the recipe I found and the instructions on how to make:

  • 1 15oz can of organic pure pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup of organic coconut oil (softened/at room temperature but not melted)
  • 1/3 cup Brewer’s Yeast
  • Combine all three ingredients (I used my standing mixture but mixing by hand or with a blender would also work) and blend until smooth
  • Make small dollops on the mixture on a cookie sheet with wax paper or use a silicone mold tray (I got this cute one from Amazon!)
  • Freeze “treats” for about three hours or till they are firm
  • Store in a Ziplock bag or container in the freezer

Blue LOVES coconut oil. I used to give him a spoonful each morning and he would basically do flips for it – but I realized I had been slacking on my duties since Rosebud’s arrival. He also LOVES sweet potato. A lot of owners give sweet potato puree to pups when they’re having upset stomachs and Blue is no exception, but he also gets the stuff in the form of “Sam’s Yams” dehydrated sweet potato chews. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a true lab and will literally try to eat anything and everything, but I try to keep his weight at a healthy level and have found these simple “treats” to be good alternatives to products with meat. The last ingredient, Brewer’s Yeast, is a new one for us. I’d read that the supplement is a great antioxidant for dogs and improves their coats (less shedding!), boosts their immune systems, helps with anxiety, and more – so when I saw it in the recipe I figured I would give it a try.

I mentioned that Blue will eat anything and I wasn’t kidding (he drools whether I’m eating scrambled eggs or string cheese) but he is really crazy about these homemade little bones. It makes me so happy giving him this little treat and I hope he gets that it’s an extra way I’m trying to make him feel special and loved.

Speaking of treats. Let’s talk about how I’ve been treating myself! Something you might not know about me unless you really know me, is I adore baked goods. Donuts, cinnamon rolls, croissants, cookies, cake, cupcakes, brownies – I really don’t discriminate. My biggest vice when in an airport is a coffee and something sweet. But despite my cravings, I don’t eat donuts and cake each and every day…I just do the next best thing and drink a cup of  Dunkin’ Donuts® at Home Bakery Series coffee. Finally, someone figured out how to combine rich, delicious Dunkin’ Donuts® coffee and bakery-fresh taste. It’s the best of both worlds! There are six flavors in the Bakery Series Coffee but I’ve been loving the Cinnamon Coffee Roll.  I love the hint of cinnamon – it’s full of flavor but not too sweet or overpowering. Brewing it in my French Press makes for a nice morning ritual to start my day and it also makes for a super delicious afternoon pick-me-up so I can continue to keep up with my pups.

Happy fur babies and a happy dog mama makes the three of us ready for any and all exciting adventures to come!

What adventures are you currently living right now? I want to know!

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