Sparkling Wine + Holiday Sweets

December 6, 2016

Sally and I are big (big, big) fans of Christmas. Mostly because our family is notorious for doing it up for the holiday. We don't have many traditions but the ones we do have surround food and family. Each year our mom welcomes us home with an impressive amount of home-made holiday cookies. There are usually multiple batches of around five different cookie recipes and my siblings and I work our way through the collection through the course of our stay at home. You'd think we'd be over this sugary display (being the mature adults that we are) but the sweets are a hallmark of our holiday.

I used to get in on some of the baking with my mom back when I had a longer holiday break in college but she now has it down to a solo science. And really, I'm much better at eating cookies than I am at baking them. I'm also great at playing bar tender and making sure that everyone has a full glass of something festive to go along with the delicious dinners and mouthwatering cookies our mother is famous for. This year I've pre-planned the best bubbly to accompany the aforementioned food situations while at home and it's Cupcake Vineyards Sparkling Red. From the holiday-red hue to the bright flavors (which are perfect for the holiday season), it is the perfect sparkling wine to pop, pour, and cheers with right now!

 

Fun fact: sparkling wine is different than prosecco, is different than champagne. Champagne is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region France. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. There are some production and taste differences but they’re all generally delicious and bubbly. The Cupcake Sparkling Red is  made with Brachetto and Moscato grapes grown in the hills of the Piedmonte in Northern Italy. Its aroma (the scent) of black cherry, florals and nutmeg and its flavor (what happens when taste and aroma converge) starts with jammy fruit flavors of dark berries and finish with a hint of vanilla and spice – makes it especially wonderful when paired with sweet treats.

The first time I tried Cupcake Sparkling Red I was in love with it. I personally think that sparkling wine (and this one in particular) is appropriate to indulge in year round but it always feels most appropriate around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years holidays. Maybe because you’re among family and friends and warm fuzzy feelings are just amplified with a little bubbly? Whatever the case, I think it’s delish and I can’t wait to sip it with family in the coming weeks!

Of course, I had to give the Sparking Red a proper test drive with some holiday sweets to be 100% sure it was as perfect a pairing as I imagined. The verdict: it is. The chocolate and vanilla Petit Fours and frosted sugar cookies I picked up from Society Bakery in Dallas served as place holders for my mom’s confections…they were all super yum but nothing comes close to what my mom will have waiting for me when I come home!

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Cooking with La Vaquita Queso

November 18, 2016

I'm not Texas-born - and I've only lived in the state for a little over six years - but I'd like to think that I've developed several tendencies of a native. Especially in regards to food. For example: I could eat Mexican food all day everyday, I believe in the healing powers of a great margarita, I definitely think eggs taste best in a breakfast taco, and I think that Texas has some of the most authentically delicious food, chefs, and restaurants. I'll admit that I'm a little bit biased. But it's hard not to be when surrounded but such authentic flavors and ingredients!

While pizza is admittedly my food husband, I'd like to think of cheese as my food boyfriend. He's a good boyfriend because he's so versatile - a quality that really became apparent to me when I arrived in Texas. And while I don't discriminate between varieties, I definitely have a thing for Mexican and Tex-Mex cheeses. From creamy queso (cheese dip) and salty cojita to crumbled queso fresco, no Mexican dish feels complete without some cheese. When I shop for these Hispanic cheeses to use in my own recipes, I like to use La Vaquita. Not only is it made in Texas (pride) but each variety is always fresh, flavorful, and easily elevates my humble homemade dishes. And although the cheeses are based on Mexican techniques and go wonderfully with Hispanic cuisine, they also pair really well with other recipes. I'm sharing two of my fave La Vaquita recipes so show just how easily the brand's Queso Fresco can be included in non-Mexican food!

 

Before I get into the yummy recipes, I just have to tip my hat to food bloggers. Food prep, styling, and shooting is NOT easy! I had shot the ingredients for each recipe before having Sally take photos of me doing the assembly portion…and then I accidentally deleted all of those prep/ingredient shots. So. Frustrating. But the recipes turned out deliciously and that’s what really matters, right?

So! Each of these recipes are super yummy and I used La Vaquita Queso Fresco in both. Queso Fresco (which means “fresh cheese”) is a made from pasteurized milk and is great cheese to add to dishes because it crumbles really well, doesn’t melt easily (which makes for great mixing), and has a smooth creamy texture. Unlike a lot of other crumbling cheeses (like feta, blue cheese, etc.) Queso Fresco has a mild flavor that’s bright and fresh but not overpowering – making it especially great for a variety of dishes, both Hispanic and not. Case and point with the two recipes below!

.Hummus Fresco: Hummus is one of my favorite appetizers. It’s easy, most everyone likes eating it, and there are so many ways to dress it up. I took the original La Vaquita recipe and altered it a little bit (by not making my own pico de gallo) to make things even easier on myself. Though it’s “semi-homemade” I love how colorful the final result is and think that the hand-crumbed Queso Fresco adds a great texture element.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups hummus
  • 1/2 cup Pico de Gallo
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 cup La Vaquita Queso Fresco

Directions:

  • On a large plate, spread hummus evenly about 1 inch.
  • Sprinkle pico de gallo around the edge of the plate.
  • Drizzle hummus with olive oil
  • Crack fresh pepper on top
  • Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top of pico de gallo and/or atop hummus
  • Heap center with crumbled La Laquita Queso Fresco
  • Serve with pita or tortilla chips

.Zesty Roasted Brussel Sprouts: Brussel sprouts make for the perfect crowd-pleasing side dish and they go so well with almost any protein. I’m crazy about eating them and love cooking them, too. This recipe caught my attention because of the orange zest + honey + cayenne pepper…I’m so glad I tried making it because the combination is delicious! There’s a definitely spice factor due to the cayenne pepper and the Queso Fresco really helps the spicy from taking over.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of orange zest
  • 1/4 cup of La Vaquita Queso Fresco

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Cut brussels sprouts in half. In a large baking sheet, toss brussels in olive oil and season with salt. Roast for 25-30 minutes until deeply browned.
  • Heat honey, cayenne and orange zest together in a small sauce pan on low and pour over brussels sprouts once they are out of the oven.
  • Before serving, sprinkle in La Vaquita Queso Fresco.

The next time I make the Zesty Brussel Sprounts I want to try using half Queso Fresco and half La Vaquita Cojita cheese. Cojita is an aged cheese that has more of a salty flavor and I think it would be so yummy with the fresh Cojita and roasted brussels…

Feeling hungry? Try these dishes for yourself and visit the La Vaquita site for more yum recipes!

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The Art of La Soirée

October 20, 2016

If there was ever a dream duo for entertaining, it would be Cointreau and lifestyle & entertaining expert Camille Styles. The other week I attended a seasonal soirée hosted by the two and was blown away by how they transformed the space at Oak in Dallas into a inspired setting that told the story of changing cool-weather seasons from fall, through winter, and into the new year. Each of the three seasons was represented by its own festive tablescape and included handmade décor, seasonal cuisine and cocktail recipes, and chic mementos...

You'd think that walking into a space with such amazing decor would be intimidating but I was immediately inspired. Nothing about the soirée said "home-made" but there was an approachable, almost effortless aspect to the elevated event that made me want to try hosting my own festive gathering. I've been telling everyone I know that the Cointreau Rickey is my new drink of choice and serving them up for some of my friends seemed like the perfect excuse to get in the entertaining spirit and apply a little of what I saw at the soirée in my own space. Because if there's one thing I learned from attending the event, it's that with Cointreau it's never just a party, it's always a soirée.

 

So what is a soirée? I know…it sounds fancy. And it can be! But my take away from the night with Cointreau and Camille was that a soirée can be fancy, but it’s mostly about creating a welcoming, festive, and comfortable atmosphere for guests. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time (or money) to design an inspired gathering. Just a little creativity, and an artful twist on environment, good friends, cuisine and fine cocktails.

To bring the spirit of La Soirée to my own home I invited friends over for cocktails and appetizers before a night out and took a nod from the “fall” tablescape and scent at the event. Some wood serving pieces, copper accents, colorful autumn-hued florals, and some pumpkins conveyed the look and warmth of the season without taking things over the top. I’m all about the “elevated casual” when it comes to dressing (think silk top and ripped jeans) and entertaining (fine china and guests sitting on the sofa) so I wanted the overall feel to be pretty but feel effortless and relaxed. I always want guests to feel appreciative but not guilty over the time I spend pulling things together!

Since I was hosting people for light bites and cocktails, I wanted the main focus to be about, well, the drinks! Normally I would be intimidated about playing mixologist but the Cointreau Rickey (the brand’s signature cocktail and my new favorite) is really easy to make & customize, and I have yet to serve it to someone who didn’t also love it. To take it one step further and play up the fall theme, I wanted to serve the Cointreau Apple Rosemary Rickey – same great taste as the original with some added seasonal flavors. I set up my bar cart to just hold the tools and ingredients I needed for the drink recipe.

If you’re not familiar with Cointreau, it’s the original orange liquor known that’s a key spirit in some of the most popular cocktails in the U.S. (including the Margarita, the Cosmopolitan and the Sidecar). At 80 proof, Cointreau is extremely versatile in that can be mixed with various spirits or stand on its own in a cocktail. Basically, it’s delicious and has a refreshing taste that’s free of any bite.

Here’s how to make the delish Cointreau Apple Rosemary Rickey:

.The Recipe:

  • 2 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice (the juice of one lime)
  • 3-4 oz club soda
  • 3 slices of tart apple
  • 7 leaves of fresh rosemary

.How to Create:

  1. Muddle fresh ingredients (apple slices and rosemary)
  2. Pour 2 oz Cointreau
  3. Squeeze 1 oz fresh lime juice
  4. Add ice and club soda and stir (I like to use crushed ice though be advised that it does melt faster than cubes)
  5. Garnish rosemary sprig and slice of apple

I also found this handy YouTube video for the Cointreau Apple Rosemary Rickey recipe (I wanted to make sure I was muddling correctly!) and it just proves how easy the cocktail is to make. Best part? No mess with a shaker!

To go along with the drink I served up what I feel to be the best crowd pleaser: a cheese board. Apples slices compliment the cocktail recipe and go great with creamy brie, dried cranberries tie into the seasonal mood (Thanksgiving ’tis coming, after all!), and toasted baguette slices with soft

Feeling inspired to host your own soirée? I hope so! You can find lots more inspiration – including decor ideas, party themes, and drink recipes for every season – from Cointreau and their “The Art of La Soirée” events right here.

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Caramel-Inspired for Fall

September 27, 2016

One of my favorite parts of having a big family - aside from the constant humor "never boring" aspect that comes when we are all together - is seeing the ways that my siblings and I are alike and different. Some of us have similar features (one of my sister's has strawberry blonde hair like mine), most of us all have spirited attitudes, there's a definite split between extroverts and introverts, a few are super athletic...And while we each have specific preferences when it comes to food, we all have a definite sweet tooth and share a love for the sugary, sweet and delicious. Even my brother who is 14 months younger than me who doesn't like cake still loves a fresh chocolate chip cookie and my mom's brownies.

Some of my earliest memories are of getting suckers from the doctor's office with Sally or reaching into bowls of caramels at the bank with my brother when we'd go there with our mom. The Werther's Original caramels we used to eat as little kids are still a favorite none of us can resist. But the classic Caramel Hard Candies we'd grab by the fistful are now one of several caramel candies offered by Werther's. There's something for everyone and Werther's newest survey helps you find which delicious caramel variety best fits your personality. After taking the Werther's Original Fall Quiz and shamelessly sampling five flavors myself, I can't help but wonder which caramel personality each of my eight siblings would have.

Full disclosure, I tried the five Werther‘s flavors before I took the Fall Quiz. Being no stranger to the original caramel hard candies but a true caramel lover, I wanted to see how the Werther‘s recipe translated to their other candies. Here’s what I taste tested: the creamy filled caramels, the creamy apple filled caramels, the soft caramels, the chewy caramels, and the sugar-free caramel hard candies. I hard already determined which was my personal favorite before I took the personality survey and I was a little shocked when the quiz result told me that the caramel I’d identity with was already the one I liked best: the soft caramels. Kind of amazing!

All the caramel eating and start of the new season had me pulling out some of my caramel-inspired fall favorites. I’ve been dying to wear these new brown and black striped flats  and it finally feels appropriate to do so. Slipping on some of my other go-to fall shoes (hello leopard clogs and Golden Goose sneakers, I’ve missed you!) and mixing some of my brown and tan sweaters with white jeans is an easy way to ease into sweater weather while it’s still on the warmer side in Dallas.

Indulging in Werther’s Original caramel is as familiar as slipping on a favorite cozy sweater. And though I feel like I’ve known the flavor since I’ve been little, it’s fun to see how the candy company that established its roots in 1909 (candy-maker Gustav Nebel introduced his delicious, iconic caramel recipe in the small European village of Werther, Germany) can continue to introduce new flavors while staying true to quality ingredients many of us can identify back to our childhoods. I plan on sharing my caramel stash with Sally and a few of our friends so I can have then pick a favorite and take the fall caramel personality quiz…I’m so curious to see how many other people are able to align their tastes with the survey questions and results.

However, I’m pretty positive that any fellow caramel lover will love any of Werther’s offerings. The Soft Apple caramels are a limited edition that’s especially appropriate for the fall season (raise your hand if you ever got a caramel covered apple when trick-or-treating!) and very delicious. The caramel popcorn is another new Werther’s creation I am now dying to try. There’s even a caramel popcorn with sea salt and pretzels (um, yum) and I’m thinking it might be the perfect salty/sweet treat to indulge in!

All varieties of Werther’s Original creations are available in grocery stores and retailers nationwide. Take the Fall Quiz to discover your caramel personality before you decide which to try or just do what I did and get a few varieties that looks good then take the survey and see if it aligns with a taste-tested favorite…either way, be sure to share your results on Facebook and Twitter to show friends your true caramel identity and why you #FallForWerthers this season!

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Fall Rituals with Starbucks

September 16, 2016

I'm a believer there's never a perfect time to move - it's a grueling process no matter what - but I feel like I timed my switching of cities pretty well...the beginning of fall is such a great time to reestablish routines and reset life a little bit. The start of school, shift in seasons, kicking off of the holidays - the timing feels right to be setting up a new home and finding new rituals.

My days are hardly ever the same. My list of to-do's is always shifting based on priorities and deadlines. But because I work from home I start almost every day the same way: Blue and I wake up around 7am, I turn on my coffee maker while I walk to get him his food, I make myself a cup of coffee and turn on the news while I wait for it to brew, then I snuggle with Blue on the couch with my coffee and laptop to check emails and see what's on schedule for the day ahead. Even if the pup and I sleep in, coffee is still how I have to begin the day. It's not just a ritual, it's the ritual. But the thing about rituals is they become routine...sometimes I don't even register the taste of my coffee because I'm so accustomed to the flavor. In an effort to put some pep in my step and really embrace the fall season along with my fresh move, I've been enjoying seasonal fall flavors by Starbucks® at home.

 

When I say enjoying, I mean that I’m really taking steps to taste what I’m drinking. And when I say at home, it means I’m brewing my coffee and latte blends in my own kitchen with my Keurig maker and Starbucks K-cup pods. Some people relish going out for coffee but there’s something about making my own cups at home that has always given me a really cozy feeling. I’m sure it helps that I have Blue to give me puppy cuddles while I’m sipping but none the less, each cup of coffee feels like a familiar treat and my routine has been reinvigorated with the Sarbucks Fall flavors.

Lately I’ve been using the Starbucks Fall Blend K-Cup® pods and the Pumpkin Spice Caffé Latte K-Cup® pods. The Fall Blend is a medium roast that uses 100% Arabica beans from three regions (Sumatra, Africa, and Latin America) to create a flavorful hearty taste with a slight spice and subtle nuttiness. The Pumpkin Spice Caffé Latte is one of Starbucks’ most celebrated creations and it’s amazing that fans like me can now make them at home! The PSL K-Cup pods use real pumpkin, cinnamon and  nutmeg flavors and dairy, and is blended with Arabica coffee to make for a rich, velvety latte.

I generally always drink black coffee and opt for a latte once a week or on the weekends as a treat so it’s been fun to have savor these blends for my first week in my new Dallas home. Honestly, I feel like I could drink both varieties year round – they are that delicious – but they definitely have flavors that signify the start of the fall season.

So how is one suppose to taste the differences in an every day coffee or latte versus a seasonal blend or custom flavor? There are some tasting steps you can use to really hone your skills:

  1. Smell: some people love the smell of coffee but not the taste – this is because your nose can pick up thousands of smells where your mouth distinguishes only four types of tastes (salty, sweet, bitter, and sour). Smelling coffee before you taste it helps you absorb the flavors to come.
  2. Slurp: it’s not impolite as this is a legitimate step in the tasting process but if it would make you feel better, don’t do it in a crowded public place. Slurping is important because it sprays the coffee across your palate and lets subtle flavors and aromas reach all the tasting zones of your mouth. So now you know!
  3. Locate: you can close your eyes for this one but it’s not a requirement. Sometimes I do because then I feel more like a pro. So, try to really feel and consider the weight of the coffee and where you are experiencing the most flavor.
  4. Describe: now your brain does the work of describing what the aroma and flavor of coffee is being consumed. Sometimes you’ll be able to pick up similar food aromas (ex: Pumpkin Spice Latte!) and hopefully you can distinguish some of the tasting characteristics.

Which brings me to….the four tasting characteristics of coffee!

  1. Aroma: yup, you guessed it – this is how the coffee smells. You may be able to pick up qualities that are earthy, nutty, floral, etc. and the smells directly relate to the taste of the coffee.
  2. Acidity: coffee has a tanginess or tartness (which is why some people don’t prefer it as a beverage) that can range between low, medium or high. Coffees with a high acidity are described as “bright, tangy, and crisp” and have a clean finish. Low acidity coffees will feel more smooth and linger in your mouth longer.
  3. Body: not how a coffee looks (hehe) but the weight of it on your tongue as you taste it. Body is described as light, medium, or full. Light bodies coffees feel light on the tongue (think of a non-fat milk) and full body blends feel heavier and have lingering flavor (think of a whole milk).
  4. Flavor: this is pretty simple – it’s how the coffee tastes. Sometimes the taste is obvious and other times it is less detectible. Go back to the above “tasting steps” and concentrate on the flavors you might be picking up (like citrus, cocoa, and berry).

What I love about coffee is that don’t have to be a coffee tasting pro or flavor guru to enjoy drinking it. And what I love about Starbucks is that they’ve made the delicious blends and flavors they’re famous for accessible and easy to make at home. You can get all three of Sarbucks’ fall flavors – the Fall Blend, Pumpkin Spice Caffé Latte (yum) and Salted Caramel Hot Cocoa (I’m dying to try this next!) – at Wal-Mart and, when you buy any three qualifying Starbucks (listed here!) from Wal-Mart you can get 75 Stars! Get all the details on the Starbucks Reward offer here.

And please, do share if you have any daily rituals you might be changing up with the start of the fall season…I’m definitely looking for more ways to subtly shift my routines to celebrate my very favorite time of year!

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