HOW TO THROW A SUCCESSFUL WINE AND CHEESE PARTY IN YOUR TWENTIES

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** This post is a paid article in collaboration with Castello Cheese. All opinions and recipes are my own. **

Gone are the days of chips left in cellophane bags and watered down beers or boxed wine. An elegant, yet easy wine and cheese party is within your reach. Here are some helpful hints to throwing a successful wine and cheese party in your twenties (and thirties, or forties…) on the fly.

  1. KISS – Keep It Simple….Sally If you’re inviting more than four people to your home, keep the cooking low-key, as in not at all. I love no-cook recipes and apps. Pickles (like small and salty cornichons), flavorful cheeses, full-bodied or light wines, herbed crackers, pre-made spreads and sauces and precut vegetables or washed fruit are your best friend. Unless you are inviting over a group of sommeliers, I wouldn’t agonize over the vintage of the wine or if it pairs perfectly with the cheese or hors d’oeuvres. Just present what you like and what tastes good to you – isn’t that what having “good taste” is? No need to have precise measurements with the food either.
  2. Sharing is caring. Invite guests to bring over their favorite bottle of wine or easy homemade or store bought appetizer (people like trying their hand at Top Chef – let them). However, if it is not explicitly a potluck, I refrain from requiring or implying that guests bring over anything. You want to welcome them into your home, not make it seem like this is a business transaction. Make sure to have serving utensils and plates prepared for your guests’ food. Food looks more beautiful and appetizing on a simple plate than left in the plastic wrap or foil it traveled in.
  3. Use what you have on hand – Leftover jam? Slather them on crackers and top with cheese. Cinnamon sticks and half a bottle of whiskey? Thank goodness someone brought cider because now you can quickly heat up hot apple cider with a kick. There is no need to go out and buy brand new food if you can whip up a great appetizer using food items you already have on hand. Just make sure the food you already have is clean, unspoiled and of good quality. The beauty about hors d’oeuvres is that you can get crafty in the kitchen – I always say limitation breeds creativity.
  4. Dress it up – A lovely wooden cutting board, simple clean wine glasses, a couple of lit candles, soft music or a clear vase full of flowers (no arranging necessary) instantly class up your wine and cheese gathering. A lovely pitcher for water instead of leaving the clunky Brita filter out on the table sends the message that you also thought about your guests’ thirst – always a good idea to keep the party hydrated. Aim for table settings that look perfectly disheveled- like a model. You want it to say, “I woke up like this.” Note: An artful drizzle of honey or sauce on a cheese board goes a long way.
  5. Break out the silver – Clean up might be easier, but next level parties use real ceramic, glass and silverware. No more SOLO cups or leftover takeout utensils. Plus, you’re saving the earth and reusing items you already have.
  6. Enjoy yourself. Parties are supposed to be fun, right? So enjoy the company of your guests, food and wine. Don’t worry about the party being perfect – your guests came to see you and enjoy you’re company too, so don’t be holed up in the kitchen or running back and forth like a busy bee fawning over people.

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Now, to the food…

If stinky cheeses are the irritable, spinster aunt only a select few take a liking to, then Havarti is everyone’s favorite uncle. Of all the cheeses, Havarti might be my favorite. It’s buttery rich, yet mild creamy flavor is welcome in any setting across a variety of palates- such as a simple wine and cheese get-together of twenty 20-somethings in a cramped New York City apartment.

This versatile, semi-firm Danish cow’s milk table cheese can be sliced, grilled or melted. Washed curds give it a pleasing mild, subtle flavor and a buttery aroma. It’s lovely cream to yellow color lends itself to being a canvas for other brightly pigmented accompaniments such as jewel-toned jams, deeply colored vegetable greens and fiery red sauces. Unlike perfectly smooth, level cheeses, Havarti has small, irregular openings, or “eyes.” I like that – ultra-smoothness or perfection (in anything) can make me squeamish. It’s quite popular as a dessert cheese, and great served with fruit and wine.

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TIME FOR DIMES + SHOPSINS POUTINE + CAFE ORLIN PUMPKIN PANCAKES

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sayonara summer tacos from Dimes

We said goodbye to

Summer in tacos

Greet fall with gravy

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waffle fries poutine with curds and gravy from Shopsin’s

The cold air of fall

Means stacks of pumpkin pancakes

I can’t get enough

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pumpkin pancakes from Cafe Orlin

THUMBS UP FIVE LEAVES

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There is nothing I enjoy more than spending a frigid, cold Sunday morning with a mug of hot coffee, pancakes and some good company. Some places are better for doing this than others: in bed with a thick comforter, the kitchen table with wafting cooking smells, or Five Leaves. This small, corner street local Greenpoint establishment always has a pack of groupies crowding around it’s door – day or night. Evening on a breathtakingly cold Sunday at 10 AM, there was a throng of bundled up couples and trios, waiting their death sentence of an hour to be seated at a table. Luckily, my party of two was seated after a mere 20 minutes (HA!). I felt slightly triumphant that somehow I only waited a handful of moments whilst the rest of the sniffling hopefuls outside were still eking it out. The hostess was super friendly and cheery, which instantly made me friendly and cheery back ( I think that might have been why I won the lotto so quickly). People were even agreeing to eat on the outside sidewalk cafe, sipping their cold Bloody Mary’s in even the colder, icy air.

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While I was really craving a Ceci Cela croissant, my love of pancakes won over (as it always does). After ordering an Americano  (lukewarm, okay at best), I was greeted quickly by a stack of fluffy, lovely smelling ricotta pancakes, layered with sliced bananas and crowned with a bevy of strawberries and blueberries and a dollop of whipped honeycomb butter. Aside from the presentation ,there were no bells and whistles to these pancakes – just perfection. I might even say they rivaled that of Clinton Street Baking Company’s ‘cakes (maybe). That might be crossing the line. Five Leaves ricotta pancakes were completely satisfying and lush though. I speared bites of the Big Breakkie across the table – standard poached eggs with hash browns, whole wheat toast and avocado. The fritter-like hash browns were my favorite – crispy on the outside, soft and hot on the inside, with a spicy little kick.

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Fives Leaves

http://fiveleavesny.com/

18 BEDFORD AVE., GREENPOINT, BK, 11222

718-383-5345  •  OPEN DAILY 8AM – 1AM

COOKIE SHOT ATTEMPT

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This is a real-life photograph of the coveted cookie shot by Dominique Ansel at his SoHo bakery, taken (and eaten) by yours truly. It was $3 of pure heaven and luck. I walked in at the right time and didn’t have to wait a single second in a line. It was warm, just-soft- enough cookie, filled with lightly vanilla-infused milk. If only I could pound shots like these at the bar on Saturday night instead of bottom shelf tequila.

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This is my cookie shot. To be fair, I made it at 1 AM one night when I was more than a little sauced up. Aesthetics aside, it held up very well, and it was damn delicious. The cookie structure was made using my chocolate chip sea salt cookie recipe. Instead of dairy-milk, I whisked some vanilla extract into unsweetened soy milk, which was just as tasty as Dom’s.

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Since I needed to make the most of my visit to DA, I also dined on the hybrid banana bread tiramisu (underwhelming, folks – not banana-y or either tiramisu-y enough),  a frozen s’mores, perfect little egg sandwich, waffle affogato and the DKA (not to worry – I had a partner in crime to help split these treats with me).  To be honest, the perfect little egg sandwich, cookie shot and DKA were the snacks that really took the cake. If you have the good fortune of not getting mobbed by a crowd next time you’re in SoHo, try those out!

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Cookie Shot by Yours Truly

Ingredients

For the cookies (Chocolate Chip Sea Salt Cookie recipe):

  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1  ice cube ( or 2 tablespoons frozen water)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt 
  •  3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  •  1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons tightly packed dark brown sugar
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips or  roughly chopped semi-sweet chocolate bar into 1/2- to 1/4-inch pieces
  • Coarse sea salt 

For the cookie shots:

  • 1 cup dark chocolate candy melts or chips
  • 1 1/2 cups your favorite milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook butter while gently swirling pan constantly, until butter begins to turn golden brown and  smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Pour into a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, and put into refrigerator. Allow to cool completely, whisking occasionally.
  2. While butter cools, whisk  flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Put granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in a bowl or  the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk manually or on medium high speed until mixture is pale brownish-yellow and falls off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted, about 5 minutes.
  3. When brown butter mixture has cooled, add brown sugar and cooled brown butter to egg mixture. If using a standing mixer, mix on medium speed with a paddle to combine, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined but some dry flour still remains, about 15 seconds. Add chocolate and mix on low until dough comes together, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate dough at least overnight and up to three days.
  4. When ready to bake, remove cookie dough from fridge and let warm up at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes, or until pliable.
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the molds of a popover pan.
  6. Form the cookie shots inside the molds, making the walls of the cookie shot about 1/4 inch thick. Chill for 20 to 30 minutes before baking.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the cookies just start to brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool completely.
  8. Melt chocolate candy melts, and then pour the melted chocolate into the well of each cookie. Let it sit for a minute, and then pour the excess chocolate back into the pan. Chill cookie shots until the chocolate has set.
  9. Mix together milk and vanilla extract, and serve inside each cookie shot.

TORTILLA ESPANOLA + RIOJA = A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN

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//This post is in collaboration with Honest Cooking and Rioja Wines #matchmadeinheaven. All thoughts and opinions are my own//

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Tortilla española, or a Spanish omelette, is just about the most quintessential common Spanish fare. It can be found in the most grimy cervecería (bar) or upscale restaurant. History documents la tortilla española as dating back to the discovery of the Americas, although it was initially only made with eggs.

In a letter from the conquistador Hernán Cortés to the emperor Carlos V, Cortés explains how the Aztecs sold omelettes of cooked eggs in the markets of Tenochtitlan. The potato, native to South America, was later added to the recipe.

The most traditional recipe simply calls for eggs, olive oil and potatoes, although just about any other ingredient may be added to make it your own. This is a classic preparation of tortilla española, as I learned it from my host mother or señora, Cota, while living in Madrid.

Sip a glass of bright and fruit-driven rioja as you cook, like Marques de Riscal Proximo Rioja 2009. A silky, soft prologue to dinner, this plummy rioja is also a wonderful complement to drink with the humble tortilla española – and affordably priced (<$20).

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Kitchen Notes: This trifecta of pantry staples quickly comes together to form a fast and easy breakfast, lunch, dinner – or post-party snack. It is like pizza in that it is perfect a day old and cold. Make a couple of tortillas at once – one to eat now and freeze the other for later (it keeps very well wrapped tightly in tin foil).

Tortilla Española a la Cota: (Serves 2)

Ingredients

- 2 medium sized potatoes

- 1 medium sized onion

- extra virgin olive oil

- 4 medium eggs

-salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Peel potatoes and cut into thin slices width-wise; place into a bowl and mix with a little salt.
  2. Peel and cut onion into long, thin slices.
  3. Heat about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of olive oil into the large frying pan on a medium level flame.
  4. Slightly  brown the onions, separating the slices using a wooden spoon. Tip: The oil is ready when you throw in a little slice of onion  and bubbles form around it.
  5. Once the onions are slightly browned, add potatoes; stir often.
  6. Cook until potatoes soften and are semi-transparent; remove from heat.
  7. Beat eggs in the medium-sized bowl.
  8. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the onions and potatoes, draining them of the olive oil; place in bowl with the beaten eggs and  mix until just combined with a few dashes of salt.
  9.  Thoroughly coat a separate small to medium frying pan using some of the leftover olive oil from the potatoes and onions; heat on a medium level flame.
  10. Pour the potato, onion and egg mixture into the pan, forming it into the round shape of the pan with a fork.
  11. Cook for 3-5 minutes or until bottom of tortilla is golden brown (use a spatula to lift up the bottom and check).
  12. Once the bottom is cooked, cover the pan with a lid, flip the tortilla over onto the top and gently place back into the small pan to finish cooking the other side, 3-5 minutes.
  13. Serve warm with bread or sliced chorizo and add salt to taste. And of course, a glass of rioja.

Stay connected to your favorite wine region by joining the Rioja Wine mailing list. It’s fast and simple! Just click on the banner above and fill out the form. You’ll automatically be entered for a chance to win a festive wine dinner. Good luck! #riojabuzz #matchmadeinheaven

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CINNAMON ROLL WAFFLES

Cinnamon roll waffles

I love cinnamon rolls. I love waffles. So I made a cinnamon roll waffle. It was too easy. It was too tasty.

CINNAMON ROLL WAFFLES

INGREDIENTS

  • Cinnamon roll dough in a tube (comes with icing)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat and spray a waffle iron with cooking spray.
  2. When iron is hot, place one cinnamon in the center of iron and bake until golden brown. Repeat with remaining rolls.
  3. Squeeze icing over waffles and eat.

PAPRIKA SPICED RED BELL PEPPER HUEVOS RANCHEROS W/ GUAC

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These paprika spiced huevos rancheros are teeming with vegetables – red bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro and avocado. Plus, you can make it pretty much in a single skillet (minus the guac – you probably want to keep that away from the heat, duh). You even cook (poach) the eggs in the skillet as the veggies soften – just shove them to the side to make their own little hole and they’ll cook up just fine. It’s a pretty visually appealing presentation too; perfect if you’re having guests over for breakfast, lunch or my fave, brunch. It’s all a bit of chopping, sautéing, mashing and presto change-o, you’ve got a pan of red hot deliciousness. Plus, this dish has a ton of vitamin C, lycopene and healthy monosaturated fats.

PAPRIKA SPICED RED BELL PEPPER HUEVOS RANCHEROS W/ GUAC

HUEVOS RANCHEROS INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut or olive oil
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced into strips
  • 2 cans whole peeled tomatoes or 10 medium tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • lime juice to taste

GUACAMOLE INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large ripe avocado
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons diced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

DIRECTIONS

  1.  Sauté the onion, garlic, spices and bay leaves in olive or coconut oil for 5 minutes or until softened but not browned.
  2. Add the red peppers and sauté for another 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the  tomatoes. Add water and bay leaves. Season with paprika, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes or until you have a thick sauce. Stir occasionally.
  4. While the sauce thickens, scoop out your avocado flesh into a bowl. Mash the rest of the guacamole ingredients together and season. Set aside.
  5. Make 4 holes in the tomato sauce with a spoon and crack an egg into each one. Eggs will poach in 4 minutes (yolks will be runny – cook 1-2 minutes longer if you prefer). Remove from heat.
  6. Add spoonfuls of guacamole between the eggs. Season with a dash of cilantro and squeeze of lime juice.