Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wine for Dinner

Wine for Dinner

"I'm having fruit salad for dinner. Well, it's mostly grapes actually. OK, all grapes. Fermented grapes. I'm having wine for dinner."

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wickets Bar and Grill, Schaumburg, IL

Wickets Bar and Grill

Walking into Wickets, you'd be forgiven for thinking it a typical bar and grill. Forgiven, because you'd be wrong. A quick look at the menu shows some unusual choices, a variety of cultures represented. That's not to say you can't get a burger, fries, and beer -- you'd just miss out by not exploring the offerings. The owners are from India, so dishes from their homeland are represented, but there is also Tex-Mex and more.

Even though I saw one of my favorites on the menu, the Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc, I instead opted for the Spy Valley (Marlborough, NZ) Sauvignon Blanc 2011, in order to taste something new. A bit on the sweet side, it was a nice foil to the variety of spices during the meal.

The Firesteed (Willamette Valley, OR) Riesling 2009 was quite a bit drier than expected, but still plenty of spicy fruit flavor, also a great accompaniment to the dishes.

Masi Compofiorin (Veneto) Meritage 2008 was on the dry side for me, but Laima really enjoyed it, and it went well with the heartier plates we had ordered (and not).

Trivento Golden (Chile) Malbec 2009 was typically earthy and dry, as so many Chilean wines are. Love that they reflect where they come from so well!

The surprise of the night was the Heavy Weight Wines (Lodi, CA) Old Vine Zinfandel 2009 – in a word, amazing. Much richer and full-flavored than expected, it was a wine I could have drank all evening. I’ll be on the lookout for this in the local wine store.

Wickets Bar and Grill Appetizers


From the selection of Buffalo, BBQ or Chipotle Honey Glaze options, Laima ordered 4 Regular Wings and 4 Boneless in Buffalo and the Chipotle, in order to sample the variety. Served with Carrots, Celery and Ranch or Blue Cheese Dressing, these were a great way to start her meal.

I started with Spinach Samosas, flat and therefore different than the ones I’ve had before. Strongly spiced, stuffed with potatoes and spinach, an optional corn salsa completed each tasty bite.

The Roasted Tomato Soup with Fresh Basil was made with a veggie stock for me, rather than the usual chicken – during the entire meal, options were never a problem, making it easy to sample a wide variety of options. The Grilled Cheese “Croutons” on the side were incredibly tasty as well. It was hard to push this aside for the following dishes.

A Brick Oven Flatbread topped with brie, caramelized red onions, and papaya is a special that wasn’t on the menu, but we were happy to try it for the chef. While tasty, it ended up being a bit sweet – we would have left the papaya off or replaced the brie with a sharper, tangier cheese to create more contrast.

Wickets Bar and Grill Salads


Laima’s Harvest Salad Mixed Greens with Arugula, Roasted Pears, Crumbled Bleu Cheese,
and Candied Walnuts drizzled with a White Balsamic Vinaigrette was enough food for a meal on its own. Great flavor mixture!

A Quinoa Salad that sometimes appears on the specials menu should make the move to a regular menu soon, as it was simple, light, and went with pretty much all the other dishes.

Same sentiment for the Roasted Vegetables – we couldn’t identify every vegetable, but they were perfectly done, from the softer root veggies to the crisp Brussels sprouts. I suggested they replace half the fries that came with the sandwich with this!

Wickets Bar and Grill Entrees


Laima’s Beef Fajitas sautéed with Onion, Red and Green Peppers, were served with Flour Tortillas. The entrée was accompanied by Refried Beans, Rice and a Salad that served double duty as a topping. Super tasty and plenty to take home for a lunch the next day.

Butternut squash ravioli were another off-menu item sent out by the chef. I’ve never seen them served with a white sauce before. While definitely tasty, I still prefer them simpler, with just a bit of oil rather than a sauce.

The Vegetable Sandwich I ordered was a big surprise – it was cold! Herb Grilled Vegetables (Oven Roasted Plum Tomato, Zucchini) with Fresh Mozzarella, Garlic Basil Mayo, really a nicely put together sandwich, didn’t fall apart as I ate it, even though it was layered high, The coldness added a nice contrast to the rest of the meal.

Wickets Bar and Grill Sizzling Brownie


For dessert, we had to check out the Wickets Special Sizzling Brownie – turns out this is a favorite dessert in India! the brownie is served table side in a steaming hot fajita pan. When the House-made Fudge Sauce is poured over, it sizzles and bubbles away, hence the name. Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream made the heat manageable, so we ate pretty much every last bite! With the brownie we received glasses of a ruby port (producer slips my mind), such a great pairing – would have never thought of the brownie and this wine together. A perfect way to end the meal.

Whether you are headed to the mall, to the cinema next door, or even in the general direction of Schaumburg, make sure to make time to stop in. A welcoming atmosphere, great service, food for everyone's taste and diet, along with a winning bar menu make for an amazing experience.

Check out the restaurant on the Wickets Bar and Grill website, by liking on Facebook, and following on Twitter.

Wickets Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

This meal was comped for review purposes - no further compensation was offered or received. A favorable review was not guaranteed and all opinions are my own.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tranquility Vineyard and Winery

Tramquility Vineyards and Winery

A new and private, member’s only vineyard and winery opening in Southern California. Nestled in the beautiful San Jacinto Mountains, in the city of Hemet, Tranquility Vineyard and Winery will be producing six different types of wines for its members. These wines are; three reds (Angelico, Barbera and Teroldego) and three whites (Fiona, Viognier and Muscat Blanc).

While members eagerly await the production of Tranquility’s signature wines, they can enjoy all the amenities and benefits included with their membership starting this May. These include access to the completely renovated 100 year-old carriage house with its amazing veranda, cigar lounge and wine storage facility. The carriage house, overlooking the entire property which boasts many acres of wine grape rows will host Tranquility’s wine tastings, pairing parties, dinner parties and is available to members for private events. Just outside the carriage house is a three stage waterway complete with lakes, waterfalls, walking-bridges and gazebo. The estate offers its members a putting and chipping green, magnificent botanical garden as well as the amazing wine cave.

The rootstock, grafted with seedlings, is set to be planted mid March of this year. Prior to the wine grapes that are begin grown there, members will enhance their experience by savoring wines produced in the winery from other vineyards grapes. The carriage house will open April 1, 2013 to the media, and members will begin touring the grounds May 1, 2013. The botanical gardens and wine cave are scheduled to open by June, 2013.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Strong Waters Book Review

Strong Waters Book Cover

Strong Waters: A Simple Guide to Making Beer, Wine, Cider and Other Spirited Beverages at Home (New York , NY: 2010, The Experiment Publishing), by Scott Mansfield is a deceptively simple-looking book. This book contains a wide-ranging array of incredible recipes for making alcoholic beverages at home, some easy, others not. The ingredients range from things you probably have in your pantry right now, items easily purchased from the local grocery store, all the way to the truly exotic (violet blossoms anyone?).

It will be a blast to create, then taste, my way through this book. To start, I opted for the Raspberry Liqueur, with 3 ingredients one of the simplest of recipes. Take 2 pounds raspberries, add 1 ½ Cups sugar, marinate in vodka for 2 weeks, strain, top off, wait another 2 weeks, and voila -- Raspberry Liqueur!

Making Raspberry Liqueur

If you have any interest in home brewing, vinifying, infusing, and more, get your hands on this book. Part resource, part inspiration, part guide, this will have you drinking from your homemade cellar in no time.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review purposes, free of charge, and no further compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Loving Hut Vegan Restaurant, Pittsburgh

I was in the Pittsburgh area last week for work and, while searching for healthier restaurants in the area, came across the Loving Hut, a vegan option, something totally unexpected. Loving Hut has more than 200 franchise locations around the world and each is individually owned, with the freedom to choose its own menu, thus giving a distinctive difference among all of our locations.

I ended up enjoying my first dinner so much that I went back the second night as well! I may have gone a bit overboard with ordering, but I wanted to give it justice. Both nights I ordered carryout and paired with the hotel's house Sauvignon Blanc, an inspired pairing!

Loving Hut Appetizers


Crispy Rolls -- carrots, mungbean, fungus, vermicelli, tofu, with sweet sour sauce. Not sure how some restaurants do it when others can't, but these rolls stayed steaming hot (as did all the food), even after the drive back to my hotel, an extended wait at the hotel bar for a glass of wine, and then up to my room. Very tasty.

Golden Wontons -- home made wontons: vegan ham paste, dried mushroom jicama, with plum sauce. Slightly too much wrapper to filling, but hot and tasty!

Jumbo Drumsticks -- made with King mushrooms, Snow White mushroom, tofu, soy ham, Enoki, ginger sauce and sesame seed. I must admit that, while these tasted pretty good, they were also somewhat creepy, as they mimicked chicken tenders too closely for my taste.

Loving Hut Entrees

Lucky Chowmein -- stir fried yellow noodles with broccolli, cauliflower, carrot, bokchoy, bell pepper, fresh mushroom, cabbage, onion, garlic, cilantro and soy protein, tofu and vegetarian mushroom sauce. One of the better chow meins I've had recently. Veggies remained crisp, noodles were firm.

Fabulous Mongolian -- soy protein slices, red and green bellpeppers, onions, green onions, celery, cilantro and with hoisin sauce, with a side of brown or white rice with sesame seeds. Good replica of Mongolian Beef, tasty, hot, plenty of veggies as well.

Loving Hut Desserts

Chocolate Cake the first night was quite good, though a bit dry. Chocolate chips throughout saved the day. Pandan Cake the second night was a lurid green, a bit on the sweet side, but an interesting new dessert to have tried.

Finding a restaurant while on travel that is 100% vegan was a godsend and I enjoyed both meals. One complaint is that the dishes remain too committed to copying/replacing the meat versions -- since the menu is heavily based on Vietnamese cuisine (in my opinion), it seems like they could have focused just a bit more on the vegetables themselves. That being said, everything was very tasty, remained piping hot until I was ready to eat, and paired wonderfully with my wine choice.

Loving Hut on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Quick and Easy Vegan Slow Cooking

Quick and Easy Vegan Slow Cooking

With 4 kids and the entailing soccer practices, guitar, piano, playdates, and so on, not to mention our own busy lives, it's imperative that our meals generally be easy to make, the healthier the better. I was excited to take a look at this vegan cookbook, Quick and Easy Vegan Slow Cooking (New York, NY: The Experiment, 2012), by Carla Kelly, because it seemed to perfectly fit the bill.

Easy to find ingredients, simple preparation, and the slow cooker means it's ready when you need it and not hurriedly thrown together. This cookbook will definitely get serious rotation for meal planning. This weekend we tried the Sweet Potato with Lime Soup and everybody loved it. To the basic soup I would add a grain for more texture, as well as a protein source to make it a more complete meal. Otherwise, simple and tasty always work for me!

About the Author: Carla Kelly is an experienced cook and baker, having started well before the age of ten. As the eldest of five children, she often made baked treats and dinner for her family. She has been a vegan for over five years and a vegetarian for fifteen more before that, and has developed recipes to suit herself and her family on this journey. She writes the popular blog The Year of the Vegan ( and lives in British Columbia with her family.

This product was provided to me at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was provided. A positive review was not guaranteed and all opinions are my own.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Meatless Monday: Sweet Potato Soup with Lime

To me, winter means plenty of opportunities to make soup. Usually thick, hearty meals that are chock full of veggies and a grain or beans (or both) for some texture. When I saw the recipe for this Sweet Potato with Lime Soup, I knew I had to try it as an alternative.

Sweet Potato with Lime Soup

Sweet Potatoes
Black Pepper
Chopped Onion
Chopped Garlic
Chopped Celery (I forgot this)
Lime Zest
Lime Juice
Vegetable Stock
Coconut Milk
Preheat oven to 425. Toss cubed sweet potatoes with oil, black pepper, and salt. Roast until soft and lightly caramelized. Use stock to deglaze roasting pan, add to slow cooker along with remaining ingredients, reserving lime juice and lime zest. Set slow cooker to Low and cook 5 hours. Using an immersion blender, process until smooth, then add lime juice to taste. Ladle into bowls, garnish with lime zest, and serve.

This was a fantastic soup, and so easy to make. The sweet potatoes are quite sweet, but the lime adds a nice tart contrast. We added toasted pine nuts for some crunch and as a source of protein.

Recipe from Carla Kelly’s Quick and Easy Vegan Slow Cooking (New York, NY: The Experiment, 2012)

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wine Quote: W.E.P. French

Wine Quote WEP French

"Here's to the corkscrew - a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly."

   -- W.E.P. French                                                          

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Carlucci, Downers Grove, IL

With our kitchen demoed and awaiting remodeling, we switched back and forth between microwave and carry out dinners. One night I decided to bring it up a notch and order from Carlucci Downers Grove, a local Italian restaurant with a decent reputation. I started by visiting their website, which directed me to GrubHub for online ordering. After several attempts (we had decided early in the day to order dinner, but the dinner menu was unavailable until later in the day), I finally entered the order, only to find out that GrubHub doesn't have a way to request a pickup time, which is pretty standard on other online services. Thus, a phone order  was required.

Carlucci Downers Grove

We decided to treat it as a typical sit-down meal, ordering an appetizer, a pizza, and an entree.

To start, we went with Bocci Balls Arancini (breaded deep fried risotto balls with fresh mozzarella, Pecorino, peas and tomato sauce). Next up was the Melanzana Pizza (lightly grilled eggplant, roasted garlic cream sauce, mozzarella and Parmigiano). To finish, the Ravioli di Zucca (hand made roasted butternut squash ravioli with brown butter, crispy sage and crushed amaretto cookies).

When I arrived at the restaurant, I was directed to the bar to pick up my order - a quick glance into the dining room made it appear both comfortable and luxurious, not an easy line to straddle. The bar was full of folks drinking cheerfully among the holiday decorations. Settling up was no problem and the food came out at the time promised on the phone, a big plus in my mind. Not sure if it's typical, but the appetizer and entree had plastic wrap around the take-out containers, a nice touch when the air outside was below freezing - our food was still warm after a 10 minute drive home and setting up for dinner.

Carlucci Downers Grove Food

All three dishes were outstanding -- one criticism I've heard about Carlucci is that their food is salty, but I found the dishes seasoned just right. An order of pizza dough type bread fingers was included at no charge, which was great for sopping up the sauces, a nice touch by the restaurant.

While the food tasted really wonderful, something seemed to be missing. After talking it over, we decided that, for the cost (about $40), the price should have included service, ambiance, and maybe some of the Friday Penny Wine Carlucci is known for. Ultimately, the food couldn't justify the price on its own as take out. We're looking forward to visiting Carlucci, eating in, and seeing if the experience can match the great taste of the food.

Carlucci Downers Grove on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vickery Park Pinot Noir Brut Rose

Vickery Park Pinot Noir Brut Rose

We tried this wine on New Year's Eve: lovely light pink color, great berry scent and aromas, along with nice yeasty component. Nice acidity and beautifully balanced. Laima usually likes drier wines, while I like them a bit sweeter, and this wine hit a perfect midrange that had us both pleased.

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