Category Archives: wine

Hiatus – Studying some wine

So as much as it pains me to say this, I will be taking a brief hiatus from posting. While I have a backlog of delicious recipes and so much to share with you all, I have been busy studying for my sommelier exam taking place in June.

I know that I have told some of you about this, but I have started the Court of Master Sommeliers program. It’s 4 levels with the first as an introductory course and exam.

I will still be all over Twitter and will always respond to any comments you leave here. And while I may post once or twice before the exam, I promise to share everything with you after and deliver some yummy springtime recipes!


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Guest Post! Scavenged Dinner-Leftover Wine Pasta Sauce

As some of you know (or perhaps have guessed by this point), Ben and I both LOVE food…and we love to cook together. He is a pretty great cook and is phenomenal at whipping up meals out of the food that’s left in the fridge when we haven’t had a chance to go to the grocery store. That being said, he made a great dinner on Tuesday night for himself (I had book club) and was so sweet to put together a lunch “to-go” container for me for the next 2 days. It was some of the best pasta sauce that I’ve had. He offered to guest post about it, so without further ado…

On my ride home on the bus I realized that I wanted to make dinner so I picked up a jar of pasta sauce from the Seven-Eleven between the bus stop and Annie’s apartment. The jar of Ragu was the only thing that I bought to make this sauce. I bought the only jar that they had which was a plain type of sauce, I think basil and tomato.

A note before going further: I don’t really measure anything when I cook and I recommend you to do the same. I cook to taste. I add and add until I think it tastes or looks right. This does make for mistakes and recipes not coming out the way that I thought they would, but I believe that I makes me a better cook because I can learn from my mistakes.  So please forgive me for my vague recipe.

I started the water boiling for the pasta. (Every kitchen should always have some kind of pasta.) It doesn’t matter the type of pasta. This was soccer-shaped pasta that we got in a gift bag at a wedding.

I put a medium pot on the burner on medium-low. While the pot was heating up, I took one slice of thick cut bacon that I had in the freezer and cut it up into very small pieces. I used scissors to cut it because it was difficult to cut while frozen. I put the bacon into the pot and let all of the fat melt.

I grabbed some not so good looking Kale from the fridge and using my hands ripped it into small pieces throwing out the mushy bits (in total I used about a cup of kale). I turned up the heat on the pot and added the kale. (I did not add any salt because I was using some of my home-cured bacon which was a bit salty, but if you are using less salty bacon I would recommend adding a pinch of salt here.)

I added some dried minced garlic, dried parsley, and dried basil. I sprinkled each of them. Add as much of each to your level or preference of each of the flavors. I was heavy on the garlic, light on the parsley, and used a healthy dose of basil.

I let the kale get nice and fried and let the bacon get just a bit crispy. You will know when it is right from the smell. I ran into an issue here because I needed something to sweeten up the sauce. My original thought was to use honey because it was one of only a couple items left in the kitchen to eat. (If you try this with honey, please let me know how it goes).

I had a bit of luck here. Annie had previously been home and she had a glass of Gewurztraminer, a sweet aromatic wine that Annie is very partial to. She left it for me to finish and I decided that this would be sweetening agent that I needed. I added enough wine to cover the bottom of the pot with a decent layer to de-glaze the pot. This got up all the good flavors that were crusted to bottom of the pot. I let the wine sizzle of a minute or two then turned the heat down to low.

I added the pasta into the boiling pot at this point. I also added some of store-bought sauce to the sauce pot at this point. I added only enough to give it the desired volume of sauces. I think I used about half the jar. When the pasta was al dente, the sauce was warm and ready to eat.

I was really suprised at how well it came out. I think it was one of the best “scavenged dinners” I have ever made. In fact, it was a lot better than some of the nicer dinners I have ever made. Enjoy.


  • 1 Jar of regular pasta sauce
  • 1 slice of thick cut bacon
  • Dried minced garlic
  • Dried Parsley
  • Dried Basil
  • Kale (Fresh would be best)
  • A glass of half drank Gewurztraminer
  • 1 lb of pasta
  • Kosher salt

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Date Night: Custom House

Who doesn’t love a good date night? Ben and I both LOVE food and especially love good food. I have a tendency to purchase all of the delicious Groupons to fabulous Chicago restaurants. Last weekend: Custom House Tavern.

Unfortunately, the ambiance was so wonderful (and low-light…in a good way) that I do not have any pictures. I do, however, have the tasting menu and our wine pairing! YUM!

We started with a Roasted Squash Salad with Frisee, Bacon and Maple Yogurt paired with a 2009 Big Fire Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I don’t think that there could have been a more perfect start to the meal. I love squash, especially in the winter. The bacon maple yogurt was a lovely salty/sweet addition. The Pinot Gris had wonderful minerality.

Course 2 was a Seared Sea Scallop on top of a Braised Pork Belly with Grits and a Tart Cherry Mustard. I love everything about this dish: scallops, pork belly, and a good grainy mustard! Each bite of this dish had all of the sweet savory and delicious elements. It was even better with the wine pairing: 2009 Cotes du Rhone by Les Vin de Vienne from the Rhone Valley.

Our final savory course was Beef Short Ribs with a Potato Puree, Cipollinis, Chard, and Tomato Jam. Again delicious. (I really had nothing bad to say about this meal.) Paired with a 2008 Hudson Shah Malbec from the Wahluke Slope in Washington State.

Finished the meal off with the best part of the whole meal: DESSERT!! A Dark Chocolate Ganche (to die for) with Verjus, Violet, and Cassia Bud Sherbet. So phenomenal there aren’t even words to describe. There was a really great cinnamon chocolate combination and the sherbet and violet added just enough sweetness. Paired with 2009 Moscato d’Asti Cascinetti Vieti from Veneto Italy. I’m normally not a huge dessert wine person, but this was lovely.

All in all, definitely heading back to Custom House Tavern again. Deets: 500 S Dearborn Chicago IL 60605 – (312) 523-0200

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Bottlenotes 80 Sips Challenge: The Challenge

As I’ve mentioned, I’m always ready to do some sipping (especially something new), but little did I know that the challenge would not be as much tasting 6 different wines in one evening as it would be finding an open bar on a Monday night.

The challenge has 4 participating bars (continuing through Jan. 31): HUB51, Gilt Bar, Maude’s Liquor Bar, & Naha. As we started the challenge at HUB51, Jess, Martha, & I decided to try Maude’s Liquor Bar which we all had been dying to try.

Unfortunately, Maude’s wasn’t open – minus. Never fear, we decided to head to River North to Gilt Bar as I had never been there. Problem: also closed.

Now I should remind everyone that all of this occurred in January, on a MONDAY, in Chicago. (Read: It’s cold and we were thirsty.) So knowing that HUB51 was both open and nearby, we agreed to complete the challenge where started it.

To complete the challenge, we needed to try one wine from each of the following wineries, as well as 2 additional selections from Italy & France chosen by the bar:

  • Chateau Montelena (One of my favorites)
  • Domaine Carneros
  • Greg Norman Estates
  • Brancott

Having tasted the Domaine Carneros the week prior, Jess started with a Brancott Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand (which we believed to be a 2009). (None of the vintages were listed on the menu.) Martha selected a 2008 Patch Block Cabernet Sauvignon from France, and I ordered the 2009 Chateau Montelena Riesling.

The Sauv Blanc & Riesling were initially delivered to us incorrectly, as I received the Sauv Blanc and Jess got my Riesling. We realized upon tasting and shared a laugh.

The Sauv Blanc was very crisp with notes of apple. It was extremely smooth and would be great for everyday drinking. The Cab had very nice and mellowed tannins that allowed the bramble, tobacco, and chocolate notes to shine.

I enjoyed the Riesling immensely, and I’m not always a big Riesling fan. I do LOVE a good Gewurztraminer, and the Chateau Montelena had lychee notes that are usually found in a Gewurzt. It had a nice crisp, lemony finish. A very pleasant wine.

For Round 2, Martha selected a  2009 Pinot Gris from La Rocca Winery in Italy, while Jess picked the 2008 Greg Norman Estates Shiraz from New Zealand. The Pinot Gris has a nice minerality to it that I love about Italian whites with a smooth stony finish. The Shiraz was smoky & leathery with hints of cherry, and while I am not the biggest fan of Shiraz, it did make for pleasant sipping.

We all had such a great evening that we decided to form a “Wino Wednesday” group (even though it was Monday) so that we can try wine bars and restaurants in the city. Any suggestions for where we should go next?


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Bottlenotes 80 Sip Challenge: The Kick-off

As an avid wine lover eager to expand my wine horizons, as soon as I received the email from describing the Chicago 80 Sips Challenge, I knew I was up to the task of tasting new wines and commenting on the experience.

For the Kick-off Party on January 18, my favorite Urban Explorer, Jess, (check out her blog!), my friend Martha, and I gathered at SUB51 (the downstairs of HUB51) to sample some Domaine Carnaros 2006 Sparkling Wine & 2008 Pinot Noir, as well as hear from the head winemaker.

Now I love hearing from winemakers regarding their favorite qualities of their wines as well as how they became interested in wine. Domaine Carnaros did not disappoint.

We started with the 2006 Sparkling Brut Wine which is composed of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It’s a classic style Brut that is dry and buttery with a very smooth finish. Excellent start to the evening (especially a Tuesday).

Following the Sparkling wine, we enjoyed a 2008 Pinot Noir. I am starting to fall in love with recent Pinots, and I know that I’m not the only one given the recent article in the NYTimes. It was the epitome (in my opinion) of what a Pinot Noir should be: mellowed tannis, slight fruit at the front (think cherry/strawberry), finishing with a bit of tobacco. Wonderful.

Throughout the entire evening we snacked on various nibbles provided by HUB51 like spicy tuna rolls, fish tacos (yum), and mini grilled cheese.


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