All-Access Pass

This blog post is sponsored by Wine Access but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Still feeling a bit depleted following the holiday havoc? The dust has settled and the days of 2020 valiantly soldier on, but something seems to be missing. Plagued by an undefinable emptiness, once spirited conversations suddenly fall flat, marred by a pervasive emptiness. Don’t worry, it’s in your head- It’s simply not in your wine cellar, either! Pouring generous glasses all through December and popping the cork on New Year’s has no doubt depleted your secret stash, leaving the choices for imbibing scant at best.

As a total wine novice, the idea of buying even a single bottle is daunting, let alone a half dozen at once. How do I know I’ll like it? Is a lower-priced option a great value or just plain cheap? If you’re suffering the same sort of dry spell, here’s something to cheer about. The great “Restock Your Cellar Sale” is on at Wine Access, this week only, offering 15% off all Store Wines. These carefully curated bottles are sourced from producers both large and small across the globe, tasted, vetted, and selected from only the best stock.

To the discerning, the undecided, and the dubious alike, Wine Access has done all the hard work of collectively tasting thousands of wines each year to offer only those that exceed expectations typically defined by price. That means you always get the best deals on the best bottles, with a huge variety to pick from, no matter your preference. We’re not just talking about red or white, but a wide selection of affordable rosés, and even fine sakes coming in straight from Japan. If sparkling is more your speed, then you have options bubbling up all over, too!

If the affordable labels give you reverse sticker shock, fear not; there’s no bottom of the barrel, two buck chuck in here. The Wine Access team has spent decades cultivating relationships with producers from the US, Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and beyond. These personal connections unlock access to the most out-of-reach wines from First Growth Bordeaux estates to Napa cult icons with the longest wait-lists and impossibly rare treasures.

For example, I never would have found out about, let alone tried out, the Crémant de Loire Brut NV that has become a new personal favorite. A juicy white that sparkles with notes of grapefruit and tangerine, it has all the body of a crisp champagne. For fellow novices, each bottle comes with helpful hang tags that include tasting notes and pairing suggestions, along with in-depth descriptions with room to write in your own thoughts. Just add snacks and you’ve got yourself a party waiting to happen!

The Katafune Tokubetsu Honjozo Genshu Niigata is another pick that stands apart from the pack. I’ve never seen it in any restaurants, nor for sale in any other bottle shops. Unlike most brews based on fermented rice, each sip is bold, rich, and strong enough to pair with a hearty, deeply savory meal, like an umami portobello mushroom steak. If you think you don’t like sake, this one just might change your mind.

That’s not even a drop of what’s in store here. Don’t forget, shipping is included on orders over $120 or 6+ bottles, so now is the time to fill up your digital cart. The arrival of those carefully wrapped bottles dropped right at your doorstep will be a reason for celebration in and of itself.

With Wine Access, a world of classic, new, and rare wines awaits the turning of your corkscrew.

Advertisements

New Year’s Ball Drop

Wait, where do you think you’re going? The party isn’t over yet! Just when you thought it was safe to crawl back home in a holiday-induced stupor, ready to hibernate for the remainder of winter, New Year’s looms large on the horizon with another round of festive demands. Still recovering from Christmas, and maybe even Hanukkah at that, it can be a challenge to summon enough enthusiasm for the final day of the year. It typically ends in an anticlimactic countdown at midnight and much more booze than food; never a good omen for the start of any resolution.

No matter how worn and weary from this season of relentless merriment, we can still do better. Why just watch the ball drop on TV when you can fortify yourself with balls of a more savory sort?

It’s been many years, if not decades since I last encountered these classic appetizers, yet they come back to me in flashbulb memories of parties past. Was it my mom in the kitchen, rolling up mounds of greens and cheese by the dozen, or someone else entirely? Though the details elude me, I do remember being swayed by their robust garlic flavor, even in my early days of hating vegetables.

Look, I know it’s getting late and we could all use a break, but this last request is an easy one! Let your food processor do the heavy lifting, throw the whole lot in the oven, and finish on a strong note. 2018 has been full of crazy twists and turns, but I can promise you that the conclusion will ultimately be gratifying when these bite-sized balls drop, even if you make it an early night.

Yield: Makes 24 - 30 Balls

Garlicky Spinach Balls

Garlicky Spinach Balls

Robust garlic flavor shines throughout each bite of these crowd-pleasing appetizers.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 Slices (About 7.5 Ounces Total) Sandwich Bread, Slightly Stale or Lightly Toasted
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts
  • 1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 1 Head Roasted Garlic
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 2 Cups (About 10 Ounces) Frozen Spinach, Thawed and Drained
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley
  • 1/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree or Leftover Mashed Potatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.
  2. Roughly tear the bread into smaller pieces and place them in your food processor, along with the pine nuts. Pulse until broken down into a coarse meal. Add in all of the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine, chopping the greens especially well but leaving the mixture with a bit of texture. You don’t want a perfectly smooth puree like baby food here.
  3. Scoop out a heaping tablespoon for each portion and use lightly moistened hands to roll them into round balls. Place on your prepared sheet and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until dark green in color and firm to the touch. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving; enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

30

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 63Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 125mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 2gSugar: 1gProtein: 3g

Dip into Summer

The original significance of Memorial Day has become lost to most modern revelers, happy enough to celebrate a day off of work for any reason. According to the tireless research of WalletHub, 60% of Americans are eating at barbecues, beer sales will be higher than any day except the Fourth of July, 41.5 million people are traveling, and about 41 percent of us are shopping Memorial Day sales.

Over the years, it’s become a joyful day demarcating the unofficial beginning of summer, as we cast off heavy knit sweaters and relegate plush quilts to the back of our closets at long last. Even for those still dutifully clocking in today, there’s a sense of optimism in the air, looking ahead to the long hours of sunshine. Most importantly, though, is the promise of fresh produce both sweet and savory; an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and all the culinary possibilities they bring. Hard-hitting journalism by the New York Times uncovers and ranks the tastes of summer, and while I might dispute many of those findings, it’s a good indication of what might be on grocery lists and dinner tables in the coming months. To that questionable index, I’d like to suggest another category to consider: The essential dips of summer.

Here’s what you’ll find on my table as the days heat up:

Hummus-Tzaziki, otherwise known as Hummiki, blends the best of both worlds with a refreshing crunch of cucumber woven in. Zesty lemon and dill brighten the flavor profile further, imparting a bold and sunny flavor throughout.

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, this Chimchurri Avocado Salsa is a clear departure from the more typical tomato-based dip. Peppery, lemony, herbaceous, and vinegary all at once, it’s perfectly suitable to serve with with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself.

Take advantage of the tender baby spinach shooting up from gardens across the nation and use it in this creamy Saag Paneer Dip! Impressively cheesy, the cashew base carries delicately nuanced spices that put bland old sour cream spinach dips of yore to shame.

Back in the dark ages when eggplant was my foe, I invented this zucchini-based work around to babaganoush, dubbed Zukanoush. Even though my intolerance seems to have died down and I can enjoy the purple nightshade again, I’m still hooked on this version, packed full of everyone’s favorite green squash. You’ll never feel overwhelmed by a glut of zucchini with this formula on hand.

Caramelized Onion Dip is really a staple food all year long, but it’s such a crowd-pleaser, it should have an automatic, honorary invite to every party. If you can get past the terrible photos from over a decade (!) ago, you’re in for a real umami treat.

Given all the delicious options, how are you celebrating the start of summer? Do you have the day off, or are you quietly plotting your next adventure for the coming months?

Chow Down

Does anyone else get bummed out by Trader Joe’s cat cookies? It’s not that they’re disappointing in flavor- Far from it- But that they’re blatantly speciesist. Printed on every generous tub are the words “For People!” with no mention of our feline friends. They’re inspired by, shaped like, and named for cats, and yet these highly esteemed creatures are clearly excluded from indulging alongside us. It’s a slap in the face (or perhaps, paw to the snout) of the little lions among us. My modus operandi has always been to provide food for everyone to enjoy, regardless of tastes, dietary restrictions, or breeds, so it strikes me as terribly shortsighted of Trader Joe’s to classify such promising morsels in such an exclusive fashion.

The same can be said of “puppy chow.” Typically, this is a crowd-pleasing yet tooth-achingly sweet mix of melted chocolate, powdered sugar, and cereal squares, tossed together to approximate the appearance of dog food. Chocolate is at the top of the list of canine dangers when it comes to feeding, so I have to wonder who was the first person to dream up this combination. What a sadly misleading title!

Carob could make for an easy conversion, but not one that most humans would be particularly enthusiastic about. Besides, the added sugar really isn’t the best fuel for our furry friends. Savory flavors are what this reinvented blend is all about! Peanut butter with an umami kick of liquid aminos and nutritional yeast meet crunchy corn or rice cubes for a highly snack-able blend, no matter your breed. Feel free to spice things up for your own tastes with a generous dose of sriracha, smoked paprika, or chili powder, but keep it on the side for more sensitive puppy palates.

Although the temptation to immediately chow down straight from the bowl will be high, please mind your manners. There’s no reason to eat like an animal.

Yield: Makes About 4 1/2 Cups

Savory Puppy Chow (For People AND Puppies)

Savory Puppy Chow (For People AND Puppies)
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Place the peanut butter, coconut oil, liquid aminos, and vinegar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth and slightly thickened. Toss with the cereal, coconut, and oat flour in a large bowl until the squares are evenly coated. Sprinkle in the tapioca starch and nutritional yeast last, stirring gently to cover the pieces without crushing them. Serve warm.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

9

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 229Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 160mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 3gSugar: 5gProtein: 6g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.

Perfect Party Pearings

Take a deep breath: You’ve survived another grueling round of holiday merriment. Feasts have been devoured and mountains of torn wrapping paper lay in ruin. It may very well look like a bomb went off in the living room, complete with tinsel shrapnel and carpet stains that will haunt you for the rest of your days, but the deed has been done, the festivities successfully completed.

But before you lock the doors tight, entering into full hibernation mode, don’t forget that one last hurrah remains. In less than one week’s time, the calendar mandates yet another grand celebration, demanding every last iota of enthusiasm remaining following the Christmas craze. With dishes still stacked precariously in the sink, it’s a lot to consider. For the New Year, however, it’s time to give yourself a gift if you’re bold enough to take the reins as host or hostess once again, and just take it easy.

Skip the elaborate dinner menu in favor of simple, snackable small plates. Your guests are undoubtedly worn out from holiday excesses as well, happily munching at a slower pace while enjoying each others’ company. Crostini (or bruschetta, if you prefer) are the ideal vehicle for any sort of sweet or savory toppings, so for my festive suggestion, I would like to raise a literal and figurative toast to both ends of the taste spectrum.

A golden platform of crusty bread supports a creamy, rich schmear of cream cheese, contrasted by the tender, sweet, and slightly tart bite of pomegranate-infused pears. Sturdy enough to withstand advanced prep and a full evening at ambient temperature, these understated yet spectacular little morsels are your ideal party guests. They’re guaranteed to never overstay their welcome, either.

Yield: Makes 16 - 24 Servings

Pomegranate-Poached Pear Crostini

Pomegranate-Poached Pear Crostini

Crusty bread supports a creamy, rich schmear of cream cheese, contrasted by the tender, sweet, and slightly tart bite of pomegranate-infused pears. Sturdy enough to withstand advanced prep and a full evening at ambient temperature, these understated yet spectacular little morsels are your ideal party guests.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

Pomegranate Poached Pears:

  • 3 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
  • 1 Cup 100% Apple Juice
  • 1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
  • 1 Whole Vanilla bean, Split and Scraped
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 4 Firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc Pears, Peeled, Halved, and Cored

For Assembly:

Instructions

  1. Combine the pomegranate juice, apple juice, maple syrup, vanilla bean seeds, and black pepper in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Serve the spent vanilla bean pods for making vanilla sugar, or another recipe.
  2. Bring the liquid bring to a gentle simmer and add the pears. Cover and cook for 20 - 30 minutes, until the pears are just fork-tender. Remove the fruit from the saucepan and chill thoroughly before slicing. Don't toss the excess poaching liquid- It's fantastic mixed with a bit of chilled champagne for your New Year's toast.
  3. To assemble, spread the slices of toasted baguette generously with cream cheese and top each one with a slice of poached pear. Finish with a sprinkle of pomegranate arils and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Notes

Poached pears can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 113Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 93mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 11gProtein: 2g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.