Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tequila Time

While a margarita is one of my favorite cocktails, I learned during a trip to Riviera Maya, Mexico that good tequila is sipped plain - without the other ingredients like Cointreau, lemon and lime juice.  I attended a few tequila tastings and naturally found the most expensive brands tasted best.

Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 40 miles northwest of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. 

The red volcanic soil in the surrounding region is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year. Agave tequila grows differently depending on the region, just like grapes used for wine. Blue agaves grown in the highlands region are larger in size and sweeter in aroma and taste. Agaves harvested in the lowlands, on the other hand, have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor.
Blue Agave Plant

Mexican laws state that tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco and limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. The United States officially recognizes that spirits called "tequila" can only be produced in Mexico, although by agreement bulk amounts can be shipped to be bottled in the U.S.

Tequila is strong stuff: most often made at a 38–40% alcohol content (76–80 U.S. proof), but can be produced between 31 and 55% alcohol content (62 and 110 U.S. proof).

Various Tequilas in Mexico

There are also different types of tequila depending on the aging. Tequila Silver or Blanco is the blue agave spirit in its purest form. It is clear and typically un-aged.

A Reposado Tequila is the first stage of "rested and aged". This type is aged in wood barrels or storage tanks between 2 months and 11 months. The spirit takes on a golden hue and the taste becomes a good balance between the agave and wood flavors.

Tequila Añejo (extra aged) must be aged for at least one year before it can be classified as an "Añejo". The distillers are required to age Añejo Tequila in barrels that do not exceed 600 liters. This aging process darkens the Tequila to an amber color, and the flavor can become smoother, richer, and more complex.

Tequila Extra Añejo (ultra aged)
A new classification added in the summer of 2006, labeling any Tequila aged more than 3 years, an "Extra Añejo". Following the same rule as an "Añejo", the distillers must age the spirit in barrels or containers with a maximum capacity of 600 liters. With this extended aging, the Tequila becomes much darker; more of a mahogany color, and is so rich that it becomes difficult to distinguish it from other quality aged spirits. After the aging process, the alcohol content must be diluted by adding distilled water. These Extra Añejo’s are extremely smooth and complex.
Tequila is sold in all shapes and sizes

I was sent a small bottle of Damascus Process Tequila to taste and really found it quite wonderful and smooth for sipping. It was only afterward that I read that the Damascus Process uses the cheapest and most impure tequilas on the market and washes and filters the liquor five times.  Amazing.

A team of chemists at Capjem, a culinary science research and development organization, developed a technique to purify alcohol by washing it with fat. The end result is a high quality liquor like top shelf brands. Capjem is the only company in history to successfully develop a process to clean alcohol, by pulling impurities from the liquor, yet maintaining the integrity. Imagine taking poor quality anything and transforming it into top of the line. That's magic!
I also tried the Damascus Process Vodka which had to be washed and filtered ten times. I am not usually a vodka drinker, so I can't compare it to other brands, but I was able to drink it straight without a burning feeling in my mouth or throat.

I still have one taste test to go: Damascus Process Artisanal Amaretto. It starts with their purified vodka and adds a special Sicilian family combination of spices and flavors.  I suspect I will love it as well. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Urthbox: Delivered to your Door

Like all good holiday packages, the Urthbox is delivered directly to your house. It's full of healthy and tasty surprises.  An Urthbox subscription for one or more months would make a terrific giftant time of  the year; a gift that is sure to be used.
Gluten Free Samples from Urthbox

I was sent a sample of gluten-free foods and found two of each of the following:

Gourmet Popcorn: Rouge Blue Cheese
Laiki Black Rice Crackers - a 100 calorie pack
Snap Infusion Supercandy New York Date Cashew Bar (love the ingredients: Dates, cashews)
Smarty Pants Gummies
Super Fruit Chews
Blueberry Pomegranate Clusters
Goldbaum's Barbeque Quinoa Crisps
Hana Raspberry Shortbread Cookies
GURU Natural Energy Drink- 1 can

Since tomorrow is a travel day, I am set to stay gluten free while I fly cross country. Plus, I really enjoy trying new products and Urthbox is a fun way to do just that.

The company is focusing on Non-GMO, Organic and All Natural products. Every month they surprise you with fantastic full size products that must pass strict ingredient, sourcing, calorie, nutrition and manufacturing standards. The box has a retail value of up to $100.

Full Size Products come in an Urthbox

Select a box size and choose from one month, three month, six month, or twelve month subscriptions. Select from Classic, Gluten-Free, Vegan or Diet box options, which ever is right for you. Plus, you can purchase more of what you love at member discounts. Earn big loyalty points for every purchase, redeemable at the UrthBox Shop.

Right now Urthbox is offering a discount code for $10 off!
Just use: CRUNCHWEEK. 


Disclosure: Many thanks to  Urthbox for sending the samples.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Autumn Tian of Beets, Potatoes and Tomatoes

From Martha Stewart's Living Magazine, October 2014

First of all, I needed to know what a “tian” was.  Definition: a dish of finely chopped vegetables cooked in olive oil and then baked au gratin or a large oval earthenware cooking pot traditionally used in Provence.


While flipping through ta copy of Living Magazine, I saw a gorgeous photo of this recipe and decided I had to try it.  I love beets and thought it looked like an impressive dish to take to a party or serve guests. I think it would look lovely on a Thanksgiving table or Christmas buffet.


The preparation takes a bit of time, but THAT was expected to get the photo worthy result.

While I truly enjoyed the taste, I think I would leave out the tomatoes and add more onions next time. I would also cut down on the amount of olive oil.

When I reheated the dish the following day, I believe it tasted even more delicious.  This side dish keeps well.

Thumbs up: With modifications, I will make it again. 

I cut the portions down slightly, so my stacks are not overlapped like the original photo.

Autumn Tian

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours (takes a while for the beets to roast and then cool.)
Serves 6-8


1-pound beets (about 3 medium), preferably a mix of red and golden, trimmed and scrubbed. (I couldn’t find any golden.)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced (Next time two!)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil  (cut down to 4)

1-tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 medium) peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices

1-pound plum tomatoes (about 3) cut crosswise into ¼ inch slices

My dish before roasting it in the oven. 


1.    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap beets in parchment-lined foil. Roast on a baking sheet until tender about 1 hour, 20 minutes.  Let cool completely. Peel and cut crosswise into ¼ inch slices. (I did this early in the day- in my toaster oven.)

2.    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss onion with 1-tablespoon oil and half the thyme. Season with salt and pepper and arrange on the bottom of a 3-quart round or oval gratin dish. 

3.    On a cutting board, stack 1 slice each potato, beet and tomato. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining vegetables, keeping each stack separate.  Transfer stacks to baking dish and overlap slightly.  Sprinkle with remaining thyme and drizzle 2 tablespoons oil.  Cover tightly with parchment-lined foil.

4.    Bake 30 minutes.  Uncover; drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil (use less.)  Bake, uncovered until vegetables are tender and tomatoes are caramelized, about 35 minutes more. Let cool slightly before serving. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sweet & Sassy Meatballs Holiday Culinary Competition

My good friend and renowned publicist, Leigh Cort, announces a contest that could win you a vacation to my hometown: St. Augustine. 

Sherry Stoppelbein’s line of Datil B Good hot sauces, jams, jellies, pickles, relish, salsa and BBQ glaze usually make the coveted lists of “Ultimate Southern Food Guides’ with their fresh sweet heat zing. The hot little datil pepper is a great inspiration for recipe contest aficionados to enter a favorite meatball recipe in the Sweet & Sassy Meatball Contest. And the holiday season is a perfect time to get creative and put some sweet & sassy meatballs on the menu whether you prefer them made with pork, beef, chicken or vegetarian.

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Hot Shot Bakery, the Top 10 finalist recipes for Sweet & Sassy Meatballs will be invited to join Sherry Stoppelbein on Saturday, November 15 at the Hot Shot Bakery in historic St. Augustine where their meatballs will be sampled and judged by regional celebrity judges.

Win a St. Augustine Vacation:
One ‘best’ recipe will win a getaway at the historic St. Francis Inn (click here for my previous story on the Inn), plus take home a yummy collection of Hot Shot Bakery’s datil sauces, jams, mustards and jellies. (Mango Dipping Sauce, Nolby's Hot Mustard, Sloppy good BBQ Sauce, Datil Pear Relish, Datil Citrus Jam and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th Degree Burn Hot Sauce.

The St. Francis Inn in St. Augustine, FL

The Grand Prize Winner Receives:
  • Overnight stay for two at the beautiful, historic St. Francis Inn (Sunday thru Thursday excluding holiday periods). All Inn amenities including breakfast and afternoon social hour with homemade refreshments. www.StFrancisInn.com
  • Sumptuous breakfast buffet for two at the St. Francis Inn
  • Complimentary bicycles for two to tour St. Augustine
  • Evening desserts at the St. Francis Inn for two
  • Lunch for two at Hot Shot Bakery
  • An assorted case of Datil B Good Jams, Condiments and Hot Sauce
  • The prize-winning recipe will be incorporated into one of the restaurant’s menus!

Official Rules:  Send Sweet & Sassy Recipe via email to Leigh Cort Publicity ~ leighcort@bellsouth.net  by November 1, 2014.

  1. Recipe & NAME OF RECIPE
  2. A brief story about the recipe, not to exceed 100 words
  3. Name, address, telephone # and email (No previously published recipes will be considered).
  4. All ingredients and preparation instructions.
  5. A photo of the dish

Judging: Top 10 Finalists will bring 12 meatballs to Hot Shot Bakery on November 15 at 12:00noon for tasting competition. Judges include: Nancy White, Food Journalist, Allie Olsen, SimplyStAugustine, Monica Stouder, food photographer/journalist.

Who can enter:   Entrants must be 18 or over. There are no substitutions or transfer of prizes. Prizes are not redeemable for cash. By acceptance of prizes, winners consent to use of their names and/or photographs for publicity purposes without further compensation. Finalists will be notified by November 3, 2014.

Note: For 25 years, Sherry Stoppelbein has been growing datil peppers that only thrive in St. Augustine where the climate, soil and humidity are perfect for each year’s crop. Her Hot Shot Bakery is one of St. Augustine’s favorite restaurants for breakfast & lunch where many dishes are prepared or garnished with Datil B Good condiments and sauces.

Hot Shot Bakery and Café
8 Granada Street
St. Augustine, Fl 32084

Monday, August 11, 2014

Afternoon Tea in the Colonial Quarter, St. Augustine

"There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea," said American writer Henry James. While Americans usually think of the British taking time for a spot of tea, our country's early settlers arrived with a fondness for the beverage and also enjoyed the respite it provided. Most of us have given up this lovely afternoon tradition.

Abigail and Rose host teas in the Colonial Quarter

Now, residents and visitors can indulge again at Abigail and Rose's Tea, a recent addition to the activities of the Colonial Quarter in St. Augustine. Dressed in colonial attire, Rose and Abigail explain afternoon tea through a living history lesson, a delicious one at that. This tea time does not require you to dress up, nor dine on fancy, high tea cucumber sandwiches and decadent desserts. Rather, Abigail and Rose serve more modest fare with scones, real clotted cream, jam and chocolates in a friendly environment.  The specially blended  tea comes from the St. Augustine Spice and Tea Exchange and is brewed as in colonial days, right in your cup.

Tea is poured for groups of eight in the de Mesa-Sanchez House at 1:00 and 3:00 on Fridays and Saturdays or by special appointment. The storyline is that Rose is a newcomer to town and Abigail is teaching her proper tea etiquette.

Tea and Treats

Participants sit around a table in the original 1741 house, now renovated, in a room normally roped off to tourists. The experience becomes authentic when you sip afternoon tea where others did hundreds of years ago, during the British occupation of the town. Abigail provides instructions on the proper way to stir - never clink your spoon on the side of the cup and where to place silverware to indicate you are finished. Since tea was a social hour, discussion is encouraged as long as it is not religion or politics. Giving compliments are also part of the lighthearted lesson.

Mother and Daughter enjoying Tea Time

I enjoyed slipping back in time to chit chat with other ladies and especially enjoyed watching a mother and young daughter take tea together. Boys would certainly be welcomed as are dads.

Walking to Tea
Of course, while you are at the Colonial Quarter, why not immerse yourself in the rest of the St. Augustine's historical sights, sounds and smells. Meander the Colonial Quarter's shell lined paths,  climb to the top of a 17th century watchtower replica, listen to interpreters, engage in a musket drill, and see a printing press. The past is still alive in St. Augustine, America's Oldest City.

Colonial Quarter Interpreter

Tea Time at the Colonial Quarter
 33 St. George Street
Fridays & Saturdays at 1:00 & 3:00 pm or by appointment.
$10 per person

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Traditional Tamil Lunch at INDeco Heritage Hotel: Swamimalai, India

My traveling companions and I left the Swamimalai Temple hot, tired and hungry. We had toured two temples that morning traveling through back roads in Southern India. Then, enroute to a Heritage Hotel, we got lost. Fortunately our driver spoke Tamil, the local language, and we eventually found the place. We stepped out onto beautiful grounds and were immediately transported back to 1800's. The check-in area at INDeco Heritage Hotel sits within a beautifully restored British villa from 1896.
Foot Massage

We were welcomed with cool hand and face towels and a refreshing Ayurdevic foot massage. How lovely!  That restored our hot and tired bodies, but we were still hungry.

Being Welcomed to the Restaurant
Fortunately, we were soon on our way to lunch where were treated to a Tamil meal called the Thali.  The word "Thali" means "The Plate" and was traditionally served on a banana leaf. Ours came on a round dish lined with a banana left. The center features a dish of white rice and many small silver bowls surround it containing a variety of choices.

Appetizer and Beer
For starters, we had crunchy puffed rice crispies and sweetened rice and wheat cakes called Appam... and a beer. My, that beer hit the spot. Next came a soup with almond and orange, grown on the grounds, accompanied by bread sticks. Delicious.
Then, the Thali luncheon plate arrived which I was told was normally eaten clockwise. It included such items as vegetable curry, yellow lemon rice, roasted potatoes, another curry made with lentils, pickles , yogurt, and an egg dish or chicken dish. White rice and Indian bread were served alongside and dipped into the curries. I tasted each item, none was overly spicy, and found I liked the lentil and chicken dish best.
The Thali Lunch Plate

Desert was Semiya Payasam, a mixture made from milk, sugar and vermicelli rice- like a rice pudding. Then I was served a small glass with a shot of Paan, a concoction from beetle leaves which is an elixir, mixed with nuts and vanilla and perhaps a dollop of ice cream. It tasted and smelled like India to me - mysterious, exotic, spicy, and flavorful, but was not strong enough for any hallucinogenic effects.  A basket of fruit was also offered and we were once again full and happy.

Beetle Leaf Drink

Afterward, we toured the Heritage Hotel property which are an authentic 1800's restored village of Southern India. Our guide explained, "This is not a hotel, it is rural cultural experience." No two rooms are the same, most have sit outs and some have private courtyards. A few royal suites have a living and dining area as well.
A lovely room at the Heritage Hotel

The swimming pool at this hotel resembles a village Temple Tank and there is a Steve Borgia Museum containing an array of fascinating objects. Steve Borgia, an Indologist, founded INDeco Hotels to be a combination of leisure, heritage, health, nature, aesthetics, spirituality, fine arts and fun. This was the kind of hotel where you meander the grounds and discover all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies. You might run into statuary, fountains, courtyards, benches, antiques or animals. The Swamimalai 1896 Tanjour Village Heritage Hotel is India's only winner of the Global Eco Tourism Award. I would agree with the brochure that states the hotel itself has emerged as a destination.
Statue in the Courtyard

Steve Borgia Museum 

Another Guest Room
The Beautiful Grounds of the Heritage Hotel in Swamimalai

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nutella Cookbook Inspires Pear & Apple Crumble

I first encountered Nutella while traveling in Europe but fortunately the product is now found in most grocery stores.  Nutella is chocolate and hazelnut spread made from roasted hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa. In addition, Nutella has no artificial colors or preservatives.

A jar of Nutella and the Nutella Cookbook

Nutella was created in the 1940s by Mr. Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero company. At the time, there was very little chocolate because cocoa was in short supply due to World War II rationing. So Mr. Ferrero used hazelnuts, which are plentiful in the Piedmont region of Italy (northwest), to extend the chocolate supply.

I usually buy Nutella to smear on apple slices as a lunchtime dessert. Some folks like it on toast, but Nutella is surprisingly versatile and easy product to work with.

I recently received a copy of a new cookbook entitled Nutella: The 30 best Recipes by Jacqui Small. The book is cleverly shaped like a jar of Nutella and each recipe comes with a full-color photograph of the treat. The ingredients for  creme brulee sound downright sinful, but honestly each one of the recipes looks like a winner.

I wanted to try Nutella macaroons (my favorite cookies) but honestly didn't have the time for the more complex preparation.  Instead I decided upon the Pear and Nutella crumble, adding  diced green apple to my concoction.

Cubed pieces of fresh apple and pear

The preparation was easy- I simply cut apples and pears into cubes and placed them in the bottom of a baking dish.  I then added a few dollops of Nutella. The cookbook suggested warming the jar to make spreading easier, but I simply stuck the dish into a 350-degree oven for a few minutes, then removed and stirred.
Apples and Pear with Nutella

Before Baking
I followed the directions for the crumb topping, sprinkling it on top of the fruit mixture and baked for about 30 minutes.  YUM. I admit, cobblers and pies are some of my very favorite desserts, but this presentation was outstanding. You could add vanilla ice cream to the warm dish or whipped cream if you serve it cold.

I would be proud of make it again and offer it to guests. (I'd be a little more careful about cleaning up the dish before baking!)

Nutella Pear & Apple Crumble

Get yourself a jar a Nutella and be creative, or buy the new cookbook and you will surely be inspired. 

Nutella: The 30 Best Recipes
by Jacqui Small
ISBN: 9-781-90934-216-3
Also available as an ebook

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Simply 7 Snacks are simply delicious

Thought I love sweets, sometimes I crave a salty and crunchy snack.  I'm not fond of pretzels, and we all know that potato and corn chips are loaded with unhealthy fat. I try to keep those products of my house except for parties.
Simply 7 Snacks

Recently, I was sent a box of Simply 7 Snacks to sample. But, when I looked at the list of ingredients, I thought it sounded a little too good to be true. After a few bites, I changed my mind. I couldn't believe how crispy and terrific the chips tasted.  Doubting myself, I gave some to a few friends, and they all agreed. These chips prove that healthy snacks is possible.

The Simply 7 Company was founded and stands behind seven impressive core standards:

Zero grams of trans-fat and no cholesterol
No artificial ingredients or flavors
No additives or preservatives
Gluten-free ingredients
All-natural recipes
Simple ingredients
Simply delicious

Quinoa Chips 
Their "better for you" products come flavored as Hummus Chips, Lentil Chips, Pomegranate Chips and Quinoa Chips.  In each case, the named item (hummus, quinoa, etc.) is the main ingredient.

First I tried sea-salted pomegranate chips because they just sounded so unusual. However, even though they had a nice crunch, they were a little too sweet for my liking.

Next, I tried Quinoa Cheddar Chips and loved them. To think that a serving (about 20 chips) includes eight grams of protein is a real bonus. The calorie count for that serving size runs about 140 calories.  Not bad!

I also devoured the sample of Quinoa Sour Cream and Onion Chips. I have not used the products with dips because they taste so god plain.  I suspect guacamole would make a smashing combination.

I was happy to learn about Simply 7 Snacks and will definitely be on the look-out for them in the grocery store.  According to the company's literature, they are carried by Safeway, Harris Teeter, HEB, Shaw's, Whole Foods, Gelson's and Shop Rite.  Each bag should cost between $2.50 and $3.49.

No more blue corn chips for me. I love these snacks and would absolutely be proud to serve them to my friends and grandchildren.

For more info: www.simply7snacks.com.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A New Classic Cocktail In Aruba: Arubiscus

Early morning above the Aruba Hyatt Pool

Lazy afternoons in the Caribbean, surrounded by warm ocean breezes, turquoise water and sandy beaches beg for a cocktail.  I recently found myself at the outdoor bar, under an authentic palapa at the Hyatt Regency Aruba. The lush grounds, sprawling pool and lagoon with Aruba's cooling breeze proved a fabulous warm getaway. Life was good.

Seems the staff was having a contest to develop a new signature drink.  Raul Adams, one of the  mixologists, suggested his creation: an Arubiscus. It's one a gorgeous magenta-hued drink that sparkles like the sunshine as it hits the glittering sea. The taste is sweet, but not too sweet, maybe even a tinge of tartness, but totally refreshing. Raul finishes the concoction by floating a preserved hibiscus flower on top. I presume women would be attracted to the Arubiscus because of the rosy-hued color. 

Raul was kind enough to share the recipe, however, like most exotic drinks, I suspect it tastes better on a Caribbean isle.  Fly over to Aruba, known as One Happy Island, stop in at the Hyatt and check it out.  I guarantee you will be one happy chic! I certainly was.

Arubiscus at Hyatt Aruba
By Raul Adams

2 ounces Hypnotic
1 Ounce Absolut Mango (Vodka)
1/2 ounce Hibiscus Syrup or simple syrup
1/2 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake with ice and fill remainder of glass with 7-Up.
Add a hibiscus flower (fresh or dried) for garnish.

I did love Aruba!