This winter has been … well not winter. Yes, I know I moved south to get away from winter. And yes, this confusion adds brightness and color to the yard early which is nice. But after living in the south now for over a decade my blood has “thinned” so even the mildest winter can seem cold. So this winter seems unseasonably bad. We have had maybe a week of what I would call cold and only a couple days when a hat and gloves were needed once the sun went down and never during the day. I will not get into a climate change debate but some of our azalea bushes are quite confused and have bloomed already. THAT is way too early.
Normally our azaleas bloom the first week in April. I arrange that to coincide with Gary’s birthday (kidding!). All I know is if spring is here already… it is gonna be a blistery hot summer that will probably start in April. Not looking forward to that. Just say no to azalea confusion!
Avondale Wine and Cheese
Last Friday, I met my friend Karen at a local wine and cheese bar for happy hour (that turned into happy evening). We drank a delicious Malbec from Argentina. Angulo Innocenti Malbec 2013 that retails for about $16.00 but I found online for just $13.79. Beautiful dark color, full bodied with nice fruit yet wonderfully balanced. For those of us that like fruit forward wines, this one is perfect. Hints of plums and other dark fruit dances in your mouth. It is a real gem of a Malbec and I am super glad I had it cause I used to drink Malbec all the time but then the market was flooded with them and there was a ton of crap out here. So nice to find this great bottle that went perfect with our cheese and charcuterie plate. I will get this one into my rotation.
Holy Smoke Olive Oil
One of the items that we ordered at my friend Karen’s insistence was the Holy Smoke Olive Oil drizzled with a Balsamic reduction and topped with fresh parmesan cheese. Ok, wait just one minute… smoked olive oil..?… really? In my head it sounded awful. Karen said that she gets it every time she is here and I had to try it. So we did. OMdoubleGAUD! It is fantastic. We actually ordered a second serving of it. If I could I would have licked the plate. Here is the deal. A couple guys here in Charleston source the high quality EVOO from producers in California. They buy from a producer that is certified by the California Olive Oil Council and is also Certified non-GMO. (I mention this because of the inferior pomace olive oils that are out in the marketplace but more on that another time)
Once here they cold smoke the oil with a process that they created out of necessity because heat will destroy the integrity, quality and complexity of the oil. It’s then bottled and sold. What started out as a way to make family gifts turned into a business. The smoke is not subtle. But it is awesome and when drizzled with the balsamic reduction and parmesan it is the perfect balance of sweet, savory and umami. I am so getting this for my pantry…. the ideas for use are swirling through my brain. They also smoke honey but I have not tried that yet. They ship nationwide so you should try it out. BUY IT NOW!
About the reduction
As far as a balsamic reduction goes…. you can make it yourself by simmering some of the water from the vinegar. Put the balsamic vinegar in a nonstick pan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Once in a boil, turn down heat to medium low and simmer. Whatever amount of vinegar you start with reduce it by at least half. Watch that you do not burn it and turn on an exhaust fan as the acidy fumes can be killer for a sensitive nose. When it seems to be the slightly thinner than you want the end product to be, give it the spoon test – allow a drop of the vinegar to drop from the spoon into ice water. If it stays formed but still soft you are good to go. It is hardens you took it too far and you gotta start over. You can also by balsamic glaze at the store but most of these will have added sugar.
Other than Pinot Noir (California specifically), I tend to drink more red blends versus specific grape variety wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.) Perhaps that is why I am drawn to french wines so much but there are some great red blends made in America too. One that has been consistently good and is widely available is from Cline Family Cellars. They called it Cashmere Exquisite Red Blend and I am guessing its because of the way this wine feels in your mouth. This vintage is Cline Cashmere Exquisite Red Blend 2014 which we picked up for $14.99 which is about what the national average is for this wine.
Rich dark color with a velvety feel on the tongue. Hints of dark chocolate and cherries with a medium acid finish. Makes a great cocktail wine or served with beef or lamb. I would even drink this with pasta and a hearty red sauce. You can fine this fine at a grocery store that has a nice wine section. Look for it on the top or second shelf in the red blend section. You will also find it at most wine superstores like Total Wine, Bottles, Binny’s, etc. You can also pick it up for $15.99 on wine.com. A wine like this that is consistently good if not great in some years is what I call… an old friend – reliable and always available when you want. Definitely no confusion here.
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The Eights: Crab and Shrimp Ball
I made up this recipe one day when I was assigned a seafood appetizer for a party. With no idea what to do, I looked in the pantry and the fridge and this is what I came up with. I call the The Eights because the three main ingredients are all 8 ounces. Kinda hard to forget and the rest of the ingredients can be modified to your liking.
(best if made at least 4 hours before serving)
1 – 8oz package of cream cheese (cut into 6 pieces blend at room temp)
1 – 8oz container of lump crab meat, drained and squeezed
8 oz of fresh cooked, peeled and de-veined shrimp*, each shrimp chopped into 3 pieces
1/2 bunch fresh curly parsley leaves (remove stems)
2 fresh garlic cloves
1/2 tennis ball sized onion
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
Lemon Pepper to taste
1 bottle or jar of your favorite cocktail sauce
Place the garlic, onion and parsley leaves in food processor and mince. Add the 6 pieces of cream cheese and blend together.
Remove the cream cheese mixture from processor and place in a medium mixing bowl. Add in the crab meat and the shrimp and lightly turn the seafood into the cheese mixture. Add lemon juice and salt and lemon pepper to taste.
Divide the mixture into two. Spoon out each half onto plastic wrap forming a ball. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. (I do it over night)
To serve this appetizer, place each ball on a platter. One of the balls, cover in cocktail sauce, the other leave plain.
Serve with your favorite cracker, pita chip, or celery.
*I buy fresh shrimp at the seafood counter (I live in shrimp country… I better!). Already cooked shrimp is usually cooked too long. So cook it yourself. Do it ahead of time. The shrimp and your guests will thank you.
Add enough water to your pot to boil the shrimp. I add approx. 1 teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of lemon pepper to the water and bring to a boil. Once the water is raging, add the shrimp one or two pieces at a time so that the water continues to boil. Cook for approximately 30 seconds and remove from the water. Allow to cool before you chop and use in this recipe.
The PDF for Crab Shrimp Ball