Cornbread, Wild Rice and Mushroom Stuffing

This stuffing is my favorite part of my family’s Thanksgiving meal (besides the turkey). I love the taste of the cornbread and the wild rice adds a nice crunch. My aunt started making this years ago and I’m not sure where she found the recipe.

What’s great about this stuffing is that you can make it in the microwave — super easy.

Here’s what you’ll need:

4 tbsp. butter
2 scallions
1 large shallot
1 stalk celery
8 ½ oz. corn muffin mix (I use Jiffy)
¼ lb. mushrooms
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup cooked wild rice
milk

Directions:

Melt butter in a large glass dish in microwave. Chop scallions, shallot and celery in a food processor (or finely by hand). Add to butter and cook uncovered in the microwave 6 minutes, stirring once. Chop mushrooms in processor (or by hand). Add to vegetable mixture with broth and rice.

Follow directions on corn muffin mix, adding 3 tbsp. more milk than called for to create batter. Add corn batter to vegetable mix. Mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave 6 minutes.

Allow stuffing to rest uncovered for 1 minute, then fluff with a fork.

Pumpkin Flan

Growing up I never had any interest in cooking. It wasn’t until I graduated from college and was living on my own that I started experimenting with food. In my first job at a small market TV station I had to work on Thanksgiving and wasn’t able to fly home to spend it with my family. I decided to try making something sweet to have for the holiday, and came across a recipe for pumpkin flan on FoodNetwork.com, courtesy of Gourmet Magazine.

The recipe calls for heavy cream but I prefer to use nonfat half and half. It still gives the flan a nice texture and doesn’t have as much fat. The original recipe says it yields 8 – 10 servings but I’ve found it makes much more than that. You may want to halve the recipe if you’re making it for a small group or you can refrigerate the uncooked custard and bake it later.

Ingredients

* 1 1/3 cups sugar
* 6 large eggs
* 2 cups canned pumpkin puree
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
* 2 cups heavy cream

Directions

In a small skillet combine 2/3 cup of the sugar with 1/4 cup water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and washing down any sugar crystals clinging to the sides with a brush dipped in cold water until the sugar is dissolved. Cook the syrup, swirling the skillet, until it is a deep caramel, pour it into a warm 2-quart glass loaf pan, tilting the pan to coat the bottom evenly, and let the caramel harden.

In a bowl beat the eggs with the remaining 2/3 cup sugar, beat in the pumpkin puree, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cream, and pour the custard into the loaf pan. Set the loaf pan in a deep baking pan, add enough hot water to the baking pan to reach halfway up the sides of the loaf pan, and bake the flan in the middle of a preheated moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the flan cool and chill it, covered, overnight. Run a thin knife around the edge of the loaf pan, invert a platter over the pan, and invert the flan onto the platter. Serve the flan by cutting it into slices.

To see the recipe on Food Network’s website click here.

AG Pick Under $10: Bogle Merlot

Finding a great bottle of wine doesn’t mean spending a fortune. You can find some great wines for less than $20, even less than $10.

My recommendation for a tasty wine at a great value is the Bogle Vineyards Merlot. The California wine retails for around $9. I most recently purchased it at Publix on sale for $7 and change.

I first tried Bogle’s Merlot as a new college graduate. I was working at my first job as a producer at a small market TV station and couldn’t afford to spend a lot on wine. In my search for good value wines I came across Bogle, which soon became my go to label for good wine at a great price.

Bogle’s Merlot has flavors of ripe red cherries and plum with hints of earth and tobacco. It’s aged in 100% American Oak for one year, which gives it a nice spiciness. It has a silky texture with firm tannins that give it the mouthfeel of a more expensive wine.

It’s smooth enough to drink with pasta and fish dishes and has the texture and taste to stand up to heartier meat dishes.

Bogle makes a variety of white and red wines that range between $8 and $18. Besides the Merlot, I recommend the Old Vine Zinfandel and Petit Sirah.

To see more of my picks for good value wines check out the tag cloud to the right and select your price point — under $20, under $15 or under $10. This is a new section that I’ll be updating often.

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SUNBOX eleven: First Time Winemakers' Bright Debut

Two weeks ago I was invited to a wine tasting hosted by a couple who were featuring the first wine from SUNBOX eleven Winery, a wine label they created. Intrigued by the concept (you don’t find too many winemakers in South Florida), and interested in seeing how their wine tasted, my husband and I went to Sunny Fraser and David Gordon’s home.

After a round of sparkling wine it was time for the main event: the tasting of “The Maverick,” a white wine that’s a blend of Rhone varietals Marsanne and Roussanne. We took a sip and immediately my husband and I turned to each other and said, “wow, this is really good!” It’s delicate and refined with the taste of honeysuckle and nice minerality. It has a rich, velvety mouth feel.

I was so impressed by the Maverick and barrel samples of other wines that I wanted to learn more about Sunny and David. Within minutes of speaking with them, I could tell their enthusiasm for food, wine and entertaining is evident in everything they do. It led them to create the concept of Performance Dining: David’s culinary skills and Sunny’s creativity are combined for a memorable food and wine pairing dinner prepared in the host’s home and inspired by the guests’ personalities and experiences.

David, who goes by the alias Chef Superdave, has always loved entertaining but didn’t always know he wanted to be a chef. After trying out different courses of study at a few different universities, David eventually realized his true calling and completed his culinary education at Johnson & Wales University. David says he fell in love with wine at 15, when his father took him for his first wine dinner. Since then David estimates he’s tried more than 15,000 wines.

Sunny has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Florida and a Dual Masters of Science in Mental Health Counseling and Marriage Family Counseling. She has worked as a licensed mental health counselor, a professional guardian and most recently, as an investment banker at a small boutique bank in Miami. As a way to get to know clients better Sunny invited them to her home for elaborate meals created by David. Rave reviews and demands for David’s food led Sunny to leave corporate America to focus full time on Performance Dining.

“It’s like having a live cooking show in your home,” said Sunny. “It’s educational and fun, and you get to taste it at the end.” David and Sunny like to challenge the palates and minds of their guests. Sample menus, available to peruse on their website, include truffles, lobster, duck and other delectable ingredients that can be found in Miami’s best restaurants.

After years of pairing wine with food, David decided to make his own wine to share with friends and Performance Dining guests. With the help of the internet he found Crushpad, a custom winemaking facility in San Francisco. It helped with every step of the winemaking process: from sourcing the grapes, to selecting barrels, to bottling and selling the wine. Working with Crushpad’s winemakers, Sunny and David launched SUNBOX eleven Winery – with the concept of making small production, superior quality wines that focus on the purity of the grape.

“When we design our wines we want it to be about who we are, to represent us,” said David. “We want the best grapes that are available, we want to work with the best co-winemakers, we want to work with the best facilities, we want the best barrel. We want to make the best wine we can. I think we’re even surprised about what we thought we would do in our first year of production.”

To ensure a high quality product, Sunny and David go out to California every 6 to 8 weeks and also monitor the status of their wine online: with web cameras that show the barrel and bottling rooms, and detailed charts on the wine’s sugar and alcohol levels. “We use the science to help us make the artistic decisions,” said David.

The name of Sunny and David’s first wine was coined during the first meeting with their winemaker. “He said you guys are really maverick in your concept of how you make wine,” said David, who had just recently written he was “feeling maverick” on his Facebook profile.

The name took on a different meaning for the pair earlier this year, when Sunny’s father unexpectedly passed away. “He was truly a maverick,” said David. “He’s a man with that rebel spirit but yet fit into society. He was always a leader, always a pusher for new ideas.”

“My father and I were so close and he was so supportive of this business,” said Sunny. “We realized we’re not the mavericks, he is. We named it after him because he was a person who was never afraid to take risks. It became more about him than us.”

The 2007 Maverick, SUNBOX eleven’s only blend, was blended in the barrel and aged for one year. One new oak barrel and one once used barrel were used. It’s not just my husband and I who are fans of the white wine – the Maverick has been praised by red wine and beer drinkers, as well as those who aren’t familiar with the two grapes. Said David, “it’s very hard to find Marsanne and Roussanne on their own; it’s even harder to find a Marsanne and Roussanne blend. I think we’ve found 8 or 9 of them in the United States and we have yet to taste one that’s at the level of what we did.”

The name of SUNBOX eleven’s second wine also came from that first meeting with their winemaker. Sunny recalls him saying she must be David’s muse – which is what David often called Sunny. The 2007 Muse is a Petit Sirah from Mendocino that will be released in Fall 2009. It’s a special wine for David – it’s always been his favorite kind. He and Sunny tasted Petit Sirahs from 1968 to 2004 to determine what they wanted to get out of their own and came up with a two word concept: smoked blueberries. To get the right aromas and flavors, David and Sunny are aging the wine in 3 different barrels and will blend them together for the final product. I had the chance to try a barrel sample and it shows great potential to be a delicious wine when it’s released.

SUNBOX eleven is releasing a pair of creatively named wines in early December: the “Naughty” and the “Nice.” I tried barrel samples of the two and really enjoyed them. The Naughty, a red wine, is made from Zinfandel grown in the Napa Valley. It’s peppery and jammy with flavors of black cherry. The Nice, a white wine that’s made from Viognier grown in the Russian River Valley, is really nice. It’s lush and velvety with delicious flavors of peach and honeysuckle. David and Sunny describe it as a “representation of freshly cut apples drizzled with the lush nuance of lavender honey.” Is your mouth watering yet?

I’m primarily a red wine drinker. Since I drink fewer white wines, I feel the whites that I really enjoy stand out in my memory. The Maverick and the Nice stand out as some of the best white wines I’ve tried.

Thematic and clever names are important to Sunny and David, who know people often pick a wine based on its label. The two just crushed their first Pinot Noir, called “The Salesman.” They’re working on a red wine for Valentine’s Day and a rosé wine to benefit breast cancer research. David and Sunny would both love to make Champagne, though they say the process of making it with grapes from Champagne would be much more complex.

Whatever grapes David and Sunny are crafting into wine, their mission is the same: to share their knowledge and love with other people who appreciate the magic of the grape.

Said David, “the basis for everything we do is other people. We definitely have the passion but without other people it doesn’t make any sense.”

SUNBOX eleven’s wines range from around $30 to $65. For more information on the wine and Performance Dining visit www.SUNBOXeleven.com.

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Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrive!

Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived!

The annual celebration kicked off in Miami Beach yesterday with a bang — the revving of motorcycle engines. The Beaujolais Biker Brigade, made up of some of Miami’s best chefs and led by a man dressed up as the Georges Duboeuf bottle, escorted the 2008 vintage to the swanky Casa Casuarina for an uncorking ceremony with winemaker Stéphane Queralt.

According to French law, Beaujolais Nouveau may be released at 12:01am on the third Thursday in November. This year the red wine is green; instead of arriving by air freight, the wine was shipped earlier by boat, to help offset the wine’s carbon footprint.

Beaujolais Nouveau is made in the Burgundy region in France from 100% Gamay grapes that are picked by hand. It’s made to be drunk within 12 months of bottling. The price of a bottle is $10 to $12.

If you think Beaujolais Nouveau is too sweet and fruity, you may want to try this year’s vintage. I was pleasantly surprised with my first taste. There is more black fruit with flavors of red currants, wild strawberries and some peach, with a hint of spice. A nice amount of tannins to give it a fuller mouth feel. I spoke with Stéphane who told me the more complex taste is the result of a difficult growing season.

AG: How is the 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau different than the 2007 vintage?

SQ: I think this year was quite different compared to last year. We had a difficult spring and summertime and were lucky at the end because we had 20 beautiful days just before the harvest. We harvested quite late compared to the other years, just because of the bad weather. That gave us the possibility to have a beautiful balance for the Gamay grape, with good acidity and sugar and with a good maturity.

Because the vintage wasn’t so easy at the beginning we had low yields. I think it’s the lowest yield since 1975. It gave us a wine which is darker and which has more concentration. We have more of the black fruits – black currant, blueberry – and the tannins are tannins of a serious wine.

AG: What do you think of the response to this year’s wine?

SQ: I noticed that people were a little bit surprised by the quality of the wine because they noticed that compared to ‘07, ‘06, it was not a candy wine. This year it may be a little bit more serious with more of the black fruit and the good tannins.

AG: What would you recommend pairing with Beaujolais Nouveau?

SQ: For me, Nouveau is first a wine for a party. That’s why it’s fun for me to come to Miami and party with this wine because that’s a perfect match! The good thing with the Beaujolais Nouveau is that it’s versatile. It’s a wine that smells like white wine and can taste like red wine. It’s a red wine which you can chill and is perfect for fish. It’s good for white meat, like turkey for Thanksgiving, for example. It’s good to taste the other wines of Beaujolais because Beaujolais is not only Nouveau, Beaujolais can be as a serious cru, like Moulin-á-Vent or Morgon.

AG: What do you think makes a good wine?

SQ: First you have to be in a good condition, a good place, good friends, good ambiance, no worries, and that makes already 50% of the quality of the wine. After that you have of course the quality of the wine itself. For me, it is its elegance and fruit. A good wine is a wine that you want to drink again shortly after your first glass. I know some people think that a very strong, heavy, big wine is also very good wine, but for me the quality of a good wine is to be drinkable and to make you want a second glass.

AG: Have you already started looking ahead to next year?

SQ: It’s early but it’s very important to look ahead. We were lucky to have the leaves on the vines a long time after the harvest because the leaves can give us a lot of energy for the spring, when the vines wake up and go to produce the new cycle of the vine. This year we noticed that the leaves stayed a long time after the harvest, so that’s a good first sign for the next year.

AG: Will you try to have these black fruit flavors in next year’s Beaujolais Nouveau?

SQ: It depends on the crop and the maturity of the grape. Those are things that you cannot control. You’ll have to wait to see what the weather is and every year in our country is different. That’s why it’s interesting because you have to adjust your winemaking and the harvest, looking at what you have in your vineyard. It’s a full time job from spring until now.

My Daily Grind: Cafe Milagro Dark Roast

My favorite coffee to brew and drink at home is Café Milagro’s Dark Roast. I discovered Café Milagro last December during a trip to Costa Rica. The café was located a short walk away from my hotel in Manuel Antonio. I went there almost every day; I had their coffee with the traditional Tico breakfast in the morning, coffee and a sandwich for lunch, or an afternoon espresso shake – a delicious blend of espresso and chocolate chip ice cream.

Café Milagro was created in the early 1990s by a couple of American college students who traveled to Costa Rica and fell in love with the country and culture. After being disappointed in the quality of coffee they found there, they decided to make their own. What started with a coffee roaster grew to a café and restaurant.

The café in Manuel Antonio is nestled into the jungle on a narrow winding road that leads down to the beach. The warm and inviting smell of freshly brewed coffee tempts you into the brightly decorated café. If you choose a table outside you may spot a group of monkeys climbing through the trees.

Café Milagro’s Dark Roast is big and bold with a clean and creamy finish. If you don’t like the bitterness of coffee, this is the coffee for you. There’s absolutely no bitterness, which makes it very easy to drink. Even if you take your coffee with sugar, I’d recommend trying the coffee without sugar at first because the natural flavor is so good. I like drinking this coffee black or with a little bit of milk.

I brought home a few bags of Café Milagro from Costa Rica and have reordered it a couple of times online. The coffee is $7.95 and the shipping charges are very reasonable. The quality of the coffee is not lost in transit. It’s just as delicious brewed in your own coffee maker as it is at the café in Costa Rica. It’s idiot-proof as well — I’ve used varying amounts of grounds and it’s never been bitter.

I highly recommend ordering a few bags of Café Milagro’s Dark Roast to try, I think any coffee drinker will really enjoy it. To order beans online or to learn more about Café Milagro, visit CafeMilagro.com.

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AG Pick Under $20: Simi 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

You don’t need to save up to afford a nice bottle of wine. There are plenty of bottles that are $20 or less. As part of my AG Picks, I’ll be featuring some wines I recommend that are less than $20, some even less than $10.

Today’s AG Pick is Simi’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley. Simi is one of those wines I keep going back to, no matter what other wines I try. I usually have a spare bottle or two at home, in case I’m in the mood for wine but don’t want to open up a more expensive bottle. It’s a good wine for guests; I’ve served it at several get-togethers and found everyone enjoyed it.

Simi Cabernet Sauvignon is pretty easy to find. Here in Florida you can find it at Publix and wine stores. This bottle cost $16.97 and I’ve seen it costing between $14 and $18.

The wine is a deep ruby red in the glass. It has aromas of dark fruit – blackberries and cassis – with a hint of spice and cedar. The taste is blackberries, black cherries, plum and vanilla with some cocoa on the finish. I’d recommend it with beef dishes and chicken dishes like chicken marsala. It’s still light enough to enjoy with fish. The winemaker recommends serving it with rare tuna and soy based sauces. I plan to make seared tuna tonight for dinner, perhaps I’ll open a bottle!

For more information on Simi visit SimiWinery.com.

Click here to see more recommendations for wine under $20 or click “under $20″ in the tag cloud on the right.

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Epcot International Food & Wine Festival 2008

Recently a friend who just moved to Florida asked me if Walt Disney World is fun when you’re an adult. I enthusiastically replied, “of course!” I still love riding Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean, and hold on just as tight before the big drop at Splash Mountain. And how can you not smile when you see Mickey and Minnie waving to you during the evening parade that ends with a spectacular fireworks show?

My favorite park has always been Epcot. I loved the rides that showed the future would be filled with computers and space travel. I had so much fun exploring the countries in World Showcase and I’d pretend I was actually there.

Now that I am an adult, my favorite time to visit Epcot is in the fall for the International Food & Wine Festival. If you haven’t been, here’s how it works: in each country there’s a stand where you can buy food, wine and beer from that country. In between the World Showcase countries are stands with food and drinks from other countries like Greece, Chile and South Africa. It’s a great way to try food and wine from all over. There are also “wine walkabouts” where you can learn about the different wine producing regions of a country by trying wine from there. Be sure to bring lots of cash (they do take credit cards). Each offering ranges from $2 to $7 and when you want to try something at each stand, it adds up quickly.

My favorite Epcot country to visit is France. There I ordered escargot and a glass of Michel Picard Vouvray. The escargot was baked in garlic butter and served in a small brioche. The bread was great for soaking up the delicious garlic butter. The Vouvray was light and refreshing with flavors of citrus and peach. There was a hint of minerality on the finish. It was great for sipping in the hot afternoon.

In Japan I went inside the pavilion to a sake bar located at one corner of the expansive gift shop. I ordered a glass of sparkling sake. It came in a bright pink bottle with pink foil at the top. It looked like it would appeal to young women who grew up collecting everything Hello Kitty (perhaps why I wanted to try it). It definitely stood out among the other brown, blue and green sake bottles. The taste was on the sweet side, with a little bit of citrus. The carbonation made me feel like I was drinking soda instead of sake. It wasn’t bad, but I think I’ll stick to non-sparkling sake.

At the Spain stand I ordered a glass of Poema Cava Brut. I haven’t had Poema before and I really enjoyed it. The cava was dry and creamy with a hint of pear and toasted bread. The bubbles were soft, which made it easy to drink. Doing a quick search online, I found a bottle costs around $12, which makes it a great value. It would be a great bottle to have chilling in the fridge for a special evening, and one that’s not so expensive that you can drink it any night of the week.

Istanbul was a tasty stop. I ordered beef ravioli and a glass of Kavaklidere Yakut red wine. The ravioli resembled handmade dumplings and were really good. The meat was moist and nicely spiced. It was two raviolis to a serving and I could have easily eaten many more. The wine was medium bodied with dark fruits and light earthiness. It paired nicely with the ravioli. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had Turkish wine and I’ve only tried red wine; I’ve enjoyed drinking it every time and highly recommend trying some.

In Australia I ordered grilled lamb chops with caramelized onion jam. They were really tasty, though not as good as the lamb chops I make! There was also a wine walkabout featuring wines from Victoria that I went on. I enjoyed the two Pinot Noirs I tried, in particular the Cooralook Pinot Noir. It had flavors of strawberry and blueberry with a warm, earthy taste. It made for a much fuller mouthfeel than other Pinot Noirs, which I really enjoyed.

At the Argentina stand I ordered grilled beef with chimichurri sauce and a glass of Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec. The chimichurri sauce was really tasty with a bite at the end. It had just the right amount of garlic, not too overpowering. The Malbec had flavors of blackberry, cherry and tobacco with soft tannins. Bodega Norton wines are usually pretty good and a good value.

There are a few days left to enjoy the International Food & Wine Festival, it ends on November 9th. Not to worry if you can’t make it there by Sunday — during the rest of the year there’s still plenty to eat and drink in each country.

I’ll see you at Epcot next fall!