Food, recipe, wine

Simple Bolognese Sauce

We aren’t Italian but my Mom loved to cook all sorts of cuisines, not just curry. And one distinct food memory I have is making sauce with her. She called it a sugo and it always started with a “trilogy.” My job was to stir. And stir. And stir. And stir. Once I mastered stirring I was allowed to chop and dice. But then straight back to stirring (and tasting). Now this simple Bolognese is a go to recipe for me. I also usually have all the ingredients, except the meat, already in my fridge and pantry so this involves very little planning. But let’s start with my Mom’s “trilogy.”

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What she called a “trilogy” is more commonly know as a cooking holy trinity, the French term for this mix is a mirepoix, in Italian it would be a Soffritto. The essential goal is to slow cook, not brown or sauté, diced vegetables, and occasionally herbs. Depending on the cuisine your vegetable medley will change accordingly. For instance, a Cajun or Creole holy trinity is onions, celery, and bell peppers. Today we are sticking with carrots, celery and onions. You generally want the onions to be roughly equal  to the carrots and celery combined. I ended up chopping half a red onion as well to get the correct balance.

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The key here is to let them cook on a gentle heat, you don’t want these to burn, sauté or cook to quickly. This usually takes about ten to fifteen minutes depending on how thick your pan is, how low your heat is, and the size of your dice. With practice you will begin to have a feel for how long it will take in your kitchen and not have to hover over your pan so much. Just before they would start to caramelize it’s time to add in your carrots. Let these cook for another 10-15 minutes and then add in your celery and let them cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. If you notice that anything is beginning to stick a splash of chicken stock will deglaze your pan. I also throw in a pat of butter before I add my meat. This will help balance out the acidity of the tomatoes at the end.

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While your vegetables are cooking you don’t want to forget to season. You want to add salt and pepper every time you add a new item into your pot. If you are into garlic, like I am, then you should also add a sprinkle of garlic powder. If you are into a nice round heat than a sprinkle of crushed red peppers won’t do you wrong either. But the real pièce de résistance is the Italian Seasoning you chose to use. I have made this sauce with fresh herbs before and it just didn’t work. The long stewing caused the herbs to leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth. I’ve made it with cheap seasoning and it took the whole bottle and the flavor was never quite right. A good spice blend is worth the investment. When I don’t make my own I use Penzeys Spices. We are lucky to have one in RVA and they have a great online store as well! This Italian herb mix came in their Soul Box.

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Since this is a meat sauce it’s important to buy the right meat. I like to use a combination of pork and chicken sausage. I’ve made this with beef before and just found it overwhelmingly oily despite how assiduously I drained and skimmed the fat off. And with plain ground turkey or chicken it doesn’t quite hit that requisite richness you are looking for.

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I uncase the sausage and throw it right into my pan and incorporate the cooked vegetables and spices into the meat as it cooks. You could mix the two meats together in a bowl and then transfer it into the pan. But this is an extra step and dish that can be avoided. Make things easier on yourself!

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It actually is quite easy to smooth into one homogenous mix. Although if Lloyd is loitering I usually ask him to do this part by complaining that it makes my wrist hurt. But it really is important to get everything well mixed.

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The meat takes a while to cook, but it needs to be moved around enough to make sure it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn. Also, moving it around breaks up the meat. But don’t fret too much about breaking it down into even pieces because we are going to blitz this all up at the end.

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The next essential ingredient to a tomato sauce are the tomatoes! Canned are best. I once chopped about a dozen tomatoes to make a tomato sauce “from scratch” and it was just not nearly the same. The tomato flavor fell flat and was watery no matter how long I cooked it. I never got that rich, robust flavor that I look for when I make this sauce. I try and find canned tomatoes without excess salt because why let someone else season your food?

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You can add the diced tomatoes into your pan as they come because we are going to be blitzing everything together. Or you can be pedantic like me and blend them up before hand. Either way, into the pan they go.

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Next comes the tomato paste. I used to be so stingy with my tomato paste. I can’t explain why I was afraid to add tomato flavor to my tomato sauce but I would only add in about a tablespoon and then fret that my sauce wasn’t right. Now I scrape every last bit of paste out of that can and relish in the richness of the flavor at the end.

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Once you stir the paste in you will see that classic red, richness that one associates with a good tomato sauce. That was another problem with fresh tomatoes, they were never “red” enough.

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Now for the most important, the most transcendent step… the wine! My rule is that if I won’t drink it I won’t cook with it. Every now and then Lloyd and I don’t finish a bottle of wine and this is usually a good impetus for me to cooking something that calls for wine in the next day or two. Or I open a bottle of what we are going to drink with our meal and use that. Today I had a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the night before and just poured whatever was left into the pan, you usually need about a cup.

 

Once I reach this point we are very close to the simmer phase so I add in some whole garlic cloves. I don’t want to add them in too early because overcooking them can cause them to loose a lot of flavor. Today I used roasted garlic cloves because that was what I had and Lloyd loves them. I didn’t worry about dicing these guys up because I knew I was going to blitz later.

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Don’t feel that you have to blend this up. I like a smooth sauce and have an immersion blender which makes it very easy to blend in the pan. I would never even think about transferring this to a stand blender, it would be way too messy. So you do you! Whatever you decide it’s still going to taste great and stick to whatever you decide to smother with this sauce. But here is a side by side look at chunky vs smooth for your edification.

 

The last and final step it to let is simmer, covered, on low for hours. The longer it simmers the better it tastes. I swing by the pan and give it a good mix about every 45 minutes to an hour. You also want to taste each time. This gives you a good sense of how the flavors are marrying and you can adjust anything if you need to. Sometimes you’ll notice that your sauce has an acidic taste you can’t quite shake. Don’t worry a pat of butter will smooth that right out. Just pop it into your sauce, let it melt and come back in 30 minutes to taste! But there you have it! A simple bolognese that will surely become a kitchen staple.

***I usually make a big pan of this sauce, enough to make at least two lasagnes or casserole. I tend to use half and freeze half***

Ingredients:

  1. 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  2. 1 large onion
  3. 4 stalk celery
  4. 2 medium carrots
  5. 1 box of unsalted chicken stock
  6. 1-2 pats of butter
  7. 1 Lb chicken sausage
  8. 1 Lb pork sausage
  9. 1 14 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes
  10. 1 6 oz can of tomato paste
  11. 1-1.5 cups red wine
  12. 4-5 roasted or raw garlic cloves (or too taste)
  13. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, crushed red peppers and Italian seasoning to taste (a pinch or two of each every time you add an ingredient is a good rule of thumb)

Recipe:

  1. Dice onions, celery and carrots. 1 part onion to 1 part carrot/celery.
  2. Heat a thick bottomed pan with a good size slug of olive oil and slowly cook your onions with a sprinkling of spices.
  3. Add in your carrots, followed by celery, seasoning as you go. Deglaze as needed with chicken stock.
  4. Add in 1 pat of butter once your vegetables are cooked, reserve the second if needed at the end.
  5. Uncase sausage and add to pan.
  6. Mix thoroughly together, completely incorporating the vegetables.
  7. Once meat is mostly cooked through add in crushed or diced tomatoes, stir to mix.
  8. Add in entire can of tomato paste and stir to mix completely.
  9. Throw in garlic cloves.
  10. Add wine.
  11. Blend using immersion blender.
  12. Let simmer for at least three hours.

Serving:

This is a fairly versatile sauce. It works great just on plain pasta with a dusting of cheese. It’s also great for a chicken or eggplant parmesan. But my go to is usually a very hearty lasagne. However, we are going low carb these days so I tried out a Chicken and Vegetable Bolognese Bake instead. It totally satisfied my lasagne craving.

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review, Travel, wine

Elk Island Winery; Goochland, VA

Virginia has tons of wineries. And they aren’t just in Charlottesville but instead scattered all over. A neighbor of mine has been telling me about the love Elk Island Winery for some time now. I have tried them before at the Virginia Wine Expo but never made it out to visit them. So we finally set a date and made a day of it.

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The bright shades of purple on the pennants at the entrance were a good indicator that we had reached the wine and made them noticeable off the road. Once you turn in there is quite a steep incline down to the winery. It made the whole thing seem more rustic and hidden away. I really liked it! The tasting room is also unassuming it just looks like a neighbor’s house, no big deal.

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And that quiet, unassuming, homey atmosphere continued once you entered the tasting room. The stairway leading upstairs was an impromptu gift shop, and the owner, Sue, was in the foyer putting labels on boxes! It was just the best entrance into a tasting room ever!

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The entire tasting room is full of the cutest little knick knacks and signs. It invites you to wander around and peruse. The chessboard is a battle of corks and zorks which I thought was a really cute touch. And as the dog people that they are they had treats set out for your four-pawed friends.

They had another little corner with some items for sale. One thing that really stood out to me were some locally made soaps using the wines from Elk Island Winery! I love local, I love wine, I love being clean! Total winner in my books.

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But, I digress from the wine! The tasting menu is very straight forward, you get to pick 6 wines for $5.00, but your tasting fee is waved with the purchase of a bottle of wine so it really is a steal. I stuck with the dry wines because that’s where my palette likes to be. And it very much enjoyed the Elk Island wines it tried.

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Also, the tasting came with the cutest little penguin crackers. I named mine Timothy. Apparently these cheese penguins come from costco and they are super cheesy. I think I’ll search them out at my next visit there.

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They have a variety of snacks and beverages on offer as well as merchandise for sale. They really do invite you to stay and relax with them after your tasting.

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After our tasting we grabbed some drinks and snacks and sat outside. The house’s back deck serves as outdoor seating and really does complete that homey atmosphere. There are two more large tables with tables and extra chairs as well as smaller tables scattered around. There were three different groups out there with us and we never felt crowded.

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One thing that I really love about a winery is when they allow outside food and non-alcoholic drinks and provide a comfy place to sit and enjoy their wine. We did bring some snacks but we also got their cheese plate. Which, at twelve dollars is a total steal.

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And of course, drinks! I got a glass of their Chambourcin Rosé and just had to try the ginger green tea sangria because it’s so unusual! It was amazingly refreshing and perfect for one of the first warm spring days we have had!

If you are ever out and about in Goochland, VA take a trip over to Elk Island Winery! The atmosphere and wines won’t disappoint! Come thirsty and hungry because they have plenty to satisfy both cravings! Cheers Elk Island!

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We headed just down the road to Byrd Cellars after we finished here. A perfect one, two combo!

review, Travel, wine

Byrd Cellars; Goochland, VA

After our visit to Elk Island Vineyards we headed down the road a few minutes to Byrd Cellars for some more locally grown Goochland, VA wine. It is another very lovely and homey set of buildings divided into a tasting room and a winery.

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The winery is painted a gorgeous shade of purple and catches the light beautifully. There are mentions of this being a subterranean winery on the website and the phrase was bandied about in the tasting room. But I didn’t ask at the time. I would really like to know if they do tours!

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But the tasting room is the place to be. It’s so picturesque from the outside but the inside takes your breath away as well.

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In fact, the tasting room was hand built by a minister who lived there with his wife for years. After his wife passed he decided to move on to travel ministry and rents his home out to Byrd Cellars. The place is beautiful inside with large windows overlooking the mountains and elegantly exposed beams. But, onto the tasting!

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The wines they have on offer for tasting rotates and they have it listed behind the tasting bar. There were some sweeter wines that I usually prefer but overall it was a very good selection. A surprising was the “velvet” I thought it would be syrupy sweet but instead it was lovely and dry and the bitter dark chocolate hit you right at the end.

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The staff was so friendly and knowledgable I could have stood there and sipped for a lot longer. But they were busy and I didn’t want to hog the bar. Instead I took a wander around the tasting room while we finished our glasses off.

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The exposed beams held all the glasses from the different wine festivals that Byrd Cellars has attended and I thought this was such a neat touch and really gave you a sense of how vast wine making in Virginia is. I also loved these twine and button wine bottles!

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It was a very successful girls’ day! Cheers to Virginia Wine!

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wine

Virginia Wine Expo 2018

The Virginia Wine Expo is a bit of a tradition for me and mine. I’ve been for the last five years running, pretty much since I moved to Virginia. Lloyd has been with me since we were first started dating and this is the second year his Mother and Sister have joined us.

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This year, though, was slightly different since the venue has changed. We had the distinct pleasure of being hosted by Richmond’s historic Main Street Station. If you ever driven up I-95 you have probably seen the distinct clock tower facade. Recently they have built a glass sided platform that really gives the station something special and was an excellent place to showcase Virginia wine.

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We walked in and were greeted by Poseidon and the ubiquitous Virginia LOVE sculpture. Because Virginia is for lovers and the God of the sea.

Reidel glasses greeted us once we cleared the ticket check and the ID verification. I have quite the collection of Virginia Wine Expo glasses after years of attending this event. In fact, the quality if the glasses have made me a die hard Reidel fan.

One of the best things about the Virginia Wine Expo is their yearly showcasing of both a domestic and international wine region. This year we sampled Oregon wine as well as Australian/New Zealand Wines. The delightful Oregon Pinot Noirs and the crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs really made my visit this year. I visited the Willamette Valley a few years ago with some family and friends. I will have to write about that trip but allow me to wax poetic about Oregon wine for a few lines.

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On my trip to Oregon we visited Adelsheim, Brooks and Erath. We visited a number of other wineries as well but Brooks and Erath continue to be some of my favorite that I have ever been to. One other winery, Big Table Farm, which is not show cased here was the standout of that trip though. I feel like I should soon write a blog about that trip to the Willamette Valley. In the meantime, a brief word on the Australian and New Zealand wines.

New Zealand is known for their crisp, citrusy wine. And these didn’t disappoint. I love the clean grapefruit finish you often get with a really quality Sauvignon blanc. The Drylands and Three Brooms were especially refreshing. Which brings me to the many. many Virginia Wines we drank.

I have been to a number of these wineries in person and they all do a very good job of showing off the best Virginia has to offer. However, they aren’t some of the more prominent Virginia wineries. These would require much more in depth blogging and I will try to do them justice in subsequent entries. There were a couple of non wine vendors worth mentioning. The I See Spain grater bowls and plates were a huge hit.

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Lloyd decided to eat a couple of cloves of whole garlic which made for a malodorous few tastings following our visit to this booth. The very neat thing about these bowls and plates is that the bottom is textured so that you can grate cheese, chocolate, garlic, ginger and other foods. I have to admit that I bought a set and am looking forward to using them and blogging about them! Another new addition to the wine expo was a surprising number of distilleries the attended. While I normally love Whiskey I didn’t want to ruin my chances of a hangover free Monday so I only visited one such booth.

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The whisky here was quite tasty and surprisingly smooth. I look forward to making a trip up there soon and promise to write about it when I do. All in all the 2018 Virginia Wine Expo was a definite success. It’s also nice to be enough of a grown up to know that I won’t be hungover tomorrow morning!

wine

Williamsburg Winery

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I think it’s time I start writing about wine as I promised I would. I’m going to start off with an easy one. Easy because we go to the The Williamsburg Winery often and are wine club members here. We love this winery so much that Lloyd and I are getting married there in December.

 

Every quarter we get a selection of three wines in a cute little carrying case and each month we have four free reserve tastings. These tastings are excellent. They are in a little back room and include a drier selection of wines. I really enjoy the more intimate setting of the backroom tasting. Chief among those reasons is the fact that members get to sit and it’s nice to have that option. The membership also came with a very nice discount on our wedding, so a total win-win.

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If you are ever in Williamsburg and a lover of dry red wine you owe it to yourself to make a visit to this Winery and do the Reserve Tasting. Just look at that list of wine. The real stand outs are the two Malbecs at the end. The 2013 Apogeo is the first 100% Malbec that Williamsburg Winery has put out. And the second, the 2015 Reflective, is from their sister winery, A16, in Argentina. You can see that they scored very well in Wine Enthusiast, and the scores are justly deserved.

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Of course this is just a small selection of their wine. There are many other tastings and tours available. Including one that ends in the notorious cellar wine jail. There are also two different restaurants on premises the Gabriel Archer Tavern and the Cafe Provencal. The Tavern serving more American style fair like this roast beef sandwich. Also you can combine tours with pre fixe menu deals at the tavern.

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The Cafe focuses on French cuisine of a more haute variety. It’s a little pricier but their is also an option for a tasting menu coupled with a tour for a very reasonable price. The food and the service when we have eaten here has been amazing. I only took a few picture because I couldn’t be bothered to delay myself or the people I was with.

 

I want to give a special mention to the onsite hotel, The Wedmore Place. It was built ten years ago in the fashion of a french chateau. It oozes old-world charm, absolutely oozes. Each room is uniquely appointed and named after a different of old work Europe; Bavaria, Killarney, Andalusia, Champagne, Veneto, to name a few. I have visited the premises many times and seen inside a number of the rooms but have not spent the night there…yet. We will be staying there for our wedding weekend so expect a much more detailed blog post when that time comes. And maybe a word or two on the wedding itself. In the meantime I leave you with a picture of this lovely wine wall.

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