WINE CLUB

A Hauntingly Elegant Wine Party….

In the South, the humid hot summer heat begins to dissipate slowly as Fall quietly eases in with its cool refreshing breezes and changing foliage, but not until well into late October or November. Still we hang our autumn leaved garlands and wreaths on our doors and thresholds, line the front walkways with purple, yellow and amber chrysanthemums and perfectly shaped pumpkins hoping to encourage the comforting temperatures of Fall to fully arrive. Autumn is my favorite time of year. A time when my passion for baking and cooking hearty soups and stews peaks, along with taking long walks as nature’s colors transform into the most beautiful shades of red, orange, and burgundy.

Several years ago I went on a Fall Pilgrimage in New England -from Boston, to Salem, Portland, Kennebunkport, through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, The Berkshires, Stockbridge and finally Cape Code to witness the most beautiful display of nature I’ve ever seen along with historical landmarks of our wonderful country. I enjoyed it so much, that I did it again a few years later. I still remember the quaint little town of Salem dressed for the coming of Halloween, with potted mums displayed everywhere you looked and our visit to the Salem Witch Museum.

Those memories of my Fall in New England and the haunting vibrations of witches and Halloween, inspired my Hauntingly Elegant Wine Club evening. I wanted it to be unique but not gimmicky, catchy with a touch of elegance.

THE INVITE:

IMAGES BORROWED FROM A BEAUTIFULLY CATERED HAUNTING EVENT –
POSTED ON MARTHA STEWART’S WEBSITE THAT INSPIRED MY VERSION OF A HAUNTINGLY ELEGANT PARTY.
https://www.marthastewart.com/1521546/host-halloween-dinner-party-hauntingly-beautiful

My invitation was emailed to my guests, but I created a printed version for the sake of creating a photo. Guests were asked to bring a red wine, with a haunting, spooky or spell bound label and a small bite; and black attire.

THE APERITIF:

The Aperitif: My signature cocktail “Bitter Broken Heart”

Thawed frozen black cherries soaked in kirsch, pureed and strained (discard cherry pulp); add the juice of half a lemon to cherry liquid. Fill 1/4th of each coupe glass with cherry juice; 3 dashes chocolate bitters and top off with Prosecco. Garnish with dried cherries soaked in kirsch over night and an Amarena cherry.

My guests sipped on their cocktail while another guest and I opened the bottles of wine, placed each in a numbered bag and poured the wines into the numbered glasses in preparation for the tasting.

About a month prior to this party, I had purchased red roses to place on the table for my book club meeting. For some reason, they were so pretty and remained only partially open. I watched as they slowly dried holding their bud form. I also had a vase of hydrangeas from a friend’s wedding that had dried in their contains. With a plastic cauldron, plastic skulls, green and Spanish moss (all from the dollar store), dry dead branches from the yard sprayed with gold paint and black grosgrain ribbon tied in knots on it’s smaller branches to look like bats, I created a spooky elegant floral arrangement for my sofa table. Black lanterns placed on each side contained battery candles and pieces of dried flowers, moss and black glittered branches.

From there I began to dry roses and other flowers from my garden to sprinkle along the table, add to my candelabra, and create other small arrangements around the house. I made spiders from champagne corks and black pipe cleaners, and placed Spanish moss and black crows in the chandeliers.

The local craft store had all of the Halloween decorations on sale and I purchased spider web netted tablecloths and scarves that draped over my lamp shades. More plastic dollar store skulls, black glittered twigs, moss and dried flowers were sprinkled along the center of each table. On this evening I had 14 members requiring two tables for seating. I used my black and gold rimmed china, brass candle holders with black tapered candles and gold-ware cutlery to add to the mystic and elegance.

THE CHEESE COURSE

Baked brie with black cherry, raspberry and black grapes simmered in red wine.
Served in mini cast iron pans.

THE SMALL BITES:

Warm Garden of Eden Autumnal Salad with Serpent Garlic Breadsticks

  • 1 cup of black rice
  • 1 cup of peeled and diced sweet potato or butternut squash
  • 1 quart of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cubed green apple
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili flavored oil (optional)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecans & or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 to 3 cups of baby spinach or arugula
  • salt and pepper
  • Apple cider vinaigrette
  1. Cook rice in vegetable stock using amount of liquid according to the package instructions and allow to complete to room temperature when complete.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. On a small sheet pan – place the pecans and/or pepitas and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. This brings out the natural oils in the nuts to enhance their flavor and crunch. (A great alternative is candied or spice coated pecans – but they take more time involving egg whites, sugar and spices – you can find a recipe on Pinterest). Set toasted nuts aside in a small bowl.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Using 2 separate sheet pans – spray each tray well with cooking spray (I used olive oil spray) and place pans in the oven to pre-heat the tray.
  4. Place the diced squash (or sweet potato) in an appropriate sized bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (or) 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of chili oil to add a little heat, salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat. Carefully spread the vegetables in a single layer on one of the heated sheet trays and return to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables over half way through creating a little browning on the sides that are facing down on the tray.
  5. Use the same bowl to place the diced apples and toss in remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Carefully spread on the second heated sheet tray in a single layer and roast in the oven 15 minutes (warmed through but with a little crunch still present) – when these come out the squash needs turning over.
  6. Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large salad bowl mix together the ingredients for the vinaigrette (recipe in the next box).
  7. Add the cooked black rice first, the roasted apples and vegetables next, then the arugula or spinach (or combination), pomegranate seeds, pecans and/or pepitas without tossing at this point. Layer with heaviest items in the bottom and lighter on top with vinaigrette at the very bottom of the bowl. When ready to serve gently toss all ingredients together to lightly coat with the vinaigrette. Note: To keep vegetables warm, you can leave them on the sheet tray in the oven at 200 degrees until ready to serve for about 20 minutes – more than that they may dry out too much.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette: In a mason jar with lid ( or simply add ingredients to the bottom of the salad bowl) place 1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive or Avocado Oil; 1/4 cup Apple Cider; 1 tsp. Dijon mustard; 1 minced shallot (or garlic optional); 1 tbsp. honey or agave; 1/2 tsp. kosher salt; 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper. Either whisk in the bowl or shake vigorously in the jar to combine. Optional: Gently warm vinaigrette in a small saucepan and return to serving salad bowl. (This is for a lightly dressed salad. If you prefer more dressing -double the recipe and guests can always add more ).

Serpent Garlic Breadsticks: See my notes below.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/491525746823276732/

When I saw these serpent breadsticks on Pinterest, I decided to make a warm Garden of Eden vegetable salad and breadsticks that used autumnal flavors. The salad combined black forbidden rice, roasted sweet potatoes (or butternut squash), pomegranate seeds, baby spinach and toasted pecans with a warm apple cider vinaigrette. My serpent breadsticks were flavored with garlic butter and black Hawaiian salt. For best results: The tongues were made with dried red chili peppers with a little “v” cut into the end with scissors. I had to make a little slot at the end of the head of each breadstick before baking , to get the pepper to hold in place. I quickly inserted the pepper tongue in place immediately after the breadstick came out of the oven while still soft. As they cooled the pepper held in place. I used black peppercorns for the eyes. [Baking the breadstick with the red pepper inserted causes it to burn, so it has to be added after the baking.] Below are images of the beautiful small bites brought by my guests.

THE DESSERT COURSE:

Fall immediately makes me think of campfires and S’mores. I found this great cake recipe adapted from Molly Yeh’s blog. I used leftover cake and filling to make a couple of cake balls I called truffles, and a mango syrup that I dotted along the sides of the plate to help cut the richness of the ganache. A lighter version would be to use a mousse in lieu of ganache and semi-sweet or milk chocolate instead of the bittersweet I used – but a true S’more calls for a rich chocolate. Several of my guests were celebrating birthdays over the previous and next couple of weeks, so we added candles and sang ‘Happy Birthday’. http://mynameisyeh.com/mynameisyeh/2017/4/smores-mini-cakes

THE WINE

The Winner!
  • La Catrina [Cabernet Sauvignon] 3 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Bloody Red Blend] 2 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Cabernet Sauvignon 2016] 2 votes
  • HOB NOB WICKED LIMITED EDITION [RED BLEND] 2 votes
  • Ministry of The Vinterior [Cabernet Sauvignon 2015] 1 vote
  • Vampire [Vampire Red -Winemaker’s Blend 2014]
  • Saved [Red Wine 2014]
One of my guest brought me with little ghostly air plant as a hostess gift.

This is a great time to pull out your slightly tarnished silver, save the colorful flower petals from your garden and let them dry, and search through dollar stores for moss, black pebbles and other items to add to your decor. While I live near the swamps and large trees filled with Spanish moss – I purchased moss to avoid bringing in unwanted insects and who knows what else into the house.

The winner’s trophy –The winner received this webbed bagged bottle
of Limited Edition Bartenura Semi-Sec.

Long before the idea of a Hauntingly Elegant Party came to mind, I found this bottle of Bartenura Semi-Sec (of all places at Walmart). The webbed bag was so elegant and interesting that I decided to buy a bottle and hold on to it for some occasion. One day while one of my friends was visiting, I was sharing some of my ideas for the party and suddenly remembered the bottle tucked away in my pantry. She pointed out that the bag looked like a spider web. Lightbulb moment – I had my trophy for the winner.

As the Fall months approach, if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate the ghostly spirits of Halloween with a slightly Gothic twist , I hope you will be inspired to host your own hauntingly elegant evening. If you try any of my ideas or create your own – check out the posts on my Pinterest page and share yours.

WINE CLUB

Aperitivo Summer Italian Whites (Wine Club 2019)

THE INVITE

The blazing heat of summer arrived well before the actual official day of the season this year and has been nonstop. Basically no rain to speak of for several weeks now, the lawns are browning and plant life sagging. Lawn sprinklers are doing their best to supply some much needed nourishment, but by the following day – everything looks parched once again.

Outdoor entertaining in Southern Louisiana is simply uncomfortable. Between the intense heat and the buzzing and biting mosquitos, unless there is a screened in patio available, outdoor entertaining is limited to several weeks in the Spring months and again in the Fall . So our summertime wine party has to be held inside.

Longing for the comforts of a cool sea breeze, and the smell of fresh salty sea air, my inspiration is drawn from the colors, traditions and flavors of the Island of Capri and the Amalfi Coast of Italy as we sip and taste cold citrus and grassy white Italian wines.

For the invitation (that was emailed) I created a text box in Word using a blue font and border with a pale yellow page color. I inserted a lemon branch (free clip art) and created the boarder with an online picture of bougainvillea, lemons and votive candles that I printed out and then measured, cut with a paper cutter and glued to frame the invitation.

SETTING THE TABLE

The invitation, the score card, dollar store lemon salad plate.

My intention was to create a fresh, Amalfi Coast – Capri Island atmosphere. Images of bougainvillea bursting with vibrant fuchsia blossoms climbing the walls of villas, the fresh white linen fashions, cool variations of the ocean’s blue and green hues, nautical touches to represent the fishing and boating, as well as an abundance of lemons all highlighted with the romantic flicker of candlelight were all incorporated into my table decor.

I searched for an image of a lemon tree branch small enough to clip and place at the top of the wine score card (above), using the same image to make a small place card to slip into the sardine can pull-tabs. Finding one Ortiz sardinas can in my pantry that inspired the idea was used for this picture, but I ordered a lower cost version from World Market that were actually used for the party. While canned sardines actually come from Portugal they made a really cute place setting stand and favor. I have memories of eating them as a little girl with my grandpa, but I’ve never eaten them as an adult. Why does it seem so scary a thought now?

THE FLOWERS & LEMONS OF THE AMALFI COAST

The kaleidoscope of deep Mediterranean ocean blues and greens, the jutting rocky cliffs dotted with pastel vistas, salty fresh air breezes filled with the fragrance of fish and seafood and white capped waves splashing along the rocky shoreline are all hard to capture in a dining room, but we can imagine.

I bought this lovely climbing bougainvillea for $16 a couple of months prior to my party, with high hopes that it would yield a healthy quantity of blossoms for the planned date to clip and create a center garland for my table. Another option would be to bring the plant indoors for the evening. While the plant is strong and healthy, when the day of the party arrived, it was completely void of blossoms. I’m sure it will be overflowing with blossoms by next week- when I no longer need them! So as a substitute, I clipped crepe myrtle blossoms of the same color from the trees that we have an abundance of in the South.

Of course you can’t have an Amalfi coast themed party without lemons. I’ve always wanted a beautiful, healthy lemon tree in my backyard, but one given to me years ago died once I moved it from a pot to the ground. While lemon trees can be grown successfully in Southern Louisiana, the most successful citrus here that I know if is the sweet satsuma. The satsuma peels easily and is free of seeds with its harvest being closer to Fall. One of my wine club members has successfully grown a lemon tree in her back yard for years that yields huge Meyer lemons similar in size to those found on the Amalfi coast, but our party was just before the harvesting time so I couldn’t have fresh branches dotted with lemons for my decor.

Luckily, artificial, but very realistic in appearance, lemon tree branches can be purchased in many places. So for this party, that’s what I’ll be using.

THE DECOR & COLOR INSPIRATION

It was summer, but I struggled to find a tablecloth or table runner and napkins in the soft blues I wanted for the table. My usual resources ( Homegoods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls) were coming up short. I found blue and white striped napkins, but nothing for the table. Then I found a printed tablecloth that might work, but no napkins. The Friday after the 4th of July, I decided to browse around in World Market Cost Plus. Many of the summer items were marked down 40% to 50% and there was a 20% off coupon to add from my membership. Among those sale items I found this sardine plate with the perfect shades of ocean blues I had imagined and I knew I had found my color inspiration.

On a lower shelf, I found two cobalt blue glass lantern candle holders that added a bit of drama and height to the table. My luck continued and I found a table runner and solid napkins in a cool shade of blue similar to one of the sardines on the plate. Later I found a table cloth in the same shade of blue. Dollar Tree rope (found in the floral section) was cut and knotted to give a nautical touch around each napkin.

THE PLACE CARD

SMOKED SARDINES IN LEMON FLAVORED OLIVE OIL THE ACTUAL CANS USED.

THE WATER BOTTLES

Several years ago while browsing through my local TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores, I was drawn to these beautiful cobalt blue bottles of Ty Nant water. As with wine, tasting water from different parts of the world is interesting. I chilled and drank the water, but afterwards I just couldn’t part with the beautiful bottle. There’s something elegant about it. Over time, I collected and saved both the bottles and their screw on aluminum tops (all 12 of them) and for a period of time refilled each with filtered water. I would then place the empty bottle(s)in the dishwasher to clean and refill again. I thought this was an environmentally clever way to drink bottled water, but also a very attractive vessel. Something about drinking from a glass bottle rather than plastic or a metal version is much more appealing. For the wine party, I’ll be filling my cleaned bottles with sparkling Italian San Pellegrino water at each place setting for both an additional pop of color and the water my guests need to cleanse their palates.

THE APERITIF AND THE WINE

For the aperitif I try not to venture too far away from something with wine. I’m concerned about blowing out my guests taste buds with an alcohol or flavor too intense to afterwards enjoy the actual wine tasting. I found this cocktail “The Gentle Italian” again on Giada’s page made with Lillet, Aperol and Processo. It was light and citrusy. My guests sipped on their aperitif while I and another guest opened and labeled bottles and another poured their contents into numbered glasses.

While watching the PBS show Weekends with Yankee I saw an interview with the famous chef and good friend of Julia Child -Jacques Pepin. I learned of this beautiful book of his art created to record memories of food and fun with friends. I wish it had been available years ago when I first started my wine, book club and tea gatherings, but it was published in 2017. My friends made notes on the left and listed the food they brought for the gathering on the menu side. I chose a page that fit the theme of our wine meeting and everyone took turns making their entires while sipping their Aperitif.

While our party is about wine, it isn’t stuffy. We of course want it to be fun! So it was no surprise when one showed up with the fish bottled table wine, that wasn’t bad by the way. The bottles are lined up as they were numbered above.

THE CHEESE COURSE

I like to find new things in the culinary world for my guests and I to experience. Burrata is , kind of the “it” appetizer ingredient at the moment. It is pricey, but when I went in search of it at Whole Foods I happened to catch an Amazon Prime member discount day with 40% off. I purchased two balls of the cheese and decided it would just be a small bite sample for everyone. For an elevated way to serve it, I looked through a back issue of Wine Spectator Magazine that hasn’t failed me yet. There I found a Burrata Caprese recipe by the high respected chef Nancy Silverton. I prepared the plates about a half hour before everyone arrived and set each out on the table knowing I had to handle the wine as it arrived.

My twist on the recipe was to add fresh slices of heirloom tomato and chunks of parmesan to the plate. I couldn’t find the vine cherry tomatoes that the chef used, so I substituted the multi-colored grape and pear shaped tomatoes for a more colorful plate.

.https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a5605/mozza-caprese-recipe/ A small bowl of warm marinated olives was set on the side as a little antipasti touch. Everyone loved the cheese and the tomatoes.

THE SMALL BITES

THE DESSERT COURSE

For a hot summer’s night, I wanted to serve something traditionally Italian, but refreshing and light. Inspired by the series Giada in Italy-Capri, I decided to serve small bite sized biscotti and an espresso granita that she made on her show.

I used Giada’s limoncello biscotti recipe, but made my own twist by adding chopped candied lemon (from Trader Joes) to the dough and a quartered piece to the top of each cookie before baking. This added a little more color and identifies the flavor of the cookie. I also made pistachio biscotti found @ilarysbakery. The size of the star shaped pastry tip was not provided so my shape isn’t as impressive as her’s, but they had the great pistachio flavor.

Pistachio and Limoncello biscotti.

The granita prepared the day before and scooped into the cups earlier on the day of the party saves on serving time. My freezer drawer was cleared for storing the espresso cups and each were topped with whipped cream before serving. Per Giada’s recipe if desired you can pour your shot of limoncello into the granita. After first tasting the granita on its own many of us tried it with the limoncello and found it to be surprisingly good. I also decided to pick up some cannoli’s and placed one on each plate to share.

No surprise, an Italian themed evening ends with the digestif limoncello. Whether sipping it on its own or adding it to the granita all limoncellos are not the same. Some are very strong with a moonshine flavor or bitter and yet over the years may mellow out. Others have the perfect balance with just the right amount of everything like a cool glass of lemonade. While in Italy several years ago, I was told to store the bottle in the freezer.

While the score cards are there for making notes, they aren’t always serious as you can see. Some try to guess from the list of descriptions which bottle is which, others just note how the wine makes them feel or simply check their favorites.

Guests are provided with a list of the wines and whatever descriptions I could find on the internet to reference while tasting the wines.

The top two winning wines of the night and the trophy –
a blown glass vase made in Italy.

Another lovely evening where the conversation this time was buzzing about upcoming travel plans for myself and some of my guests from Italy to Germany, France and Switzerland. We can’t wait to get back together after our trips and share memories of our adventures.

WINE CLUB

Peek-a-Boo aka 14 Shades- Annual Wine Off

To be fair, when you are blind folded you can’t exactly pose for a photo!

Our “Decades” Wine Club was near the end of its 5th year. One steamy summer evening in July we gathered for a “blind” tasting of the top 2 bottles from prior meetings over the past year.  Our club consists of 5 couples and 2 singles, with 2 alternate couples who fill in whenever one of our original members is unable to attend. Due to limited space in my home, dishes, glasses and so on – I’ve limited the attending group per meeting to 12. The part that I did not anticipate is that both of our “alternate couples” each had 2 winning bottles of wine from meetings they attended during our past year.  This caused me to form a plan for 16 possible guests (we ended up with 14), so I simply split everyone up between two tables rather than one and it worked out fine.

IF YOUR GOING TO PICK A WINNER…. YOU WILL NEED A TROPHY
FOR THE WINNING WHITE & RED

I’ve learned that even when your intention is to organize a gathering for fun; when a little light competition is involved, “winning” can be tempting.  I began to observe my guests throughout the evening at past meetings and overheard couples trying to identify which wine was “theirs”, rather than voting on the wine they actually liked the most – or one spouse would vote for the same wine as the other, rather than independently voting.  As a result we often have 2 wines that tie or have nearly equal votes.  To make the finals more interesting I decided to include the top 2 wines from each meeting.  We typically have 7 bottles per meeting and with this plan we ended up having our usual 7 bottles (3 white and 4 red) for the finals that I call “The Annual Wine-off”.

So what’s with the Peek-a-Boo you ask?  Due to my little observance of “couple voting” I decided to cleverly separate everyone for the initial tastings and give everyone a blindfold.  The bottles were bagged and numbered 1 through 7. Then I discreetly wrote the same 1 through 7 under the base of the stem of each glass.   After I poured all of the wines into their matching numbered glass I placed quarter sized numbers 1 thru 3 (in front of the whites) and 1 thru 4 (in front of the reds) that I printed out.  The girls were lined up at the bar on their own with the 3 whites, 4 reds, a small bowl of bread and crackers, a glass of water and a blindfold.  The blindfolds pushed out just slightly under the nose allowing downward vision, so they could see the stems of the glasses and the numbers in front of them.  They started with the whites (that should be the coolest temperature) and each chose which of the 3 they liked most, by handing me the printed number.  

Slips of paper with numbers -after tasting the wines blind folded, the vote was cast by selecting the number each member wanted to vote for.

The winning white and red.

I then had the girls step back and remove their blindfolds for a break. while delivering their 3 white wine glasses to their partners who were sitting at the table waiting to now determine their blindfolded votes.  However, I rearranged the glasses so that they were not in the same order.  Their 1 thru 3 were different bottles now actually 3,2,1.   When the guys voted I had to get them to show me the actual glass they were choosing so I could look under the stem and write the true bottle number on their voting tab. [This would be impossible to handle all on my own. My long time friend who is a member does not drink wine. So I employ her to help me with the uncorking, bagging and numbering task at the beginning and tonight she shared the task of monitoring our blindfolded voters on this night.]

The white wine competitors and trophy for the winning white.

While the guys were tasting the whites, the girls moved on to the reds and once their votes were cast, again I delivered the reds to the guys in a different line up to make their choices.

Not only did the voting spread out to give votes to every bottle, we also had an actual clear higher count winner for both white and red.  My guests also were stunned by how much better they were able to focus on the flavor of the wine when blindfolded.  In theory it has been said that if one of the senses in blocked off, the others are enhanced.  By taking away sight – more focus was distributed to the taste buds and everyone’s concentration on the nose and flavor was elevated.  

The trophy for the winning red and the red wine competitors.

When I explained to everyone they would be blindfolded the “Fifty Shades” joking began – therefore I affectionally added “AKA 14 SHADES” WINE-OFF.   

But in truth, aside from trying to get a clearer voting method, the evening was festive and fun. My group of winos are always eager participants in whatever I dream up. It keeps our meetings fresh and fun where great memories and friendships are formed.

THE CHEESE COURSE

THE CHEESE COURSE
Red Grape & red onion mustrada

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/grape-and-red-onion-mostarda-5300990
Ice box blue cheese, pecan, rosemary crackers

https://www.marthastewart.com/1072363/blue-cheese-pecan-icebox-crackers

Goat’s Milk Pavé with Cover Honey & Mango Gelée
[Black & pink peppercorn crust]

http:// http://top100.winespectator.com/2017/article/recipe-match-for-vouvray/

THE SMALL BITES

On the table: The beautiful and delicious small bites prepared by my guests: [Left] Cucumber cups filled with julienned daikon radish, carrots, bean sprouts, baby tender lettuce, a large boiled shrimp, thinly sliced red jalapeno -topped with black sesame seeds, a dot of Siracha and sweet chili sauce; Asparagus Au Gratin; Grilled chicken skewers; [Right] Mini lamb pies and caramelized onion quiche. [Far right] It was National Chocolate day and one guest brought artesian chocolate truffles.

THE DESSERT COURSE

DESSERT : BY HOSTESS
SWEET BASIL CANTALOUPE SORBET WITH CRIPY PROSCIUTTO
 

For photos of other small bites and wine club meetings go to https://www.pinterest.com/lorilynh219/social-interactions-parties/wine-club/

Blindfolds can be found on Amazon.com.

WINE CLUB

Derby Wine Club – Bourbon Barrel Aged Reds -The party!

The Wine Club wreath for my entrance door (see Wine Club Wreath Themes Post) was also dressed up for the Derby theme , with a bow tie, a little hat,
gold horse and red silk roses.

IT’S PARTY TIME…. NOW —- WHAT TO WEAR?

A beautiful much more professional version of this fascinator was the inspiration for this homemade version. It began with a red, white and blue felt hat with headband. I couldn’t find the large blue and white gingham fabric used in the original, so I recovered the hat with white paper dollies (first layer) to hide the bright red, and then large blue and white checked gingham tissue paper left over from the grillin’ party. A silk hydrangea and white roses, white feathers (in the kid’s craft section a bag at the craft store) ; silver trim from the sewing section of Hobby Lobby, and a bag of plastic horses purchased online, sprayed silver (others in gold for the table decor) all used to create this little jewel.

Here’s a fascinator tip:

These fascinators are top heavy and keep moving around on your head. I hot glued ribbon from the top of the head band (centered) leaving equal amounts on each side to tie under the back of my hair. The edges were folded over to the backside of the headband and glued again. I made little single knots at the end for a finished look. This provided a more secure fit and balance on the head.

After all of the planning -our big derby day finally arrived. The ladies all entered one by one. each with their own hand made fascinators, while the guys (a little less enthusiastically) looked like dashing Southern gentlemen in their bow ties. One by one as they arrived, I quickly had each couple stand in front of the beautiful painting of racing horses (borrowed from my neighbor) for a photo.

My neighbor had this beautiful painting in her dining room and graciously
let me borrow it for the night. It was the perfect backdrop for photos!
All of the ladies made their fascinators –
I bought a pack of 6 bow ties (very nicely made by the way)

online for the guys for about $2 each.

At each meeting I create a little gift basket of some kind for the winner(s) whose wine received the most votes for the night. I’ve tried to create a way for everyone to get a chance to win over the years. For this wine party, I purchased a blue ribbon and added a little gold horse- on the number 1 (that was a surprise taped to my shipping invoice when I received the embossed brass race horses that from Etsy – used to create my gold rimmed aperitif glasses.) I also purchased a bag of wine charms (not the kind you put on stemware – these are just regular charms), and threaded a cork screw and bottle of wine on thin twine that easily wrapped behind the large button to create a Derby wine blue ribbon.

My aperitif (a rose sangria) was served by one of my guests, while two of us uncorked, bagged and poured the bottles of wine for our tasting. As the cheese course (pimento cheese soufflés ) baked in the oven, my guests gathered in the living room to watch the Belmont Stakes race unfold with the winning horse -Sr. Winston securing his victory.

I slightly altered the table decor from t he original plan (see “Derby Wine Party – The Plan” post), with black and white diamond patterned ribbon that resembles jockey silks and added a great touch to the black linen napkins. A small knotted tie of the same ribbon was added to the top of the score card to match.

MY CHEESE COURSE: This was my first run of this Pimento Cheese Soufflé (meaning no test bake) and it was delicious. The recipe says it yields 4-6 servings (depending on the size of your dish), but I made 12 individual ramekins from the ingredients of just the one recipe. I also brought one to my neighbor who let me borrow her painting and cut some of her Black Eyed Susans for the party.

Once everyone was finished tasting the wines, we voted to determine a winner before moving on to the food. The comments were that all of these wines were very rich and screaming for a luscious red meat or red sauce. We always vote on the wine prior to eating, so that the vote is purely based on the taste of the wine, unencumbered by other flavors added to the palate.

THE WINNER WITH 5 OUT OF 10 VOTES.
THE SIX LABELS OF THE EVENING IN THE ORDER OF VOTING.

Once the cheese course had been consumed, we moved on to the small bites that my guests and I provided. A week before the party I emailed “inspiration” from a Pinterest search of traditional Derby foods and everyone provided feedback on what they would bring to avoid duplications. As always, the food was beautiful and delicious.

A LITTLE CENTER PIECE DECOR FOR THE FOOD TABLE.
FROM BACK LEFT CLOCKWISE: BOURBON LAMB-PORK MEATBALLS, WITH GOAT CHEESE & CHIMICHURRI; BENEDICTINE SANDWICHES; CHICKEN & WAFFLES; CHEESE GRITS SOUFFLE’ AND BABY BROWNS.

THE GRAND FINALE -DESSERT COURSE. A trio of favorites from different races. The Derby Pie (chocolate pecan pie) from Kentucky; the Lady Baltimore Cake & Smith Island Cake (called Doberge in Louisiana) from the Preakness Stakes each a hit in their own way. While the actual Smith Island cake is 10 layers, I purchased a short Doberge cake at the bakery and cut it into rounds since I home baked the Derby pies and Lady Baltimore cake. One plate like the one below was served per couple.

Bellies full and heads maybe a little tipsy – I commented that one of my guests’ fascinator looked very 1920’s Art Deco, to which another guest replied, “Do I hear a Great Gatsby Theme coming to mind?” Hmmm – hang on to your hats, you never know…..

While not every meeting is as elaborate as this one, I do try to come up with one that has a little more costume and fun once per year. Last year it was our “Hauntingly Elegant” party near Halloween and the year prior it was our “Murder Mystery Nite”. [Blog posts for both are available in the Wine Club category]. For now we will toast this evening goodnight, and look forward to when we “meet” again!

WINE CLUB

A Symphony of Whites…..

Aperitif: White Port, Q Tonic and slice of orange.

THE APERITIF:

Port and Tonic makes 1 drink

4 ounces good-quality tonic water, such as Fevertree or Q Tonic
2 ounces white port
Orange slice, to garnish

Pack a highball glass with ice. Pour in the tonic, then the port. Stir lightly. Squeeze the orange slice a bit into the drink. Sip and enjoy!

I decided to do a little research about the wines of each country that we would be tasting, and found an article about a Portuguese aperitif made with white port and tonic water that I decided to greet my guests with.

THE INVITATION:

A watermark of a wine glass being filled with musical notes
to create my email invitation.

I searched the internet for free clip art and found the perfect wine glass with musical notes pouring in like wine. I inserted it as a watermark into my emailed invitation.

My wine club has been meeting at least three times a year for five years now. I feel it’s important to continue to create new experiences, so that everyone remains entertained. My group prefers red wines, but in the summer they have been open to tasting white wines. The theme for this wine party was termed “Symphony of Whites” an idea inspired by an old Victoria Magazine article with the same title. The symphony of whites article was composed of white garden flowers, but it sparked an idea for this white wine night, music and simple elegance. As always it began with the invitation, made from free clip of musical notes pouring into a wine glass that was used as a watermark for this invite.

THE TABLE DECOR & MUSIC

Playing on the “Symphony” I found a roll of music sheet wrapping paper that I used as a table runner down the center of the table. I like having a clean simple table due to all of the glassware and tight spacing. With assigned wines coming from parts of Germany and Austria where some of the best symphonies were composed or celebrated, I played symphony music on Pandora in the background. In fact, I play theme music for all of my parties on Pandora. For the Carnival Rio de Janeiro (see the past post) I played the Brazilian station, French music for the French wine night, and so on. Don’t forget the score cards. I used the same watermark from the invitation for the two column scorecard that is cut into two.

THE CHEESE COURSE:

For the cheese course I had a very large spread representing several of the countries; broiled feta with tomatoes and garlic roasted in Greek olive oil, stuffed grape leaves, various cheeses from the countries of our wines and a beer cheese fondue with baked pretzels. (See previous post on cheese courses). While I had a large spread, one of these would have been sufficient.

THE ACTIVITY CHALLENGE

When my wine club first met I would create little conversation games that encouraged everyone to share a little about themselves and offer topics of conversation that included and allowed everyone a chance to speak. With each new meeting plan, I tried to create fun exercises to make the evening interesting. For this party, once I had the list of wines in hand I looked up each on the internet. I found descriptions of the aromas of each and prepared slips of paper with the information. The description of each guests’ wine was set at their place at the table along with small plates containing items with some of the aromas described. The wines in the glasses were numbered, but it’s a blind tasting so no one knew which wine was theirs. The exercise was for each couple to use the description and fragrance items to try to identify which wine was theirs. [Two of the wines had pine scent – hence the sprigs of pine you see at the table.] White wines have a variety of interesting aromas and flavors that made this exercise fun.

This idea was formed after reading the “Cork Dork” by Bianca Bosker. She explained how sommeliers practice smelling various ingredients in order to master their scents. If you love wine I highly recommend this book. I’m happy to say that two of my guests identified their wines and those same two wines were also voted the top two of the night.

Aromas of ripe honeydew and nectarine with gingery note top. Vibrant, open-textured and crisply balanced, with pear, peach and rock melon fruit flavours.  Round, fleshy and smooth in texture with good clarity to its ripe melon and citrus flavors. Honeyed peach, pear tart, almond powder with a touch of orange bloom. Light yellow gold. – Australia

The scent is pure pine forest, cool and refreshing; the flavor is pure, fresh fruit—pears and cold green grapes—the pine notes floating over them as if carried on a breeze, A clean and refreshing zip of mint and eucalyptus explode from the glass. –Greece

Somehow, we completely forgot to take any pictures of the small bites for this party. It’s sometimes hard to host and also be photographer. Over time I’ve put sticky notes on the table to ensure either I or someone else takes a picture once everything arrives.

THE DESSERT COURSE:

Mini black forest cake dressed in a chocolate tuxedo cup & Viennese coffee with chocolate musical staff.

I had a lot of fun with the dessert course for this one. The most fun I’ve had since our Vino Italia night. I found chocolate tuxedo cups before I had the plan and stored them in the pantry for a future date. I used an “authentic” black forest cake recipe from Pinterest (which by the way is not as sweet as the usual American bakery version -and better for it). Bing cherries were in season, making the dessert the perfect choice. I deconstructed the cake into small chocolate tuxedo cups (perfect for the symphony) and a mini cake on the side for each couple to share. A Viennese coffee was also served with a chocolate music note I made with bittersweet chocolate a few days ahead.

Greece, South Africa, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Australia, Spain

When you want to experiment with different types of wine, it helps to make the evening interesting and entertaining. It also helps when the food is delicious! Try your own tasting with a night at the Symphony!

The top two wines and the two wines that were identified during the challenge.
WINE CLUB

A Summer Grillin’ Themed Wine Party

A 4th of July themed invite.

When the distinct aroma of fired up grills begin to permeate the neighborhood, you know summer has arrived. Our tastebuds begin to salivate over images of charred poultry, meats and vegetables. These amazing aromas and flavors inspired my grillin’ wine party in search of great wines to pair with the tasty offerings.

The Theme & The Invite:

The summer months open up multiple ways to create a theme, from Memorial Day to Independence Day or a simple summer day. As always once the theme is decided, we need an invitation. I’m very old school and love using old stationary, 3-dimensional stickers and a printer to create snail mail invites. My guests enjoy being invited with a written and mailed invite that they proudly display on their refrigerator or a bulletin board. In current times a simple text or email is sent as an invite without much creativity or energy to stir up interest. In my opinion a text is not taken as seriously as a true written invitation. I understand that it’s also a more affordable method and I’m all about low cost, but how about creating a nice invitation to email? Play with different fonts and colors, use a little free clip art and press send! Now we’re got everyone in the mood for a party!

My old school invite – stationary, 3-D sunflowers.

The Table Decor:

The term “Barbecue” evokes images of smoke rising from charcoal or gas grills under large oak trees at local parks; family and friends gathered around picnic tables with checkered tablecloths, nibbling on charred chicken, burgers, and corn. Grilling also makes me think of diners serving up grilled burgers and sandwiches in plastic baskets lined with paper. Combine all of this with the sunflower that turns to face the blazing sun with its bright and cheerful face and I have found the recipe for my table decor. I used the same stationary that came with note cards to hand write names for place cards and added a 3-D daisy.

Checkered table cloth and napkins; lunch baskets (all white purchased online)
lined with checkered tissue paper. The lunch baskets
were used to serve my grilled cheese course.
Place cards on dressed up stationary note cards printed with fern leaves.

The Cheese Course

Grilled brie, grilled walnut bread, roasted red grapes and salami.

If you have followed and read my past posts about planning my wine parties, you know that as the hostess, I usually provide an aperitif, the cheese course and the dessert. For this wine party I asked my guests to bring a variety of wines – rose’, white and red that would pair well with grilled foods. I served a Cote des roses -rose’ as the aperitif. For the cheese course I served grilled brie with oven roasted red grapes (licked with olive oil); salami and grilled fresh baked walnut bread. One basket was shared by each couple.

The winesthe Sin Zin was the winner.

The Small Bites:

Grilled corn, fresh red & yellow cherry tomatoes, black beans and basil
with a white balsamic vinaigrette.

Guests are asked to send notice of what their small bites will be. This serves two purposes, for one I can watch for duplications and secondly I make sure we have a fairly balanced menu. If I see something is lacking, I will take up the slack and add something to the table. In this case I made a grilled corn salad to add some veggies and freshness.

Below I also served grilled salmon with cantaloupe and grilled chicken with pineapple kabobs.

The Dessert

The dessert was also grilled – what’s better than grilled fresh summer peaches? I prefer the white peaches that were halved (and maybe a little over grilled), served with grilled sliced pound cake, mascarpone and a reduced balsamic drizzle – sprinkled with toasted granola and fresh basil.

The top 3 wines Red, Rose’ & White.

Summer is the best time to enjoy some deliciously grilled food paired with a variety of rose’, white and red wines regardless of what summertime theme you choose. This party would be even better outside if weather permits. So before those temps get to blazing – host your own grillin’ summer wine party! It’s really very simple!

WINE CLUB

Dress to Kill: Murder Mystery Wine Club

Fresh rosemary & lavender from my garden tied
with twine on the napkins; magnifying glass &
note pads with “inspector” hat & mustache.
(Both from the Dollar Tree)

I’m often asked where my ideas for my gatherings come from.  The truth is, I see something that inspires me and literally can’t sleep well for a few days. My mind races with a creative adrenaline induced frenzy, causing me to get up several times throughout the night to write down the avalanche of ideas that attack my thoughts so I can be freed to go back to sleep. The idea can be inspired by a magazine article, something I read in a novel, an item I see in a store, or something I see on a morning talk, news or cooking show. Once one of our wine meetings has ended, I’m immediately seeking out inspiration for the theme of the next.

This wine club meeting was inspired earlier in the year when I was listening to the Rachel Ray Show. A segment with two ladies from The Skimm discussed a wine pairing bookclub in their office, that has become a whole new point of interest for their newsletter.

My interest peaked (originally for my bookclub) so I listened more closely as four book and wine pairing examples were discussed.  One of the books, a historical crime fiction  ‘The Alienist’ by Caleb Carr was paired with a bottle from the “19 Crimes” living wine labels collection (Australia) by Ms. Ray.  She demonstrated how the Living Wine Labels APP can be downloaded to a smart phone and when held over the label (with the use of the phone camera) the criminal comes to life and tells you a little of their story.  I immediately knew I had to do something with this wine and started looking for a Murder Mystery dinner script. As luck would have it, I found a free script on Pinterest about a murder on a vineyard (Sour Grapes of Wrath) and a plan began to form. http://www.whodunitmysteries.com/SourGrapesofWrath.pdfThe Invitation:

THE INVITATION

I typically send an email a month or two prior to the next anticipated meeting, with a couple of date options, requesting feedback on which date works best for the majority. I also include the theme for that meeting and request everyone save the date.

About a month prior to the saved date, I send an email selecting free clip art that represents our theme with an actual to create an actual invitation, detailing the date, time and any other special instructions. In this particular case, I purchased all of the wine, so there was no request for wine, but as usual guests were asked to bring a small bite and to R.S.V.P. by a deadline. Once I knew who was able to attend, I assigned the six characters from the script to the guests that I thought would best match those attending, three woman and three men. Separately I emailed the author’s suggested costuming of each character and WOW… did them come dressed to kill! They stayed in character throughout the evening and I can’t remember when we all laughed so much.

SETTING THE TABLE

The scene of this Murder Mystery took place at a vineyard. Therefore I wanted to create a table with the same vibe. While an outdoor alfresco setting would have been amazing, here in Southern Louisiana the heat and mosquitos make outdoor dining impossible unless you have a large screened room of which I do not. A faux leafy olive garland purchased at a craft store was used in the center of my table (live olive tree branches would be even better). Dollar store magnifying glasses, small flip up wire rimmed notepads decorated with mustache and bowler hat stickers were placed by each couple for noting mystery “clues”. Place cards were made with chalkboard paper tags with picks. I used a white marker to write the names and then tied the pick to a wine cork with twine. For an earthy look and fresh fragrance, neutral colored linen napkins were cinched with fresh lavender and rosemary in twine from my garden. Wicker lined glasses added a “picnic/alfresco” touch with votive candlelight along with the candelabra that added some drama to the table. Copies of the script were placed in front of each of the characters (specific with only information they should know) and a general script for the others. If you the weather and bugs are not an issue where you live, an outdoor setting with a lot of candlelight would create a mystic yet romantic atmosphere for the evening.

A bottle of wine was placed on the table in front of each couple’s assigned seat and two wine glasses per guest. There were six rounds in the script and we had six bottles of wine to coincide with each round. This gave each guest an opportunity to activate a label on their phone and we would take a short break from the script to evaluate the bottle of wine we were tasting.

Place cards were tied with twine to corks and a faux olive vine with wicker votives went down the center of the table to create a vineyard look. [ If weather permits, this would be lovely to do outdoors.]

LET THE PARTY BEGIN!

When my guests arrived I had everyone download the Living Wines APP on their phones and demonstrated how the label came to life on the first bottle, which was the only white wine with the only female criminal. Her narrative explained how she was banished from her country and family for stealing bacon. While I read the rules to the mystery game (as the hostess), the bottle of Chardonnay was passed around and my guests each poured some of its contents into their glass for sipping during our first round of the mystery, as scripts were read and the cheese course was savored. The wine was fresh and crisp and paired perfectly with my cheese course.

The interrogation began over my cheese course of oven roasted grapes & blackberries
on fresh baked toasted Italian braided bread with goat cheese;
parmesan pine nut crisps; Manchego slices and roasted asparagus tips upon a fig leaf.
Above is one plate shared by each couple.

At the end of each round the wines gradually circled the table, with each bottle’s label held up to the “Living Wine Labels” APP as we all listened to the narrative of each criminal starting with the lighter reds and moving toward the heavier reds. As we passed the bottle everyone poured a little in their glass, sipping while taking in the script’s clues read by the characters of our Murder Mystery.

I think it’s safe to say that all of the wines were quite good. Some a little better than others, but overall good drinking wines.  One was a little heavier and we agreed it would probably be better with food, but we had eaten all of our food by the time we got to that particular bottle.  The most expensive of the wines ($18) was ‘The Warden’ and it was very smooth and rich.

For dessert, I made death my chocolate cake. Layers of cake and brownie with salted caramel filling.  A blackberry mango compote to balance out the richness of the cake and a bloody red wine reduction.

The script and author’s instructions were well written.  In fact, so well written, that no one guessed who the true murderer was!

If you’re looking for a fun night and entertaining evening, get together about 8 friends and have a Murder Mystery Dinner Party.  For now my groups’ acting debuts have come to an end. Their final words… “We have to do this again!”  Cue lights out….

The 19 Crimes wine can be found in just about any grocery store, but to find all of the bottles you may have to go to your local wine store. They are all inexpensive and all were good. For this meeting I purchased six bottles of the wine, but another method would be request each couple bring an assigned bottle to avoid duplications.