The Peanut Butter Sandwich You Can’t Live Without!

Ponder this….. A proverbial fountain of purple pageantry. A potable piece of perfection poised to pique your curiosity. A paragon of playful purpletude packed with a passel of perky, positively pleasing grape-popsicley flavor. A protest against pious pundits and prognosticators? Possibly…. (Professor Peabody’s Purple Potion)

Growing up, I remember my mom making us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  It was probably one of the first sandwiches I learned how to make.  But over the years, it became pretty forgettable.  I have peanut butter, it’s in the pantry and as an adult, it has transitioned to become an ingredient in protein shakes.  Enter Purple.

Purple is a deliciously delicious wine made by Quady Winery of Madera, California.  I remember first trying it a few years back and immediately thinking this was liquid jelly. And what goes with jelly?  Peanut Butter!

So we’ve revamped the traditional PB&J sandwich and made it age appropriate for those of legal drink ing age, say Hello to the new and improved Deconstructed Peanut Butter Sandwiches with Purple Jelly Chasers!  This is what you need:

Deconstructed Peanut Butter Sandwich with Purple Jelly Chasers
Serves: varies
An age appropriate spin on the traditional PB&J for those over the age of 21!
  • 1 bottle of Purple by Quady Winery (available at
  • 2-3 English Muffins, toasted, but not too crunchy
  • Peanut Butter of your choice
  1. Open your bottle of Purple and taste a little bit, just to make sure you approve.
  2. Split the English Muffins in half, and then cut each slice into wedges.
  3. Spoon a big glob of Peanut Butter on to a serving dish.
  4. Pour your guests some Purple (remember, this is sweet, so about a 3 oz pour should be ok to start).
  5. Take an English Muffin wedge, drag it through the peanut butter and eat.
  6. Take a sip of Purple as a chaser.
  7. Repeat.


Let me know what you think!

Opolo Vineyards takes over for a night

Opolo Vineyards is located on a beautiful 70 acre mountain site in Paso Robles, but tonight they brought their wines to Santa Clarita Valley for a wine pairing dinner at Salt Creek Grille. Dave Nichols, co-owner of Opolo Vineyards, served as host for the evening telling us about the wines and sharing other stories from the vineyard. Dinner began with a generous pour of 2012 Albariño served with Lobster Flatbread Thermidor.  This pairing was a sexy one. The buttery lobster was delicious and the light acidity of the Albariño cut through leaving a lingering sense of Summer to come. IMG_5437_1200x900-300x225

Smoked Duck Breast Salad was served next with Opolo’s 2011 Grande Rouge.  The salad was absolutely delicious, made with Tuscan lettuce, aged goad cheese, blood orange supremes and candied pecans drizzled with a spicy pecan dressing.  The Grande Rouge is made up of Counoise, Grenache, Petite Sirah and Syrah and has the essence of dark berries.  In my opinion, this wine is one of the lighter wines Opolo has made, and I would enjoy it just as much without food as well.  I’ll have to pick up a bottle or 6 next time I’m up in Paso Robles.


Opolo’s 2011 Petite Sirah paired  beautifully with the dry aged New York steak medallions, mashed potatoes and red wine sauce.  The dish included sautéed kale, but I found myself avoiding the kale because, well let’s face it, it is difficult to pair wine with kale and this was no exception.  The wine was big and bold and complimented the steak beautifully.  More please. IMG_5445_1200x900Dessert was a beautiful chocolate filled beignet served alongside stilton cheese and a wine berry sorbet that was to die for.  Opolo’s 2012 Mountain Zinfandel was a surprising pairing that provided a nice twist to dessert that worked really well.  The rich chocolate of the beignet, with the raspberry, vanilla, cayenne pepper and butterscotch of the Mountain Zinfandel – Absolutely Perfect! IMG_5448_1200x900-1024x768Salt Creek Grille and Opolo Vineyards are definitely a match made in heaven.  Not only did they produce an amazing wine pairing dinner, but they provided us with an evening of decadence, great company and something to write home about.



Chef Ignacio MunozWant to learn how to make the dishes?  So do I!  So I searched the internet and found a few recipes to hold us over until Chef Ignacio Munoz of Salt Creek Grille invites me in to learn the secrets of his dishes.

Carbonnade à la Flamande (Flemish Beef Stew made with Belgian Beer)

Living in Southern California, one of the things that we really don’t get is a “change in weather.”  With that said, however, it is still a bit chillier in the evenings and the temperature has dropped just a little bit (like really little) during the day.  The change in weather is very gradual, and eventually it will be chilly and we’ll want comforting stews for dinner, just like the rest of the Country… I can’t wait! So, after spending yesterday menu planning for an upcoming beer pairing dinner, I decided to look up some recipes for the Belgian Stew that I ate a few years back at another Belgian Beer Pairing Dinner.  

Truth be told, I had lunch with the Chef who originally made it for us years ago, and I could have asked him, but I didn’t think of it at the time.  I’ll shoot myself in the foot later.  But for now, this is the stew that I plan on making once that “weather change” finally occurs (probably around December/January).

So what is a carbonade à la flamande? A carbonade à la flamande is a traditional Belgian sweet-sour beef and onion stew made with beer, and seasoned with thyme, bay leaves and mustard. The beef is both marinated in, and cooked in dark Belgian Trappist Ale, like a Leffe or Chimay. You can also use a Oud bruin, Brune Abbey beer or a Flanders red. If you don’t have any of these, just make sure you use a dark, bitter-sour flavor beer. And then just before serving, you’ll can stir in just a dash of red wine vinegar and brown sugar (or red currant jelly) to give it the touch of sweet. Serve over french fries, or with boiled potatoes, or over mashed potatoes.

Carbonnade à la Flamande (Flemish Beef Stew made with Belgian Beer)
Recipe type: Stew
Cuisine: Belgian
Serves: 8
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 Onions, chopped thick
  • 4 Oz smoked lardons, or thick cut bacon
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 lbs beef flatiron or blade steaks or shin beef, cut into ⅓ inch-thick slices, 3 inches wide. (You can use regular stewing beef as well, but it may be as soft as the other cuts when cooked)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 36 oz dark Belgian Beer (bitter flavors)
  • 4 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 3 Tbsp dark brown sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Chopped parsley for garnish
  1. Season beef using generous amounts of salt and fresh ground pepper
  2. Separate beef into 3 equal portions
  3. In a large, heavy-bottomed casserole (enameled cast-iron is best), melt 2 Tbsp of butter and add ⅓ of the beef, or 1 portion. Brown over moderate heat, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and repeat with the 2 remaining portions of meat.
  4. Cook the lardon, or bacon in the casserole.
  5. Add the chopped onions, stirring so that they mix well with the bacon. Turn down the heat, cover and cook until onions have browned and softened, about 6-8 minutes, stirring as needed.
  6. Stir in the flour until all of the onions appear well coated
  7. Stir in the mustard and brown sugar
  8. Slowly add the about ⅓ of the beer, scraping the bottom bits up from the casserole (that’s where A LOT of the flavor is)
  9. Add all of the meat back into the casserole
  10. Slowly add the remaining beer
  11. Stir in the allspice, thyme and bay leaves
  12. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring, until the beef is tender, about 2-3 hours


This stew is delicious when reheated, so feel free to make it ahead.  It will keep refrigerated up to 3 days, but something tells me that it won’t last that long!  Or, you can do what I do with most of my stews, freeze individual portions in air tight containers for quick meals.  Frozen, this stew should keep for about 3 months.  Just defrost overnight in the fridge and reheat the next day.

Beer Pairing:  The same beer you made it with should pair beautifully!

Wine Pairings:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, red Bordeaux, Barolo, or even a young vintage Port would be delicious!

If you make this, leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Ragu Bolognese

As you can probably guess, Claudia isn’t writing this post. My name is Caroline and I’m stepping in to share one of my recipes from my foodie blog. My blog is dedicated to my mom and the recipes she passed along — and a few of my own that I’ve whipped up over the years. Since “A Toast To Me!” is dedicated to wine and beer, I thought I would share a recipe that uses wine as an ingredient: Ragu Bolognese.

For this dish, I opened up a 2006 The Brander Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc. But, any dry white wine is good. If you like red wines, you can substitute the red for the white wine. The secret to this dish is the sauce. It should simmer for at least 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Take my advice and taste it before you start to simmer, that way you can add your seasonings to taste and the flavors can blend in. If you add your seasoning after simmering, it won’t be as good. I also think the better the wine, the better the sauce. Another tip, while you may want to use other readily available pasta noodle, use the tagliatelle or another wide noodle. By the way, the Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with the ragu. If you like this recipe, you can find other recipes on “My Mama’s Recipes and a Few of My Own” at Enjoy!
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
3 cloves of garlic,
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, finely, diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 pound veal, ground
1 pound pork, ground
1/4 pound pancetta or slab bacon, ground
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 cup milk
1 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Italian seasonings
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound tagliatelle
Finely grated Parmesan (for serving)

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the onions, carrots and celery and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned. Add the veal, pork and pancetta and stir into the vegetables. Stir to keep the meat from sticking together until browned. Add the tomato paste, milk and wine. Add bay leaves and seasonings. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer over low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When sauce is ready, prepare the pasta as directed. Add to a saucepan the pasta and an appropriate amount of sauce. Toss the pasta so it is evenly coated by the ragu. Serve. Top with grated Parmesan.

Smoked Salmon, Avocados and Mangos — oh my!

Smoked salmon, avocado and mango sandwich — probably one of my favorite sandwiches ever construed!  Thanks Chef Tom Colicchio for this little gem, it’s delicious!

1 small unripe mango, peeled and julienned
juice from 1/2 lime
kosher salt
bread – he recommends Pulman white bread, I used country flat bread
1 ripe avocado
drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil — I used meyer lemon olive oil
fresh ground black pepper
8 oz smoked salmon, thinly sliced
12-15 basil leaves

Toss mango in lime juice and season with salt, lightly toast the bread.

Place avocado on 4 slices of bread and gently mash and spread.  Drizzle avocado with olive oil and season with pepper.  Top with mango, smoked salmon an basil.  Add the top slices, cut and serve.


for more recipes like this one, check out Chef Colicchio’s cookbook, ‘wichcraft.  It’s full of delicious sandwiches that you would never have thought of on your own!  (or at least I wouldn’t have!).  Because of this recipe, mangos have a whole new purpose in the kitchen!


Every Christmas my sister-in-law’s mother makes this amazing fudge.  Every year I go home and hope that there’s some left for me.  What is it with this fudge?  It’s creamy, yet firm.  It’s chocolaty, but not overly sweet.  I’ve asked for the recipe, but haven’t been so lucky as to get it.  What I do know is that there’s supposedly a dab of instant coffee in it, and that you have to stir for a certain amount of time.  I know that my sister-in-law helps her make it, and I know that I want to make it too.

Every year,  just before the holidays, I scour the internet in hopes of a recipe that will come out similar, but haven’t had much luck.  And, I just finished watching the Christmas episode of Ree Drummond’s show Pioneer Woman — in which there was fudge, but of course that was the one recipe that wasn’t shared.

If you, or anybody you know, makes an amazing fudge… please, please, please, for the love of Holidays, please consider sharing it with me.  Please?

I made Tamales!

So I made tamales for the first time in my life, why?  Because we challenged one of the guys in our office to a Tamale Cook-Off.  What was I thinking?  I’ve never made them before!  But how hard could it be, right? So I’ve spent the last 2 weeks searching on-line for the perfect tamale recipe – man there are a bunch out there!  To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming.  I mean, you can make them sweet or savory, out of creamed corn, strawberries, pork, chicken, meat, pineapples, just about anything really. Then there’s the masa (the dough), it can be flour based or corn based.  And then the husks which can be corn husks, banana leaves, basically anything that was an outer encasement of a fruit or vegetable that’s large enough to wrap around the filling.  The decisions alone can be enough to make you just say *&^%-it and buy them already made from the nearest Latin market instead.

So what do I do?  I go to the closest Latin market and avoid the pre-made displays of tamales at all costs.  Instead I figured that I would just make it up as I go – I mean why not?  I can cook, I know the basic concept and it should be fun to make — and what’s more fun than experimentation??

I purchased corn husks, there were two kinds – One had a label that was all green & red and had cluttered writing on it, the other had a clean label, easy to read — so I bought the simple one.  Then I went over to the butcher and surveyed the protein options — ohh, looky here, the chicken thighs were on sale, I’ll take 12 of them please :) .  I go over to the chili section and there were SOOO many to choose from — I think I’ll just use the green chili sauce I have at home.    Off  to the produce — we’re good, I’ve got carrots, celery and garlic at home.  And the last stop would be the masa – I saw some premade corn and flour masa (dough) over by the butcher, close my eyes and pick a bag from the refrigerated display and flour masa it is.  Alright, let’s do this!

Tamale FillingAt home, I fill a pot with water and set it to boil.  I separate the skin from the thighs and throw them into the pot, followed by some shredded carrots, chopped celery and a little bit of chicken bouillon powder.  I let it all boil for about an hour.  Once the chicken is practically falling off of the bone, I take the chicken out and shred it.  I then strain the broth and place the carrots, celery and shredded chicken into another pot.  Add the green chili, garlic, salt, pepper, garam marsala (because I had it and I just like the flavor), celery salt and parsley (because I’m not a cilantro fan) and cook it all together. Filling is DONE! (oh, I put the broth in some containers and will use them later for another recipe — it’s yummy stuff!)

Time to assemble.  I get the pre-made masa and the corn husks, which I’ve been soaking in water for the last hour in order to help make them more pliable) and arrange my work area.  Grab a husk place a thin layer of dough in it and then place some filling in the center.  Fold the tamale – which I found to be not so easy probably because I’m so used to unfolding them, that folding them is a new concept to me, tie it and set them aside.  Once they were assembled, I set up my steamer with about 4 inches of boiling water, and arranged the tamales.  They steamed for about 3 hours until the masa pulled away from the husks on their own.

Today I tried them for the first time and they were yummy!  Now that wasn’t so hard :)

Risotto Balls or Arancini? Who cares — they’re GOOD!

On occasion, I’ll visit a local restaurant who has AMAZINGLY, DELICIOUS food, where the wine list is affordable, the appetizers are decadent and unique and their main courses are apparently just as appetizing.  Truth be told, I’ve never made it there for an actual main course – really who needs to order a meal when the appetizers are so incredible?  If you’ve ever been to Mixers in Valencia, you know exactly what I’m talking about!

Anyways, one of my absolutely favorite items on the Mixers menu has to be their Risotto Balls.  There’s just no way that I can go to Mixers without ordering some — and if I don’t, it’s because I’m out of my right mind at that moment.  I have been fascinated as to how can something so luscious be encased in breaded deep fried goodness.  *shrug*  beats me!

This brings me to Thanksgiving day when my friend’s mother told me about a new show she’s hooked on — The Chew on ABC.  She told me that I had to watch it — so that evening, I went home, searched for it and set it to record.  I know I switched topics, but you’ll see, it will come round full circle, I promise.  Anyways, my first episode of The Chew was this Monday.  I got home from work, turned on The Chew and made myself comfortable.  Guess what the first recipe was — Fried Risotto Balls!!!!!!!!!!  I think I must have rewound it 3 times just to make sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  Chef Michael Symon was making this dish he called “Arancini” — to me they looked just like the ones that Mixers makes — I’m so excited!

The recipe seems easy enough and this weekend I think I just may try and make them.  Basically it’s left over risotto, and egg, Parmesan cheese, seasoning, and breadcrumbs.  Mix the risotto with the egg, cheese and seasoning – scoop up a little ball worth, cover it with breadcrumbs and place it in the fryer.  I’m sure you can probably bake them some how, but why would you do that when you have access to a fryer?  So excited!  I may be over-simplifying the recipe, but it looked easy enough to me.

Here’s Chef Symon’s recipe:

Step 1 – make risotto (you can get his recipe here from The Chew’s)

Step 2:   When the rice mixture is cool, remove it from the refrigerator and add the 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, 1 cup Parmesan, and ½ teaspoon of salt. With damp hands, form balls of about 2 tablespoons of rice mixture. With your thumb, make an indentation in the center and place about 1 teaspoon of the diced mozzarella in the center (you’ll use about 8 oz of mozzarella for the entire recipe). Close up the indentation by reforming the rice around the mozzarella to keep it inside. You should get about 16 arancini. Store in the refrigerator until ready to bread and cook, up to 1 day.

Step 3:   Heat up the oil in your deep fryer to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, coat the arancini in the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess. You want to bread these immediately before frying them so they don’t get tacky and gummy. Deep fry the arancini for 2 ½ minutes or until very golden brown. Remove from the fryer and lightly season with salt. Serve with your favorite tomato sauce and enjoy!

If you’ve made these — let me know how they came out.  I can’t wait!!

See, told you I’d make it back around :)

Wine pairing & Recipe planning

Today I feel like my mind is just about everywhere — thinking about new possible ventures, exisiting work, relationship, things like that — but what I should be thinking about is what the heck are we going to serve at Sunday’s wine pairing linner?  In case you were wondering, “linner” is that meal that you fit in between lunch and dinner — in this case, the first course will be served somewhere around 2:30pm.

Last night I was reviewing some of my recipe books and everything looked delicious, as you can imagine.  But, it seemed that everything required extensive amounts of time in the oven — and since its still fairly HOT outside, the oven is probably one of the last appliances I’d like to turn on.

Which brings me to today, where I find myself glued to in search of inspiration and recipes for this Sunday.  I have no doubt that the menu will eventually be amazing — but, man, this planning has stumped me!  I did find one recipe by Bobby Flay that looks simple, delcious and gourmet enough to make the menu and its for Grilled Potato and Goat Cheese Napoleon With Balsamic-Basil Vinaigrette.  It sounds refreshing and fulfilling, and it can be served as one of our courses.  My next thought is a Smoked Salmon, Avocado and Mango sandwich which is also refreshing and smooth at the same time.   As for the other three courses, I’ll keep you posted!   Oh and the Wines?  What about the wines?  I’ll figure that out later too!

To Do…. Check… Biscotti… Check… Done!

About 3 months ago, I moved.  That’s a mouthful, I know.  Moving can be so stressful.  Couple that with limited funds and the stress triples.  But here we are, thank God that everything seems to be working out just fine.  (Thank you God).

Things have been coming around slowly and of course the To Do list has been growing.  Yesterday my parents came over to help me check some of those items off my list — my Daddy-Do list that is.  That’s the list of all the things I needed my Dad to help me with — like hanging curtains on one of the two tallest windows in the condo, mounting the television, and laying outdoor carpet on the balcony to cover up the hideous wood floor slats.  Don’t worry about my mom — she had her own list to accomplish — consisting of the most important item on the list – making Biscotti :) (Don’t worry, I’ll give you the recipe below… so keep reading)

The first task tackled was the balcony.  I really would never have thought of this on my own — truth be told, I was spying over at my neighbors balcony and noticed that their floor was green.  I wasn’t sure what it was because our balconies aren’t exactly touching — they’re actually an entirely separate building separated by a rather wide walk-way.  Anyways, I set my dad out on a mission to find an outdoor type of carpet and he was able to find a solution at a really inexpensive price — Score!  He brought with him a green outdoor carpeting that was a breeze to lay down.  Enter staple gun and scissors and viola!   It completely transformed the balcony from something drab to something beautiful.  And, I think the biggest reward was this morning when Corky went out there and fell asleep laying on the floor soaking up sun.  Thanks Dad!


I love the new floor!  Once this was done, we hung the curtains and then the television.  I love that the Sun won’t be heating up the rooms this summer (no disrespect Mr. Sun, but you tend to make the electricity bill go up in the summer time),  and that my wines have a dark place to live.  And the television mount rocks because I literally can watch TV from anywhere!


My mom kept herself busy with Corky and with making one of my favorites — Biscotti.  It is so easy to make and I’m so happy that I had all of the ingredients – including the most important one — my Mom!  I’m not sure where she got this recipe, so I’m just going to say that it’s hers because she’s been making Biscottis for as long as I can remember.

Once you’ve made them and tried them — you’ll see why they’re my fave!  And they freeze really well too, so you can make a bunch at one time!  Enjoy and a HUGE thank you to my AWESOME parents — Love you Mom & Dad!

To Do…. Check… Biscotti… Check… Done!
Recipe type: My Mom’s Biscotti Recipe:
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: a lot
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavor, and/or anise and/or almond
  1. Mix liquid first with sugar and flavor in a mixer, gradually add flour and baking powder. Once dough is made, Shape into two long strips of dough on a cookie sheet. Bake 375 for 20-25 minutes.
  2. Cut logs into strips (short wise) to get the biscotti shape, lay the cookies down on their sides and place back in oven to dry out for another few minutes. Take out and enjoy!