National Wine Day with 90+ Cellars and Lila Wines

Did you know that May 25th is National Wine Day? It’s practically Christmas in May if you ask me.

This year, I celebrated National Wine Day a few days early. When my good friend Emily from Shell Chic’d asked if I wanted to team up and throw a Rosé Soiree with 90+ Cellars, there was no way I could turn it down. Emmy and I have been dance friends for years; she’s a super cute and talented fashion blogger in Boston and we knew our dance friends would love a chance to get together, catch up, and celebrate.


90+ Cellars sent a variety of their Rosé, Cote De Provence, and Sancerre along with Lila Wines which if you’ve never tried these before, go out and buy yourself a 4-pack. Yup, these babies come in cans! I’d actually never had any of the 90+ Cellars Rosé collection and was really excited to try them all. They are excellent summertime wines and for their price points (between $11.99-$20.99) they are also perfect for taking to all of those barbecues and pool parties.



Emily took care of the cocktails while I planned an easy and light party menu. I went with my tried-and-true charcuterie board and a Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Flatbread (recipes below!) Our friend Lauren is a really talented baker and came with beautiful cupcakes meticulously hand-piped with frosting to look like hydrangeas (!!) We admired them for the majority of the party because they were almost too pretty too eat! But then we ate them because duh, cupcakes.




Seriously LP, just open a bakery already…

Em also created this refreshing cocktail using the Lila Wines Vino Frizzante Sparking Wine. It’s definitely a contender for “Best Drink of the Summer”. Check out her recipe and party planning tips here.

A big thank you to 90+ Cellars for sponsoring a great party and to Emily for asking me to partner on such a fun get together!



Tried & True Charcuterie Board

My formula for quick and easy: 2 cheeses + 2 carbs + 1 meat + 2-3 extras

Cheese: I chose a sharp cheddar and a pepper jack cheese for contrasting textures and heat levels. (Cabot Cheese is my go-to.)

Carbs: Plain reduced-fat Triscuits are my cracker of choice because they are simple, delicious and don’t interfere with the rest of the platter taste-wise. For the second, I make my own pita chips by cutting 4 pitas (I love Joseph’s) into 16ths and baking them at 400 degrees with a little non-stick spray and salt until they get crispy- that’s it! (These go particularly well with hummus!)

Meat: I almost always go with prosciutto because it’s a familiar antipasto, super salty and extra delicious.

Extras: Spanish Manzanilla olives, roasted red pepper hummus and Lindt LINDOR Fudge Swirl Truffles to keep things interesting.

Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Flatbread

  • 2 prepared pizza crusts or flatbreads (I used an Italian herb variety – so delicious)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 large onion, caramelized (see instructions below)
  • 6 ounces Goat Cheese

Brush a thin layer of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on each of the flatbreads. Top evenly with caramelized onions and goat cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until crust is golden and crispy around the edges and cheese has slightly softened. Slice and serve warm.

For the Caramelized Onions:

  • 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter or margarine with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes or until onions begin to soften. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar and toss to coat. Continue to cook for 1 hour, stirring often, until the onions are a rich dark brown color. (Do not let them burn!) Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

This post is was created in partnership with 90+ Cellars, but all opinions and images are my own. Thank you for supporting brands who support Chocolate & Wine!

Halloween in full swing

Like I said in my last life update, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays.  I got my first real kiss on Halloween (I was 15), I’ve dressed up as everything from a cowgirl to a pirate, the pink Power Ranger to a Hocus Pocus witch (Mary Sanderson complete with a floor length black and red cape), and living in the town next to Salem, Massachusetts definitely has its perks in October.  Besides Christmas, Halloween is the best day of the year.

On Friday night, a few of my BU friends ventured to Lynn to the first time to eat, drink and carve pumpkins.

Yes, it is okay to be a full time graduate student, drink yummy beverages and cut faces in pumpkins.

No judging.

My pumpkin... and why yes, it does look like a 5-year-old carved this. Thanks for noticing.

I made nachos with homemade guacamole, pizza and Hungry Girl pumpkin cupcakes with my own buttercream and a candy corn garnish.  It was the casual, college kid version of a Torto dinner party.

Notice my friend Matt wearing my Harrod's apron...

My friend, Sandy’s pumpkin:

She went to art school. Doesn't count.

Saturday brought one of the laziest days I have had in while.  I relaxed most of the day with a brand new 21-year-old and watched Halloween movies (Double Double Toil & Trouble is one of the ultimate classics.)

On Saturday night, DanceWorks Boston hosted a huge Halloween party at Au Tua Nua in Boston.  My good friend and fellow DWB-er, Devlyn, and I headed to our friend Dana’s to have some wine and get ready for the party.  For my cat costume, I wore a black, high collared lace-covered dress, black heels, white lace hand gloves, a jingle heart necklace (in place of a bell), cat ears and of course, my bright yellow contacts.  I coated my eyes with liquid eyeliner and smoky black make-up.  It was pretty cool.  Almost everyone noticed, most people freaked a little.  Loved it.

Cat. 'Nuff said.

I kept my beverage intake to a minimum knowing I would have to wake up somewhat early and do my best on my third 5K: the Witch City 5K in Salem (race report on another day!)

Sunday morning’s alarm came WAY too quickly.  And as usual, I woke up to the alarm and said “WHY DID I SIGN UP FOR THIS RACE?”  I told you I’m not super positive in the morning.  I got up, got dressed, stretched, had my pre-race toast with peanut butter, slugged some water and woke up BF who picked me up from the party on Saturday night and crashed on the couch at my house.

And sometimes he brings me pretty flowers for no reason.... I'll keep him.

The race, overall, went just okay.  Running with a friend is definitely better but my stomach was not feeling it.  It was also the coldest race I’ve done to date.  But the scenery was lovely and I finished it.  A little slower than normal, but ya “win” some, ya lose some.

Salem. Done.

Sunday also brought about some fun research.  Enough said for now.

On the baking front, I made pumpkin snickerdoodles yesterday.  I brought them to work today and everyone loves them.  They taste like pumpkin pie filling and I could’ve eaten all of the batter myself.  And I think if I neglect to post the recipe, I’ll be beaten with something.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin 'Doodles

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles
Adapted from

1/2 cup softened Brummel ‘n Brown margarine spread
3/4 cup Splenda/Brown Sugar mix (trust me on this one..)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground giner
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 2 baking sheets liberally with nonstick spray.

2) In the bowl of a stand mixer (this can also be done with a hand mixer), cream together margarine and brown sugar until smooth.  Beat in egg and vanilla and then the pumpkin.

3) In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, ginger and pumpkin pie spice. 

4) In batches, add the dry ingredients to the wet until fully incorporated.

5) Drop tablespoons of batter onto prepared baking sheets.  Bake 18 minutes until set, slightly puffed but not browned.

Happy Fall!

Boston Brunchers Dine at Local 149

A mere three days after stuffing myself at Lil’ Vin’s and getting a bit jumbled, I headed into South Boston (lovingly known as “Southie”) to meet up with the Boston Brunchers yet again.  This time, brunch was held at the eclectic Local 149 restaurant located on P Street.

I immediately ran into Kathy and Renee , snapped a picture of the place and headed inside where the manager greeted us with open arms.  The indoor decor was welcoming and fun; even an old school Gulf sign hung on the bar, welcoming each and every patron.

Local 149

But it wasn’t just the decor that made me excited to be there; it was the promise of multiple courses, each more glamourous than the next.  And the company wasn’t half bad either.

Look at that awesome Gulf sign

The first course was a lovely spread of toasted bread, blue and monchego cheeses, two different types of ham and a type of homemade duck sausage.  It was served with bowl of fresh fruit.  We cleaned each platter.

I could've eaten an entire block of that Manchego cheese

Next up, a remade classic that I had for the first time at the Biltmore: Chicken and Waffles.  But these were not ordinary chicken and waffles.  Blueberry waffles with a blueberry compote and lightly breaded chicken made for a sweet and savory Southern dish that I couldn’t stop eating.  If you haven’t tried this combo, you’re missing out.

Mmm.. blueberry

Next up…breakfast pizza, complete with teenie tiny quail eggs on the top.  I have never had a thinner crust in my whole life.  I had to refrain from each multiple pieces.

I'll have one large quail egg pizza to go please...

And no brunch would be complete with a version of French Toast.  This is, by far, one of the best french toast dishes I have ever had.  Brioche bread soaked in an expresso martini, covered in Life cereal, garnished with a chocolate cigarette, Grand Marnier whipped cream, a single M&M and a sliced strawberry.  At this point, I was unable to eat more than a few bites but this is what I’m ordering when I go back there.

French Toast...who wouldn't want that?

Thankfully, the next two dishes that came out were served family-style.  First, a plate featuring Yorkshire Pudding with 2 perfectly poached eggs, cinnamon-raisin toast, spiced hash and a popover.  I don’t particularly love Yorkshire Pudding but the popover was divine.

Yorkshire Pudding plate

The other dish held the fanciest Egg McMuffin I’ve ever seen: Lobster in a large, puffed egg cylinder with potatoes on the side.  Unreal.

This thing was as large as my face..

Finally, when it seemed like my stomach could hold no more, dessert arrived.  A small glass full of a malted chocolate shake with a garnish of coconut and a chocolate cigarette.  I can’t think of anything better to end an incredible meal.

Malt-y deliciousness

Oh – did I mention they also gave us free drinks?  Four of them. FOUR.  And not the tiny sample sized ones either.  A house bloody mary (which I gave to Katy), a delicious mimosa, a coconut rum concoction served in a fresh coconut and my favorite – peach sangria.  I didn’t drive home, no worries.

Why yes, I will have a beverage with brunch, thank you.

I would also like a pretty glass, please.

Mmm.. sangria

Overall, I had a wonderful experience at Local 149 and would highly recommend it for a brunch.  Go for something a little different and definitely order a signature drink with your meal!

NOTE:  Brunch was provided to me free of charge by the restaurant but all of these opinions are my own.  Neither the restaurant or the Boston Brunchers asked me to write a review.  This does not portray a typical dining experience.

PS – There is still time to enter my 1st Blogiversary Giveaway!  The contest closes Monday night, 9/12/11, at 11:59pm EST.  Get your entries in ASAP!

Friday Night at The Rustic Kitchen

The last weekend of April is always a blur.  The weather is all over the place (sunshine here, rain there, 40 degrees, 80 degrees), it’s the first in 5 years that I haven’t celebrated Pup Cup (which is a typical “Spring Weekend” at my college, complete with nonstop partying and endless amounts of alcohol) and everyone is looking forward to getting April over with and moving into May.

Normally, I am one of those people but this year, I slowed down the last weekend of April and it was truly something special.  This post is dedicated to an amazing Friday night.

After work on Friday, I raced home to get a quick Jillian Michael’s Shred Workout in with anxious anticipation of the night’s events.  My Aunt Debbie treated me to a one-of-a-kind experience.  She surprised me with tickets to “The Cooking Show” at The Rustic Kitchen in Boston.  The Rustic Kitchen is an eclectic restaurant, simple and sophisticated from the outside, warm and inviting on the inside.  The wine list was extensive and the food, embedded tradition in newly renovated classics.When we arrived, our party (myself, Aunt Deb, my Uncle Gene and friend Janine) settled ourselves at the bar for pre-dinner drinks and apps.  Knowing we would be eating graciously in a short while, we decided on a batch of lightly battered calamari (with a spicy kick) and prosciutto with housemade mozzarella.  I had a glass of red wine, of course, but not my usual Cabernet.  This was 2006 Malbec from Catena, Argentina.  It was deep and bold and I think I might be trying Malbecs more often.  Aunt Deb got a delicious white, Caymus Conundrum via California 2008, and it reminded me of a spicy Asti Spumonti.  Already slightly buzzed and tummy no  longer growling, we moved onto The Cooking Show set.

I found my place setting and bellied up to the table.  In between me and Deb sat a multi-topping pizza as a pre-show snack.  As you read in my other post, I usually don’t eat pizza but in the moment, I had to try the mushroom.  The slices were small but oh so satisfying.  Not greasy, just crispy enough with the perfect amount of cheese.  A glass of the night’s selected wine, Crabalis Vermentino, begged to be tasted.  Despite my general disinterest in white wine, I loved it.

When the taping began, I felt as though I had been transported to an episode of Emeril Live.  The lights flashed, music blared and an announcer welcomed our host, Liz Bramwell, a 26-year old Culinary Institute of America graduate.  A petite woman, you would more likely mistaken Liz as a college student rather than a successful chef, but she would shock you with an extensive resume including head pastry and chef experiences in famed restaurants on Cape Cod and in Vegas.  Liz started the show off by introducing her assistant, Pepe, and offering a toast (I was pleased to see her raise her own wineglass to her intimate audience.)

First, Liz prepared a cold vegetable terrine with roasted vegetables.  Eggplant slices, zucchini, summer squash and asparagus drizzled in olive oil, then baked until soft while she blanched Boston bib lettuce and lined a loaf pan with them.  She placed the roasted veggies in delicately, including a middle layer of herbed goat cheese.  Once assembled, she pressed it down, sealed it with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge to set up for “at least 8 hours” but more like 24.

Served with a slice of the loaf was a sundried tomato coulis and a thick balsamic glaze.  After chilling for 24 hours, the flavors of the roasted vegetables deeply complimented each other and the goat cheese provided a salty bite to the overall dish.  It was simple, but decadent and elegant as well.

Next, after several more questions and toasts (and many wine refills thanks to Pepe), Liz moved on to the main course, Seafood en Parchment.  First, she made an herb butter, combining softened unsalted butter with bright basil, thyme, parsley and garlic.  She then cut a large piece of parchment paper into a heart shape and brushed it with melted butter.  She layered chiffoned zucchini, summer squash, leeks, carrots and red baby potatoes on the bottom before stacking 2 jumbo shrimp, a thick 4-ounce seabass fillet and 2 large scallops on top.  2 thick slices of herb butter followed before Liz folded and secured the parchment and popped it into the oven.

When it arrived in front of me, I cut open the top of the parchment to release the steam and was greeted by the delightful scent of perfectly cooked seafood.  The scallops were tender and creamy, the shrimp delicately pink and the sea bass, well, let’s just say I’ll be cooking that more often.  The overall dish was light and flavorful.

After a final toast, Liz closed the show, leaving her audience full of wonderful food and maybe a bit buzzed from bottomless wine.  We realized before the show started that we had been seated next to Liz’s parents, Paula and Whitey.  They were a fun couple, taking the brunt of many jokes when Liz poked fun at them during the show.  You could see instantly that they were a close and loving family. 

Shortly after the taping ended, we continue to chat with Paula and Whitey.  Of course, my blogger cards were out the whole time and after about 10 minutes, Liz came back to the set to chat with her guests.  I think I monopolized her a bit.  My aunt snapped about a million pictures of me behind the set and if I do say so myself, I look good back there.  And the best part of it was that Liz, although incredibly successful for someone so young (she’s even got restaurant openings in the works!), was completely down-to-earth and fun-loving, someone I would hang out with, someone my friends would love.

After thanking her and saying good-bye to her parents, we left Boston around 9:30.  Not ready to end the night just yet, Aunt Deb, Uncle Gene and I head to the Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott for an after-dinner drink (more wine, please!)  Once home, I fell promptly fell asleep on the couch til about 3AM when Giada diLaurentis’ voice woke me up.  I slept like a rock the rest of the night.

Action shot!

I highly recommend The Rustic Kitchen for a special occasion or just to sample their wine list.  Or splurge and go see The Cooking Show.  Either way, don’t forget to make a reservation before hand.  This place is sure to get super popular very fast.  Oh and Food Network, give Liz her own show, ya hear?

Me & Aunt Deb at the end of the night

Pizza and Fries: Guilty Pleasures Re-Made

As a kid, I always loved pizza and french fries.  That’s probably explanation why I was a chubba growing up.  French fries were side dish staple to any kid’s meal, my favorite being McDonald’s.  As for pizza, well, let’s just say that even my 14-year old self could put away a couple of decent sized slices.

Nowadays, I no longer eat fast food and pizza is a fleeting indulgence, eaten sparingly and in small amounts.  So how do I satisfy even the worst junk food cravings?   I make my own.

I spend a lot of my time scouring the Hungry Girl website and cookbooks for healthy ways to make over my favorite foods.  She has a zillion pizza recipes and a few takes on fries as well, all without the guilt (and tighter pants) that come from the originals.  Last week, when boyfriend and I wanted pizza and fries but I didn’t want take out, I pulled out HG’s book and went to work.

Butternut squash fries are by far one of my most favorite recipes ever.  It’s not really a recipe, even, just a few simple ingredients and your oven set at a high temp.  Butternut squash has a similar starchy quality to potatoes without being loaded with calories.  I like to buy b-nut squash halves that are already peeled and de-seeded because it’s easier, but if you want to have a knife fight with a whole one, I wish you the best of luck.

Now, onto the pizza… Portobello mushrooms have always been high on my list of favorite foods but is something I don’t eat all that often.  I have no explanation for this.  Nevertheless, they are the “crust”, if you will, to my pizza and along with a few other things, I think the meaty texture and taste of the ‘shroom makes it even better than its traditional counterparts.  Try it if you don’t believe me.  Oh, and these babies are so low in fat and calories, that Stephen and I ate 2 each.  You can’t beat that.

Butternut Squash Fries
From Hungry Girl

1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and de-seeded

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Carefully cut your squash into fry shapes (you could also use a crinkle cutter like this one…) and sprinkle with salt. 

Lay slice on a paper towel and let some of the moisture release out of it, about 5 minutes.  Then, blot the fry shapes with dry paper towel to make sure all of the extra moisture is out (this will help them crisp in the oven.)

Lay on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, flipping halfway through until squash is cooked through.  Sometimes, to get them extra crispy, I turn the broil onto high and let them roast an extra 4-5 minutes (Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!)

Serve with ketchup or any other favorite condiment!

Portobello Mushroom Pizzas
Adapted from Hungry Girl

4 large portobello mushrooms caps
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes (with basil if you can find it)
1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1/4 tsp onion powder
4 light string cheese
Turkey pepperoni (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove mushroom stems, chop and set aside. Place mushroom caps on baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray, round side down. Bake 8 minutes or until softened.

Meanwhile, tear each string cheese into shreds and roughly chop. Set aside.

Remove sheet from oven but leave the oven on. Blot excess liquid (there will be quite a bit) from caps and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix crushed tomatoes, garlic and onion powder. Equally distribute between mushroom caps and spread until smooth & even. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the sauce layer followed by mushroom cap pieces and turkey peps if desired.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted.