IMG_20150209_163443503 What a beautiful day for a Mardi Gras parade and a beer tasting on the bayou.

Before the parade, we set up a table and beer glasses on the bayouside under a large Japanese plum tree. With the smell of BBQ, boudin, and fried chicken in the air, we began the tasting.

The Big Wave Golden Ale was perfect to start the tasting.This Hawaiian brew with its golden hue is clean and crisp with slight citrus overtones. A few people even sensed traces of pineapple.

The Dos Perros Ale was a totally different animal compared to the first beer. This dark brown ale with hints of caramel was quite smooth. The Yazoo brewery is striving to make a Munich style brew made by German Brewmasters in Mexico after World War II. The beer is comparable to a Dos Equis Amber.

Then we come to the Naked Pig Pale Ale. What a name for a beer! This beer was named the best beer in Alabama by Food and Wine Magazine a few years ago. Great balance for a pale ale, with that distinctive hoppy back end.

The Stabello and Longboard lagers sandwiched nicely between the two IPA’s.The two lagers were both crowd favorites. However, the Yellow Snow IPA from Rogue was definitely the most controversial beer. Like the Naked Pig, some people just don’t like that hoppy characteristic of an IPA. I thought it was probably the best beer of the tasting. Great balance with a nice jolt of hops.

Traditionally, we always end the tasting with the great Chimay Grand Reserve made by Belgium monks. The favorite beer by the tasters were probably between the two Hawaiian beers. However, there was a small sect that preferred the two IPA’s. There was an overall consensus that all the beers were quite tasty and of great quality.

No dogs!! Just another great, successful beer tasting. The Beer List of the 2015 Beer Tasting: 1. Big Wave Golden Ale – Kona Brewing, Hawaii IMG_20150209_102002948 2. Dos Perros Ale – Yazoo Brewing Co., Nashville, Tennessee IMG_20150209_103016413 3. Naked Pig Pale Ale – Back Forty Beer, Gadsen, Alabama IMG_20150209_103839788 4. Stabello Maniscalco Italian Lager – Crooked Letter Brewing, Ocean Springs, Mississippi IMG_20150209_105644672_HDR 5. Longboard Island Lager – Kona Brewing,Hawaii Beer was so good, photographer forgot to take a picture…. 6. Yellow Snow IPA – Rogue Brewing Newport, Oregon IMG_20150209_112508756_HDR 7. Chimay Grand Reserve – Belgium IMG_20150209_120344941_HDR

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IMG_20150118_123859916Annual beer tasting coming up in first week of February. My sister Char offered free rooms for us at the Golden Nugget Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Seemed like a good reason to look for beers indigenous to the quaint little town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
You’re there in less than five minutes by taking the bay bridge next to the casino. There are a multitude of restaurants, bars, and shops that make the charm of the old and that of the new. A great example is where we had lunch on the main drag of Government Street.

The Government Street Grocery is an old restored grocery store that’s part bar and part restaurant and serves soups, sandwiches, burgers, wraps, and salads. There’s a large selection of beers in bottles and on draft. There’s an emphasis on everything being fresh and homemade. The soup of the day was made with sausage, potato, and kale. Great handcut fries. I had the Tijuana burger, which consisted of 100% angus beef with grilled onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and spicy mayo on a toasted kaiser roll. Everyone was happy with the food, service, and the reasonable prices making it a good place for a leisurely lunch.

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After lunch, we walked to Broom’s Grocery to check out their large selection of beers. As we entered the store, we noticed the Crooked Letter Brewery located in the back of the parking lot on the side of the store. We decided to check out the micro brewery. They have brewery tours on Saturdays from 1 to 3 o’clock. For $5, you get a good deal with a tour and the opportunity to sample six beers from their small tasting room.

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After the tour, we chilled outside on the wooden rockers sampling their tasty brews. The brewery has four beers that are available in six packs.
IMG_20150122_1917373531. Mystery Romp A porter with chocolate and coffee nuances.
2.
Crooked Heffy A cloudy wheat beer with hints of pineapple and banana.
3.
Gipsy IPA A typical hoppy India Pale Ale.
4.
Stabello Maniscalco In Italian folklore, Stabello was an orgre who wondered villages after nightfall in search of beer and mischief. To honor the legend, this is a hopped up version of an Italian-style lager.

All of the beers are well-made, but the Stabello was definitely my favorite beer from Crooked Letter and will definitely be in that number for my beer tasting in February.

Government Street Grocery | 1210 Government Street, Ocean Springs, Mississippi 39564 | (228) 818-9410

Crooked Letter Brewing Company | 1805 Government Street, Ocean Springs, Mississippi 39564 | (228) 238-1414

Our daughter Lindsay and husband Chas were ready to go the Weeping Willow in downtown Thibodaux for lunch this Saturday and then make supper at Cristiano’s in Houma. My wife Jo and I and friends Gavin and Dolly Callais decided to join them.

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The Willow sandwich and tomato-basil soup

This was their go-to place to eat on Saturdays when they lived in Thibodaux. This place with its high ceilings has a great laid-back vibe with it being a coffee shop and restaurant. The architecture of the place and the buildings around it have a very New Orleans feel. The restaurant has artisan sandwiches, with bread made on the premises, great soups, specialty teas and coffee, and a great selection of homemade pastries. Their club and muffaletta sandwiches are very good, but their Willow is definitely the show-stopper. This sandwich has ham, turkey, Swiss cheese, homemade pesto, and Caesar salad on toasted sesame bread. The soup of the day was a tomato basil soup. Everyone had the soup with their sandwich. One of the best tomato-based soups I’ve ever eaten. Its bisque-like consistency exploded with the flavors of roasted garlic, basil, and chunky tomato. We finished the meal with good coffee and some of those pastries. Jo had to have one of those yummy brownies topped with caramel.  This is a neat little place where quality is a priority and where you’ll never feel rushed to leave.

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King Cake Old Fashioned and cocktail list

Donner-Peltier Distillers is Thibodaux’s first craft distillery. They offer tours and tastings six days a week. It is located in the middle of a sugar cane field. We decided to take the tour and tasting to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner. For $5, you get the tour, a cocktail featuring their products, and a taste of all their spirits, which include various rums, a vodka, a gin, and a small batch bourbon. The Oryza vodka and gin are made from 100% locally grown Louisiana long grain rice, while the Rougaroux rums are made with pure black strap molasses and raw cane sugar. All of the hand-crafted spirits are top notch. I especially like their Oryza gin, which uses the rice vodka as the base spirit, then blends botanicals that include juniper berries, Louisiana citrus, pink peppercorns, and cantaloupe. The tour guide made us cocktails we could sip on while we took the tour. My kind of tour. After the tour, you are able to buy their spirits, t-shirts, and other items pertaining to the distillery in the gift shop. If you are ever in Thibodaux, it’s worth your while to check out Donner-Peltier Distillers.

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Now we’re headed to Houma to have dinner at Cristiano’s. With the weather being so nice, we decided to eat outside in their lovely courtyard. A decision was made to go family-style with the appetizers. We all shared fried green tomatoes topped with a crab meat remoulade, grilled oysters, and a chacuterie plate. The oysters topped with red peppers and other veggies were definitely the crowd favorite. There was also excellent gargonzola cheese on the chacuterie plate.

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Chargrilled oysters

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Fried green tomato

For me, the best plate of food for the night was the entree of creamy crawfish risotto. Other entrees included a nice sauteed hake, gnocchi with bacon and pork shavings, and a shrimp and crab pasta dish with jalapeno and lime.

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Crawfish risotto

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Gelato Medley

A medley of gelatos was one of the desserts. The flavors included vanilla bean, espresso, and hazelnut. There was also a creme brulee, chocolate mousse with blackberry compote, and a cheesecake trio. The house red wine, made predominantly with sangiovese grapes was enjoyed by all. The reasonably priced red had a good body and smooth finish. Our waitress and service were on par with any great fine-dining experience. We had a great time, great conversation, and a lot of laughs which led to a dinner that lasted over three hours. The night ended with a complimentary round of tasty tawny ports by the owner of the restaurant. A great ending to a wonderful night and a wonderful day. Cristiano’s is definitely one of the best restaurants in Houma.

Weeping Willow Cafe | 704 W 3rd St, Thibodaux, LA 70301 | (985) 448-0444

Donner-Peltier Distillers | 1635 St. Patrick Highway, Thibodaux, LA 70301 | (985) 446-0002

Cristiano Ristorante | 724 High St, Houma, LA 70360 | (985) 223-1130

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The French Press

My wife Jo and daughter Lindsay coordinated a weekend rendezvous in Lafayette to meet our son Eric and his wife, Ana, and the grandbaby, Isabella. Since they live in Houston and we live in Cut Off, Lafayette was decided as the happy medium to cut down on the driving time. Ana’s sister, Lucy, and her boyfriend, Cameron, also decided to join us for the weekend after driving in from Austin, Texas. After a good night’s sleep, we were all in the mood for a good breakfast.

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Cajun Benedict

A decision was made to eat at the French Press, a French Quarter-style restaurant located in downtown Lafayette. This casual dining restaurant is famous for its brunch, which was recognized by Saveur Magazine as one of the top 100 inspiring places and things to eat. The food crosses aspects of both Cajun and American cuisine. A classic example is the Cajun Benedict. This is toasted French bread smeared with boudin that has been taken out of its casing, two poached eggs are added and then topped with a very dark chicken and andouille gumbo. The description of this dish sounds heavy and quirky, but it actually works.

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French Toast

The French toast was awesome. It was stuffed with blueberry and cream cheese, complimented with a blueberry champagne compote. Pancakes were plump and airy, coming in a stack of three with choices that included blueberry, candied walnut, blackberry and toasted pecan. Breakfast sandwiches, homemade granola, grits and grillades and chicken and waffles are some of the other items offered for breakfast. By the way, the French press coffee was excellent. The service and ambiance was impeccable, with prices being quite affordable. If you’re in the area, I would highly recommend this place.

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Poupart’s Bakery

The next morning, we stopped at Poupart Bakery for pastries and coffee. Since 1967, they are the only authentic French bakery in Acadiana. The people working here are so friendly, the choices massive, and the prices very reasonable to the point of being cheap. Lemon macaroons for 44 cents! While drinking coffee and eating our goodies, complimentary homemade French bread with butter and homemade preserves were brought to our table. I can see why this place was packed when we left the bakery.

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Jolie’s bar

Before leaving for home and saying our goodbyes, we had a nice lunch at Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro. The upscale restaurant features Louisiana cuisine and variations on New Orleans Creole classics. Thirty-five canvases depicting early Cajun life by famous Louisiana artist George Rodrigue adorned the walls of the restaurant. Rodrigue is known worldwide for his Blue Dog paintings. Ana thoroughly enjoyed her oyster poboy with horseradish remoulade. Ditto for my wife, who had the fried catfish sandwich with a pickled onion aioli.

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Shrimp & Grits

Eric, Cameron and Lucy had the New Orleans style barbecue shrimp and grits. For some reason, I was not particularity fond of the flavor profile of the sauce. However, my entree of cioppino stew made me very happy. The light tomato broth packed loads of flavor with its bounty of seafood, which included shrimp, mussels, scallops and a soft shelled crab. The addition of a garlicky rouille to the broth made it easy to dip grilled French bread.

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Cioppino

Other items offered were roasted oysters three ways, which included a Bienville, Rockefeller and Jolie. The Jolie had a crawfish, corn cream sauce over the oyster and then topped with breadcrumbs. There was also a Zapp’s Crawtators-crusted drum that’s pan-sauteed and then topped with a crawfish cream sauce. Our experienced waiter was attentive and knowledgeable, which aided in making Jolie’s a very nice dining experience.

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Grilled Oysters

Not only was it great to see family and friends again, but we also got to eat some really good food at some really great restaurants in Lafayette.

The French Press, 214 E. Vermillion St., (337) 233.9449
Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro, 507 W. Pinhook Road, (337) 504.2382
Poupart Bakery, 1902 W. Pinhook Road, (337) 232.7921

The weather was terrible, but that did not deter our annual tradition of the beer tasting before the Krewe of Versailles Parade. This is our 11th year. Usually we have the beer tasting on the bayou side. We had to go with plan B because of the rain.

ImageThank God for my neighbor and cousin, Eli, who offered her carport to conduct the festivities. Her sheltered space saved the day. Great beers and great food were enjoyed by all.

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A great black bean soup, frenchalatta sandwiches, and dips of eggplant caponata and hummus with chiplote peppers and adobo sauce were great compliments to the beers. Let’s not forget the barbecue. There were tasty ribs, smoked boudin, green onion sausage, pork grillades, and hot dogs with a homemade deer chili.

ImageHot, spicy chicken wings and portobello mushrooms were also on the menu. The portobellos are made and expected every year. They make a great appetizer. Here are the ingredients:
6 portobello mushrooms
*Oyster sauce
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil1 tbsp. soy sauce
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp. dry oregano
Freshly ground pepper
5 sprigs fresh parsley

*I use Lee Kum Kee Oyster Sauce, which can be found in almost all oriental grocery stores.

Line a rimmed baking tray with aluminum foil. Remove stems, and then scrape out most of the inner black gills of the mushrooms with a regular table spoon. Cut each mushroom into 1/2-inch thick slices, usually resulting in about 5 pieces. Put slices on tray. Put some oyster sauce in a small bowl, and with a pastry brush, baste each slice of mushroom with the sauce.

Peel cloves of garlic, and cut each one in half. Place pieces of garlic all around mushrooms. Sprinkle soy sauce and olive oil over mushrooms, same with oregano and fresh pepper. Then add the parsley.

Cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Uncover and pierce and secure each mushroom with a toothpick and serve.

Over 40 people participated in the beer tasting. It was great to hear and see the various reactions and opinions of the brews, especially when one was asked if they would like to try some “Moose Drool.” I thought it was neat when the tasting started with an ale made by monks out of the state of New Mexico and ended with Chimay Grand Reserve, which is made by Belgium monks. Someone remarked the tasting was a religious experience by starting and tasting with beers made by monks.

Who knows, but I thought the beers were really good. Here’s the list of beers for this year’s tasting:

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Monk’s Ale | Abbey Beverage Co. | Abiqulu, New Mexico

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Southampton Double White | Saratoga Springs, New York

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Alaskan Amber Alt Style Ale | Juneau, Alaska

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Omission Pale Ale | Widmer Bros. Brewing Co. | Portland, Orgeon

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Green Man ESB Amber Ale | Ashville, North Carolina

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Moose Drool Brown Ale | Big Sky Brewing Co. | Missoula, Montana

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Santo | St. Arnold Brewery | Houston, Texas

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Chimay Grand Reserve | Belgium

 

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It’s Saturday, and my wife and I are joining our daughter, Lindsay, and her husband, Chas, on a road trip to New Orleans to eat at Pêche. Chef Donald Link’s newest restaurant specializes in seafood utilizing a large coal-fired grill, as opposed to his nationally-renowned restaurant Cochon, which highlights the wonder of the pig.

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Upon entering the space, there is an airy and dated look to the place with exposed, weathered wooden beams and unfinished wood used for the tables. The historic building was a mortuary after the Civil War. After looking at the menu, we decided to go tapas-style, with all of us sharing small plates of food. This gave us a chance of sampling more items from the menu.

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Grilled royal red shrimp arrived first. These were large, heads-on shrimp perfectly grilled and lying in a garlic butter sauce. I would advise to order hush puppies with the shrimp to soak up that sauce. As far as the hush puppies, Donald Link said in Food & Wine Magazine that he thought his hush puppies were the best in the world. This could be true because those corn meal balls of goodness exploded with flavor, having the right blend of herbs, green onion, and heat.

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The rest of the food ordered included catfish with pickled greens, curried mussels, grilled skirt steak with salsa verde, and baked drum with mushrooms and squash fritters. All were good and well-seasoned, especially that sauce with the baked drum. Those squash fritters did not have a chance with the sauce. Pêche has a decent selection of wines by the bottle or glass, as well as beers on tap or the bottle. We enjoyed a pitcher of Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Ale. The service was great, waiters were attentive, and food came promptly to our table. A big thumbs up for Pêche.

Pêche Seafood Grill, 800 Magazine St., (504) 522.1744

ImageWe had a supper at the Charpentier’s the night before our grandbaby Isabella was to be baptized. The proud parents, Eric and Ana, and the baby had driven in from Houston. This was a good night to touch bases with old friends and have a great meal. My brother-in-law, T-Black, was in charge of the fried food. There was fried shrimp, fried oysters, and fried frog legs.

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I was requested to make a redfish courtbouillon. This is a Creole dish that has seafood in a tomato gravy. You could use a firm-fleshed white fish, such as red snapper, drum, or grouper if redfish is not available. But on the bayou, redfish is almost used exclusively. A lot of people make a roux for the sauce. I don’t, and I also use olives in the sauce, which can be omitted if you don’t care for olives. We served the courtbouillon over rice, but it can be served in a bowl and enjoyed with just French or garlic bread. The redfish courtbouillon complemented the fried seafood nicely in making a very tasty and memorable meal.

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Here is the recipe for redfish courtbouillon:
Serves 8-12 people
Ingredients:
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14.5 oz.) Italian diced tomatoes
1 seeded chipolte pepper, chopped
2 cans (15 oz.) tomato sauce
32 oz. chicken broth
1 tbsp. adobo sauce from can of chipolte peppers
1 quart of peeled, small shrimp
1 tbsp. oyster sauce
2 tbsp. hoison sauce
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
10 oz. stuffed olives with pimentos
3 slices of an orange
3 slices of  a lemon
1/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
3 lbs. redfish filets, cut into 2-3 inch pieces

Saute onion and celery in oil until they become soft and have some brown color. Add the green onions and garlic, and cook until garlic becomes fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, and saute for 10 minutes, then add seeded chipolte pepper, cans of tomato sauce, chicken broth, adobo sauce, shrimp, oyster sauce, hoison sauce, and orange juice. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Add olives and cook another 5 minutes. Lower heat to very light simmer, and add fruit slices and parsley. Then place fish atop sauce, and cover for about 20 minutes until fish is cooked, but not falling apart. Garnish with parsley or green onions, or both.

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ImageMy wife and I and my daughter and her husband had lunch at Antoine’s in New Orleans the Saturday before Christmas.  Antoine’s opened in 1840 and is the oldest operating restaurant in America. We had lunch in the main dining room which was dimly lit and focused on the large, beautiful Christmas tree located in one of the corners.

The restaurant offers a three course lunch for $20.13. You have a choice of 2 offerings for each course. We all had the baked oysters for our first course. Everyone received an oyster Rockefeller, oyster Bienville, and oyster Thermidor. All were delicious, but everyone especially like the oyster Bienville.

ImageThe second course offered a pork tenderloin stuffed with Andouille sausage dressing or a panneed chicken dish topped with béarnaise sauce with mashed sweet potatoes. Both were delicious.

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Dessert consisted of a pecan and raisin bread pudding (very good) and a pumpkin cheesecake. Along with the affordable meal were 25 cent fruit martinis. After the meal, we toured the many rooms of this museum-like restaurant. If you have never been to Antoine’s, now is a great time to taste some of their food at a great price, and this historic restaurant really looks great at this time of year.

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Antoine’s | 713 St. Louis Street, New Orleans LA (504) 581-4422

Two Wine Choices for New Year’s

If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing, unassuming white wine at a great price for New Year’s Eve, this Riesling is the ticket. It’s fruity with a slight touch of sweetness. This wine, 2012 Kungfu Girl, by Charles Smith from Washington State made Wine Spectator’s Top 100, and at $10-$12, what a great bargain.

ImageA good choice for a red wine for New Year’s could be the 2011 Conundrum Red. It’s a blend made by the Wagner family affiliated with the famous Caymus Vineyards. This red is fruity and very smooth. It’s a great sipping wine for the holidays, and at $15-$20, it won’t break the bank.

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Hope everyone had a great Christmas. Goody boxes were a big success again this year.

Twenty-seven family members received these tasty treats.

Twenty-seven family members received these tasty treats.

I baked for two days to put out twenty-seven gift boxes. If you are a coffee drinker and need a boost, you might want to try a little Café Bustelo. It’s an espresso ground coffee that’s tasty, inexpensive, and accessible. My little friend in the yellow can goes for six to eight dollars. It’s very popular in the Miami area.
Café Bustelo

As far as the baked goods, there were many requests for the return of the homemade brownies made with Ghirardelli chocolate and the orange brownies. The chocolate brownies take some time to make, but boy are they are worth it. Here are both recipes:

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Chocolate Brownies with Ghiradelli Chocolate

Ingredients:
2 sticks unsalted butter
8 oz. semisweet Ghiradelli chocolate
4 large eggs
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup flour
2 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Set oven at 350 degrees.
Use a 9x13x2” pan. Line pan with oiled or buttered wax or parchment paper. Melt butter over medium heat. Off heat, add the chocolate by pieces. Let stand 2 minutes, then whisk smooth.
In a large bowl, stir 1 egg into the brown sugar. Make sure lumps in sugar are dissolved. Add remaining eggs one at a time. Stir in sugar, then the vanilla and salt. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Finally, fold in flour, then the 2 cups of pecans.
Scrape batter in oiled pan, and smooth the top. Scatter remaining 1/2 cup pecans over top of batter, and with your fingertips, gently press them in.
Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center emerges clean.
Wrap and refrigerate pan so the brownies set completely at least 4 hours. This makes the brownies easier to cut.

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Orange Brownies
1 1/2 cup flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks butter, softened
4 eggs
2 tsp. orange extract
1 tsp. grated orange zest

Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp. orange juice
1 tsp. orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 13x9x2” pan and line with wax or parchment paper.
Stir together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Add butter, eggs, extract, and zest. Using mixer, beat until well-blended.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and set.
Remove from oven, and pierce entire cake with toothpick.
For glaze, mix all ingredients together, and stir until smooth. Add more orange juice if you feel glaze is too thick.
Pour glaze over cake, let cool, and cut into squares.

Earlier I wrote “Life is too short to drink cheap wine.” What I should’ve written is “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” There are just too many wines of good quality that won’t break the bank. I’m talking about wines in the 10 to 15 dollar range. Wines you would not think twice about opening during the week. In other words, a good house wine.

Here are my current favorite best buys:

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2010 Dry Creek Vineyard, Heritage Zinfandel Sonoma County, $15 (left). 2009 Maggio Zinfandel Lodi Old Vine, $10 (found exclusively at World Market).

Here’s a list of some good wine bargains:

  • 2009-2010 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel Paso Robles, $15.
  • 2011 Louis Jadot Beaujolais – Villages, $10 (France).
  • 2009 Terra D’ Oro Zinfandel Amador County, $12.
  • 2010 Kaiken Malbec, $13 (Argentina).
  • 2010 Yalumba Shiraz Viognier, $12 (Australia).
  • 2010 Byron Pinot Noir Santa Barbra County, $15.
  • 2010 Nobilo Icon Pinot Noir, $14 (New Zealand).
  • 2010 Katherine Goldschmimdt Cabernet Sauvignon Crazy Creek Alexander Valley, $14.
  • 2010 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel California, $11.
  • 2011 Gnarly Head Pinot Noir California, $12.
  • 2010 Seven Falls Cabernet Sauvignon Wahluke Slope, $12 (Washington State).
  • 2007 Querceto Chianti Classico Reserva, $14 (Italy).

Enjoy!!