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Quick, Simple, Fancy Appetizers

Hello Cooking Friends,

I don’t know about you, but I love quick and simple appetizers that everyone thinks took you forever to make, and are super complicated.

Baked Asparagus Citrus Habañero

Citrus Habañero Asparagus

I have two standbys that I used this weekend for a bring-appetizers-to-share event. I would like to share with you because I got so many “how did you make this?!?!” comments this weekend. I am going to share multiple variations for both just to be fair to all palates!

#1) ‘Fancy’ Asparagus

What you need: 1 bunch of asparagus, flavored olive oils, flavored balsamic vinegars, and various spices, as desired.

Preheat your oven to 350, and spray an 8×8 pan with cooking spray (I prefer aluminum ones to bake-and-take-and-toss when I’m going somewhere not at a house).

Keep the rubber bands on your asparagus and rinse the stems in cold water for a few seconds. Then, using a very sharp and long knife (i.e. not a paring knife), cut the bottom 1 inch off the asparagus stems. This is key to taste and keeping the rubber bands on is key to sanity. It also lets you cut your asparagus to mostly equal length quite simply!

So now we have our rinsed, prepped asparagus, remove the rubber bands and dump the stems into your pan (layers are perfectly fine). Over top of this you will drizzle and sprinkle your olive oils and spices. Bake for 12-18 minutes, until they’re to your desired tenderness (18) or crispness (12). I usually do about 15 minutes, to get it right in the middle!

A) Citrus-Habañero: pour about 3 tablespoons of Butter Olive Oil evenly over your asparagus. Drizzle about 2 teaspoons of Citrus Habañero Olive Oil evenly over top you asparagus. Bake.

B) Peppery Citrus: mix together 1 tablespoon orange juice and 1 teaspoon Lemon Pepper Olive Oil, and pour over top the asparagus. Using a peppermill or grinder, sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of fresh ground pepper over top the asparagus. Bake.

C) Garlicky Mushroom & Fig: mix together 2 teaspoons each Garlic Mushroom Olive Oil and Fig Balsamic Vinegar, 1 teaspoon of dill weed, and 1 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper. Pour over asparagus evenly. Bake.

D) Butter & Bacon: sprinkle about 2 teaspoons worth of Bacon!Bacon! over top, evenly. Pour 2 tablespoons of Butter Olive Oil evenly over asparagus & bacon. Bake.

E) Garden Veggie: sprinkle about 2 teaspoons each worth of Garden Veggie and Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto mixes evenly over asparagus. Pour 2 tablespoons of Butter Olive Oil, OR pour 1 tablespoon melted butter plus 1 teaspoon Sun-dried Tomato Parmesan & Garlic Olive Oil, evenly over asparagus & spices. Bake.

**Note, 2 tablespoons butter olive oil is equivalent to just under 1/4 cup melted (unsalted) butter.

#2) Rumaki

BBQ Barbeque Rumaki Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts

BBQ Rumaki

What you need: toothpicks, 1 package bacon, 2 cans diced & drained water chestnuts, sauce as desired.

Preheat oven to 350, and either line a cookie sheet with foil or use an 11×7 pan – spray either one with cooking spray.

The basics of what you will do: cut your bacon strips into thirds, and then wrap 1 of these strips around 1 diced water chestnut. Stick a toothpick through starting where the wrap ends, and going through the water chestnut to the other side. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until bacon is to your taste (crisp or soft). This does 2 things for you: 1) this keeps the bacon from getting messy and going everywhere while baking, and 2) creates an instant ‘serving’ option for guests to enjoy these without getting more utensils dirty!

So here are some ways to flavor the rumaki!

A) BBQ Rumaki: Take a barbeque sauce of your choice, I used the Laurel Gray Crazy ‘Bout Butts BBQ Sauce, and pour about 1/4 cup into the bottom of your pan. Place your tooth-picked rumaki into the pan in rows, and then drizzle another 1/8 cup of the sauce over top of the rumaki. Bake.

B) Ginger-Soy Rumaki: Place your tooth-picked rumaki in the pan in rows. Meanwhile, mix together 1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Butter Olive Oil (or 2 tbspn melted butter), dash of cumin, and 2 teaspoons ground ginger. For the ginger, if you happen to have pickled ginger on hand, you could substitute either 1 teaspoon of the pickled liquid OR 2 teaspoons of blended pickled ginger (solids only) for the ground ginger. Mix this well. Pour over rumaki and bake.

C) Garden Veggie Rumaki: Place your tooth-picked rumaki in the pan in rows. Sprinkle Garden Veggie and 2 tablespoons Garlic Mushroom Olive Oil over the asparagus, evenly. Bake.

So I sincerely hope that you enjoyed these, and if you try them, please let me know which version you tried (even if it’s your own) and how you liked them!

Craft You Later,

Quick Dinner Night: Easy BBQ Chicken and Rice

Hello Food Friends!

I was in the mood for a healthy, quick and easy dinner the other night, and had just purchased a BBQ sauce from a winery I stopped into – so I naturally decided I wanted to barbeque some chicken up. In the oven of course. I did say “quick”, and since the only grill I have is a charcoal grill, that would completely defeat the point of “quick”, now wouldn’t it? I thought so too. Thus I decided to make BBQ Chicken with Veggie Rice. Mmmmm.

Anyways, as I’m sure many of you reading my blog have learned, I typically add stuff to whatever I’m making even if it is using a prepared sauce of some kind. This sauce, however, I didn’t do anything except spray the pan with PAM before baking. I didn’t even add in water to the pan! I know, I know, contain your shock, it’s hot outside and I don’t want you to faint now…! tee hee hee.

So I used the Laurel Gray Crazy ‘Bout Butts BBQ Sauce, and doused the chicken (sliced thinly like chicken tenders) in it in a shallow 9×13 pan. I preheated the oven to 350, put the chicken in, and baked for 22 minutes. The chicken came out so tender that you could cut it with a fork, and it was incredibly yummy smelling.

BBQ Sauce!

For the rice dish to go with it, I bought 2 pouches of  Uncle Ben’s Original Ready Rice (the microwaveable kind), 15 oz can of Sweet Peas (drained), 11 oz can of Corn (drained), and a 15 oz can of Black Beans (rinsed & drained). I also had on-hand sampler bottles of Basil Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Chipotle Extra Virgin Olive Oil from True Olive Connection, of which I used about 2 teaspoons each. You can substitute regular Extra Virgin Olive Oil for those quite easily.

Rice Ingredients!

To compile the rice dish, I put the 2 pouches of rice in the microwave for 1 minute 40 seconds, then dumped into a microwavable dish. I drizzled the 2 teaspoons of each olive oil onto the rice (don’t mix). Finally I put peas, corn and black beans on top – then mixed the heck out of it! Put it back in the microwave for about 3 minutes, and then mix some more. This should be hot, fully cooked and ready to serve!

Making the Rice.

Now plate the rice, then add the chicken (once fully cooked) on top, and voilà, you have a tasty and very pretty presentation that was super simple! I was able to get 6 servings out of this!

Simple, Quick BBQ Chicken & Rice

Let me know how you like this, and hope you enjoy! Until next time….

Craft You Later,

NC Wine Touring: Laurel Gray Vineyards

Hello Friends,

I am going to talk a little bit about a winery I recently visited. This was part of a birthday DIY wine tour some friends and I did for one of their 21st birthdays. Definitely not mine, trust me, been there & done that quite a few moons ago, thank you!

So we stopped was at Laurel Gray Vineyards. This is a very quaint and pretty, small local vineyard in Hamptonville, North Carolina, just off the NC-421 and I-77 intersection. The owners, Kim & Ben Myers, live on an 84-acre former dairy cattle and tobacco farm, that has been in the Myers family for 10 generations. They planted their first grapes (French Vinifera) in 2001, and in 2003 opened the tasting room in a renovated milking parlor, continuing to grow from there.

Laurel Gray Vineyard

When we first drove up, the first thing we noticed was the beautiful landscaping and lush roses. At the entrance to the Tasting Room, there are 2 rose gardens with 40 tea roses. Completely gorgeous and clearly lovingly well-tended. In addition to these rose-filled areas, the vineyards themselves have roses in front of every other row (something almost every vineyard does), which does two things: first it creates a pretty look, and second (most importantly) it warns the growers if there is trouble for the grape plants. Roses and Grapevines are similar in many ways so they are a natural warning if insects or weather or anything else are affecting the grapes.

So we enter this cute cottage-like Tasting Room and see a wine bar and a shop in one, complete with wine glasses, wine bottles, shirts, aprons, and a whole array of food items. We also see two ladies getting everything setup, as we are there right at 11am, which is when the Tasting Room opens on Saturdays. Wooo! We are the first up to bat!

We let them know we want to do some tastings, and they set a list of wines out, and start placing pieces of sourdough bread (scratch-made) in a few dishes in front of us, along with some Laurel Gray wine glasses. It smelled heavenly, slightly sweet, but still sour. Mmmm. So onto the wines!

Laurel Gray Wine Glass

So in our cute wine glasses we get poured a selection of wines in a 1-1.5 oz amount. We start with dry whites, followed by dry reds, then semi sweet wines, and finish with sweet wines. Here are their provided notes, and my thoughts on the wines, in order of how we tasted them. Enjoy!

2011 Pinot Gris
LG: Clean and fruity with hints of melon, citrus and mineral. Kim’s favorite wine for a warm summer evening. Serve with a light fish or chicken dishes or creamy soft cheese.
Beth: Clean, crisp, citrus and fruity wine with a lightly sweet undertone.

2011 Viognier
LG: Peaches and apricots are the best words to describe this full bodied delicious white wine. It is a breath of a souther summer day. Enjoy seafood, poultry, creamy pasta, and someone you love. (International Award Winner)
Beth: Peachy overtones, with a sweet start and a slightly dry finish, and a true Viognier flavor throughout.

2010 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay
LG: Aged in French oak barrels for one year this Chardonnay is a balance of apple, butter, and vanilla flavors. Voted Best Vintage by a select market group, a wine that pairs well with hard cheese, light pasta dishes, chicken or seafood. Benny’s white wine choice for 2012.
Beth: Apple overtones, buttery smoothness throughout, and oak undertones flavor this Chardonnay.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
LG: Our delicate French style Cabernet is barrel aged for 22 months and then bottle aged for 18 months. Blackberries, dark chocolate and cherries blend with buttery oak for a smooth, long finish. Enjoy with all red meat and bold cheeses. International Award Winner.
Beth: Chocolate cherry/berry flavors throughout, with a slightly dry start and a sweet finish, that tastes very smooth from beginning to end.

2009 Windsor (Newest Release)
LG: A rich and delicious blend of four estate vinifera red grapes. Our boldest wine, Windsor is wonderful with red meat, olives, bold cheese, and dark chocolate! A portion of the sale of this wine will help promote Yadkin Co Tourism. International Award Winner.
Beth: A buttery dry red wine with grape flavors rolling around your tongue through to a smooth finish.

2009 Scarlet Mountain
LG: This is our signature wine blended from four of our estate vinifera grapes. The richness of ripe red cherries, blueberries, raspberries and buttered toast delight the senses. International Award Winner and Customer Favorite, serve Scarlet Mountain with grilled burgers, pizza, Italian dishes, it really goes well with almost anything!
Beth: This slightly dry wine has a sweetness from a full-flavor presence of berries, and finishes very smoothly with a cherry note at the very end.

Rosé 1773
LG: On a warm day in the south, this semi-sweet blend of fresh picked berries and exotic flavor is the perfect picnic wine. To enjoy an international experience serve Rosé 1773 with Asian, Spanish or Indian food.
Beth: This is a very sweet berry overtone, and a very slight spice undertone that is in between pepper and nutmeg. Tastes similar to a drier White Zinfandel to me.

LG: Laurel Gray’s Cebernet, infused with natural black raspberries and just a hint of pure milk chocolate, makes this wine the perfect end to a great dinner with friends. Served with our Chocolate Cabernet Wine Sauce it becomes a decadent and heavenly treat! Tastes just like a raspbery truffle!
Beth: This was my favorite wine at Laurel Gray. I am normally not a fan of overly sweet wines, but this one just hit every good note in a rousing aria of deliciousness. The chocolate and berry flavors were well-balanced and in the forefront of the taste, as well as the smooth sweetness that took you from start to finish, but never overpowered you. This was one of those wines that would be dangerous because it’s so good, though I would love to use it in my cooking! YUM.

LG: Sweet, fresh grapes delight both your nose and palate. Clean and fruity Nectar is a trip down memory lane. Enjoy a glass of Nectar served ice cold and wiggle your toes in the grass. Serve with desserts made with butter, vanilla or tropical fruit.
Beth: This sweet vanilla undertone wine tasted almost like a muscadine grape but not quite as sweet.

Artisan Vinaigrette: This olive oil, vinegar and herb sauce went with the fresh-baked sourdough bread like a Chardonnay with Chicken. Delicious, well-balanced in the spice realm, and not too vinegary, this would be a very addicting treat to start your meal off when paired with some fresh bread.
Crazy ‘Bout Butts BBQ Sauce: This was so good, and I do like my BBQ sauces, that I don’t think I need to do anything but marinate my meats in it and enjoy it. Typically I add at least one thing to a store-bought BBQ sauce, but this is a melt-in-your-mouth experience all on its own, not needing a thing changed.
Chocolate Cabernet Wine Sauce: I really thought I was in heaven when I tried this, paired with the Encore wine. I had a moment where I wouldn’t give the tasting spoon up. This thick chocolate sauce has an undertone of cabernet, but is mostly chocolate, chocolate, berry, and more chocolate in the flavor. Super delicious and highly addicting. You are forewarned!
Caramel Chardonnay Wine Sauce: This is the only sauce we didn’t try, and that may be a good thing, as good caramel sauces are much harder to find and my wastline may not have loved me for trying this!

Sadly, the wines and sauces are only sold at the vineyard, however that just gives and excuse to take a nice drive on a weekend up to Hamptonville to go wine tasting and have a cheery, flavor-filled afternoon!

Let me know if you have tried Laurel Gray Vineyards’ wines, and what you think of them. Do you agree or disagree on my comments? I am by no means an expert, I just try to pay attention to my palatte when I drink wines. Hopefully this helps you make a choice about visiting, though, as it truly is lovely.

Craft You Later,

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