SIMPLI’ – handcrafted soaps with wine

This Christmas, I really want to support small businesses as much as I can and the idea of being able to purchase items directly from an individual is extremely appealing.  If you’re looking for a wonderful stocking item, present for a neighbor, or a hostess gift, this is a company you should consider supporting:  www.simpliartisan.com

Simpli’ is a Gaelic word for simple and straightforward.  My dear friend, J, is the artist who is handcrafting small batch soaps and body products.  She comes up with her own recipes, selects incredible “good for you” skin products, and works diligently to use high-quality ingredients to make her soaps, beard products, and body butters.  The scents alone are wonderful but the fact that her items are made with such pure ingredients is even better… until she started making soaps with WINE!SIMPLI.jpg

How cool would it be to use a soap made with wine?  Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Pinot Gris all have their own place in Simpli’ soaps.  Each has a wonderful scent, cleansing lather, and is handcrafted in Northern Virginia.  These are a wonderful example of an artisan combining two of her passions… wine and crafting soaps.

I recently visited with J at her home and had the privilege to watch as she created a cooked soap and it was a really fun experience.  Watching the ingredients come together to thicken and become a soap, ready to cool in a handmade loaf pan, was fascinating… and the smell was intoxicating!

If you live in the Northern Virginia/DC area, you should consider finding this company at one of the local craft shows that are coming up this holiday season.  At the very least, you should consider looking through the Simpli’ shop for soaps, body butters, bug balm, salves, and deodorant.

J has been very generous and is offering a special coupon code to anyone who subscribes to this blog!  Sign onto her website, www.simpliartisan.com and use the coupon code BOTWINE17 to receive 10% off everything in her shop… but don’t delay because this coupon expires on 12/31/17.

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A Winery Visit – Effingham Manor (VA)

I recently had the opportunity to visit a beautiful winery before it opened!  The opening of Effingham Manor Winery (14325 Trotters Ridge Place, Nokesville VA 20181) in Prince William County, Virginia had been delayed by a group of local residents but with the  ABC license expected at any moment (see NOTE below), I was invited by owner/vintner Chris Pearmund to stop by and take some photos of the beautiful property.

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The beautiful sign directs you onto their driveway.  From there, as you can see in the photo above, you’ll find the tasting room to the left, the manor house ahead, and the old slave quarters off to the right. There’s so much to take in as you walk around the property.   The history of the site and the connections to the area are long and storied… well worth taking the time to visit.  Ask about their connections to the founding of the city of Alexandria, Va or the cedar tree, growing on their property, that dates back to the days just after the Lewis and Clark expedition. There’s so much to see and learn, even without tasting any of their award-winning wines!

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The tasting room is large, beautiful, and well appointed. The patio is decorated with white lights and picnic tables to encourage visitors who choose to bring friends and spend the afternoon.  The tasting space is clean and open, allowing for guests to cluster by the fireplace or learn about the wines at the back bar with purchases available for immediate consumption.  As is stated on the back wall: “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.” ~Benjamin Franklin.

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On the other side of the manor house is a stunning view: the first cement pool in Virginia, now stocked with a dizzying array of koi.  Take your time visiting this spot as the colors of koi are gorgeous and the pond is set in such a serene location.

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Beside the Koi pond, you’ll see the plantation’s old slave quarters.  This building has some incredible pieces of history that will delight those who have a moment to learn about life in the 1700’s.  Even the floor mat by the front door is educational.

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Walking the grounds of Effingham Manor is both eye catching and breath taking in it’s beauty.  The flowers have been planted thoughtfully, the shrubs are left slightly wild-looking, and there are many places for photo opportunities to capture your time here.  This is a place that honors its’ heritage and encourages you to plan multiple visits… you can’t possibly learn it all at once.

My friend and fellow blogger, Julie Fanning, has written the fabulous details about “all things Effingham Manor on her own blog, so I have included that link.  Please take a moment to read her post… there’s so much more to learn about this incredible destination.

If you are looking for a winery just outside of DC to visit, I highly suggest taking the time to spend an afternoon (or two) at Effingham Manor.  I believe that you’ll be glad you did!

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NOTE:  At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that they were awaiting their ABC license approval?  I was at Pearmund Cellars when owner Chris Pearmund received his final copy of the license, allowing them to open for business as of Saturday, September 16, 2017.  Since much of Effingham’s wine had been stored at Pearmund Cellars, Chris asked if anyone wanted to make the first official purchase… pulling out a dollar, I became their first official customer!  To say I was thrilled is an understatement – I had a serious fan-girl moment when I was given the bottle of Effingham sparkling wine with signatures from both owner Chris Pearmund (left) and wine maker Ashton Lough(right in this photo).  What a fun experience!

Summer Watermelon Salad

It’s summer!  The time of fresh fruit and lazy days… the time when you want to be able to go outside and enjoy your friends and family… the time for easy or starter recipes…  This is when I like to have a few recipes on hand that make my life a little easier, especially on those days when the temperature is high and my energy is not.  For those days, I give you the Summer Watermelon Salad!

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This recipe couldn’t be easier… four ingredients and easy to adjust for the number of people you’re feeding!  This is actually one of my favorite lunches… light and simple, it just screams “SUMMER” to me.

Ingredients:

  • Watermelon – cut into bite-size pieces.  Use as much or as little as you like, but this is your *main* ingredient.  I typically use about 3 cups.
  • Feta cheese – I like to use crumbled *light* feta, but you can use whatever type makes you happy.   I dump in some from the container – about 1/2 cup.
  • Basil – if I have fresh, I take a small handful and cut into a chiffonade (little ribbons).  If not, I take a generous pinch of dried.  I’ve done both and fresh is definitely better in this – it’s a wonderful flavor!
  • White wine – I use what I have in my fridge, about 1/8-1/4 cup total.  I’ve used dry (Chardonnay and Pinot Gris/Grigio) and I’ve used semi-sweet/off-dry (Vidal Blanc and Viogner)… use what you like!

Directions:

  • Cut watermelon into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with feta cheese and basil.  Toss lightly and adjust amounts as needed.
  • Thumb 1/8-1/4 cup of white wine over the salad and allow time to marinate before serving.
  • I typically drain a bit of the liquid off before serving.  This ends up being a mixture of wine and watermelon juice that isn’t really necessary.
  • Enjoy!

This is a great example of how I use “The Force” when cooking… so many variations to make this salad and it’s always delicious.  Hope you’ll try it and come up with your own favorite way to make this salad!

Sweet Potato Casserole

I got the basics of this casserole from my friend Jacqui, during our first duty station.  She called her recipe “Sweet Potato Pie with Cornflakes” but I’ve evolved it into something a bit different over the years.  My guys really love the topping and I adore the sweet potato itself, so it’s a great side dish for our holiday turkey menu.  I hope you feel the same!

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Ingredients:

  • 2 large cans sweet potatoes (or yams), drained
  • 1 small can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2-3T white wine (semi dry or dry wine)
  • cinnamon to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups cornflakes
  • 2-3 cups mini marshmallows

Directions:

  1. Mix drained sweet potatoes with pineapple and season with wine, cinnamon, and salt to taste.
  2. Spoon into 9×13 casserole pan and flatten with back of spoon.
  3. In a bowl, melt butter and mix with brown sugar.  Add cornflakes and mini marshmallows, mixing well to coat everything with the butter/sugar mixture.
  4. Spoon topping over sweet potato mixture.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes until marshmallows are toasty and bubbly.

This is a great side dish for those people who don’t really want a vegetable for holidays.  We have learned that the topping doesn’t reheat very well, so feel free to suggest that people eat the sweet topping before putting the leftover sweet potatoes in the fridge.

As for the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?  Here’s a link to figure out which tuber you might be using!

 

Mimi’s Peas

You’ve had the traditional “Green Bean Casserole“, right?  It’s the one on the back of the Campbell’s soup can…. the one that has been around forever… the one that everyone makes for holiday meals.  What would you think if I told you that we make this same casserole with PEAS instead of green beans?  THIS is a game-changer, people.  It’s absolutely amazing and is a staple on almost every holiday menu (or at least Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter) in our family.

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Ingredients:

  • Frozen Peas (1- 1 1/2 16oz bags)
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts, chopped
  • 1 can French’s Onion Rings (reserve 1/2-3/4 cup for topping)
  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 1/4 cup white wine (I like a dry or semi-dry wine)
  • 1 packet G. Washington Brown boullion *Trust me, this stuff is worth finding.  LOVE it and use it in so many ways!

Directions:

  1. Mix everything together, topping with the reserved Onion Rings.
  2. Bake in greased casserole dish at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until bubbly.

This is our family’s “must have” recipe on any holiday table.  It also works well when mixing with turkey, stuffing, and gravy (and topped with mashed potatoes) to make a leftover turkey shepherd’s pie.

Give it a try sometime… you may find that you like this even better than the standard recipe!

Easy Red Beef Stew

I was headed out to do some holiday shopping recently and decided that I wanted to make a simple crockpot dinner so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to rush home and make something that evening.  I had a nice piece of beef in the fridge and had picked up a package of baby potatoes at the store, so this was a really easy dinner to create.redbeefstew

Ingredients:

  • Beef – I don’t know much about cuts of beef, but I knew enough to get a “chuck roast”.  The one I chose was on sale, so I grabbed one that was on the smaller side so we wouldn’t have much waste.
  • Flour – I tossed some into a plastic bag to coat the beef before putting it into my crockpot.  Don’t honestly know how much… just enough to coat the meat.
  • 1+ onion – I cut this into thick chunks and used one whole vidalia onion and one half a red onion that I had in the fridge
  • 1 packet country gravy
  • 1 packet dry onion soup mix
  • 1 package (or similar amount) of baby potatoes (see photo of what I found at the store… this one included a few cloves of garlic and two sprigs of rosemary)
  • Red wine – the original recipe simply called for water, but that won’t cut it in my house.  WHY USE WATER WHEN YOU CAN USE WINE??
  • Frozen peas – I didn’t measure, but you could use whatever vegetable you like best here.  NOTE: If you’re planning to use carrots, I would allow them to cook with the beef instead of popping them in at the end.

Directions:

  1. Slice onion into chunks and put in the bottom of a large crockpot.
  2. Toss the meat in a plastic bag with some flour and then shake to cover.  Place meat on top of onions to cook.
  3. Open package of potatoes (or chop up large potatoes to fit around roast) and lay them around the meat in the crockpot.
  4. In a separate bowl, open the packets of gravy and onion soup and mix together with red wine.  I did not measure the amount of red wine used – I simply poured the wine and mixed it with the dry ingredients until it looked like enough.  I have a habit of adding too much liquid to my crockpot recipes, so I went a little lighter than I might have otherwise, which ended up working out well.
  5. Pour liquid over the roast.
  6. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
  7. During the last half hour (or 15 minutes before serving), stir the roast a bit and add your frozen peas.  These won’t take long to cook and you don’t want them to disintegrate into the gravy.
  8. Serve with some crusty bread to soak up the gravy… it’s delicious!

This was one of the most simple of meals but such a crowd pleaser.  If your family is picky about onions, feel free to slice them a bit smaller, but I liked the chunks of onion with the bites of meat and potato.  Feel free to experiment with other vegetables or seasonings… it’s your meal for your family, so use what you like!

Enjoy!

White Apple Tart

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be making a few additions to my traditional menu.  We’ll be spending Thanksgiving Day with relatives (instead of just having our family of four) and I’ve been tasked with bringing the apple pies.  Since I get bored making multiples of the same recipe, I’ve decided to make a lovely apple tart as one of my offerings.  I had to try out the recipe before the big day, so here’s the recipe that I’ll be making for our Thanksgiving day meal with the cousins… my White Apple Tart.

I found a great recipe for “Sweet Pastry Dough” as well as one for a “Rustic Apple Tart” from Perfect Little Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim. This cookbook is absolutely mouthwatering and worth purchasing if you’re looking for a dessert cookbook.  Because I always use wine in my recipes, this is where I began when I made both the pastry dough and the tart itself.

I started with the Pastry Dough.  I put 1 cup of flour, 3T sugar, 1/2 t baking powder, and 1/4 t salt into my food processor and I blended the dry ingredients.  I pulsed in 3T butter until the dough looked like wet sand.  I then added 1 egg and 1T cold Sauvignon Blanc (white wine) and ran the processor until the dough came together into a ball.  The dough was a bit wet, so I rolled it up in plastic wrap and popped it into the fridge for a few hours.  NOTE:  I intentionally made this in the morning so I could make the tart later in the afternoon… you can make this dough a few days ahead of time but the tart itself is best if made the day you want to serve it.  

A few hours later, I was ready to make the tart.  I actually had never made a tart before, so I had to purchase a tart pan for this dish.  Thankfully, we had an amazing kitchen store nearby, so that task was easily handled.  I pulled the pastry dough out of the fridge and gave it time to get to room temperature, then preheated the oven to 350 degrees.  I rolled out the dough and then fit it into the pan, using a scraper to take off bits of the crust along the top of the tart pan.  The dough was soft enough that I really only had to push and move around the dough to fit it all into the pan.  It looked lovely. WhiteAppleTart

The next step was to prepare the apples for the tart.  I used 3 large Honeycrisp apples (feel free to use your own favorite type of apples). I cut them in half, removed the core and skin, then sliced each apple into thin slices, across the width from bottom to top. Since there were 3 apples, you’ll use five halves to go around the outside of the tart and then use one half to fill the space in the center.  I’ll try and do a cleaner job of this on my next attempt, but I thought it turned out nicely. I then sprinkled everything with a blend of 2T sugar and 1/2 t ground cinnamon.  Once everything was nicely coated with the cinnamon/sugar mixture, I put the tart on the bottom rack of the preheated oven and cook for 40-45 minutes.  Note:  I think the apples needed a little more cooking time, so I will probably increase cooking time to 55-60 minutes when I next make this tart.  Once the tart was nicely browned and the fruit was bubbly, I removed the tart to a wire rack to allow it to cool a bit before glazing the tart.

While the tart is baking, I needed to make the glaze.  I simmered 1/2 cup apricot preserves mixed with 2T white wine (I used a Sauvignon Blanc) until it boiled a bit and then strained the glaze into another pan so it was as liquid as possible.  Note: I used a small saute’ pan for the first step, then strained the mixture into a small sauce pan, since I only have one “small saucepan”.  Before glazing the tart, I warmed up the glaze until it was thickened.  I used a brush to dab the glaze all over the tart and make it all look glossy.

Extra Note:  When making this recipe in 2016, I used fig preserves instead of apricot (because that’s what I already had opened in the fridge) as well as a simple dry white wine and the tart was still just as fabulous and delicious.  

When I had to unmold the tart, the easiest way was to use a thick, flat object – like a large-wide can or a squat-sized canister – to allow the outside rim of the tart pan to drop away.  I then put the tart on a large platter… it made for a beautiful presentation.

I hope you’ll consider trying to make this tart sometime.  If you don’t want to use wine in this recipe, you can follow the original recipe and simply use water.  I thought the addition was fun and added a light edge to both the crust and the glaze. Whichever way you choose to make it, it’s worth the try.  I found it to be simple, yet spectacular.  Totally worth the price of an actual tart pan!