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Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

SAM 6034 Edited Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

For the first five and a half years I lived in Charlotte, I never visited a North Carolina vineyard. Now as I approach the six year mark, I have experienced two vineyard tours in six months.

Near the end of last week, a friend called and asked if I would be interested in going on a winter winery tour on Saturday. Since I bake on Saturdays, my first reaction was to decline, but something compelled me to be a little spontaneous.

Though I felt very guilty about turning my back on baking, I am so glad I had an opportunity to get out of the kitchen as it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I also justified writing a post about my experience rather than a recipe since it’s now the month of Valentine’s Day, and I started off my first winery tour post with a remark about just that day.

Unlike the summer tour of mountain vineyards, the winter tour took us to Albemarle – home of the famous Kelly Pickler (American Idol) and the infamous Mary K. Mary K is the friend who invited me along on the tour, and her home grown knowledge provided us unauthorized insights on the tour.

SAM 6008 Edited Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

I should make it clear, just as I am not a foodie, I am also not a wine connoisseur.  My level of expertise tops out at knowing what differentiates champagne and sparkling wine (the answer is geography – only grapes grown in the Champagne region of France are allowed to be labeled champagne). But just as I enjoy learning about baking, I also enjoy learning about wine, and it doesn’t hurt when vineyards are located less than an hour’s drive from my front door.

The grapes grown in the Albemarle area are big, fat, round, juicy, sweet, seedy muscadines.  To get an idea of the size of a muscadine, think of another variety of grape as a marble, then think of a muscadine as the shooter.

I prefer a light, white wine like a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. (I have also come to enjoy Pinot Noir, but that’s about it when it comes to red.) Given I like a sweet wine, I thought I would really like wines made from muscadines, but there can be too much of a good thing. For the most part, the wines had such a sweet taste I didn’t care for much more than the taste poured in my glass. On the other hand, not one to typically care for a Chardonnay, I really enjoyed the unoaked Chardonnays served at these wineries.

Vineyard One: Stony Mountain

Located on Stony Mountain, with a view of the Uwharrie Mountains and the lower Yadkin Valley, this vineyard offered the prettiest view. The Uwharries are the oldest mountain range in North America. Like people, mountains shrink with age – this range tops out at just over 1,000 feet.  Stony Mountain Vineyard is the place to visit if you enjoy dry red wines, and they have a nice selection of fruit and muscadine wines. Their Riesling may have been the best wine I tasted all day, but unfortunately, the wine’s nose left a lot to be desired.

SAM 5985 Edited Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

SAM 5987 Edited Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

Me & Mary K

Vineyard Two: Uwharrie

I once read or heard that consumers who are not familiar with wines often select a bottle based on an appealing label. If that is true, then Uwharrie should sell a lot of wine – their labels are colorful and compelling. In addition to lovely bottles, I would rate this vineyard as home to the most personable owner. Though we enjoyed wonderful hospitality at all of the vineyards, the gentleman at Uwharrie was a natural public speaker who educated us on both wine and the wine-making process. I tasted my favorite Chardonnay of the day at this vineyard, and though it was not a part of the tasting, two groups who purchased the Cabernet loved it. 

SAM 5995 Edited Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

SAM 5994 Edited Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

Vineyard Three: Dennis

By the time we reached Dennis Vineyards, our tour bus full of people was 18 wine tastings deep. Bless the ladies who poured our remaining nine tastings, as things were getting a bit rowdy. Dennis Vineyards was the first vineyard to open in Stanly County, and the 12th vineyard to open in the state. Today, Stanly County is home to 15 vineyards, and North Carolina boasts over 100. I too was 18 wine tastings deep when I wrote those numbers down, so any errors are unintentional and my own. Here, I enjoyed the best-selling Bramble, made not from grapes, but from blackberries and raspberries. The gentleman at this vineyard also provided a tour, but I can’t tell you any more about it as my friends and I opted out of the tour and into an unauthorized field trip across the street to enjoy the view from the Gazebo.

SAM 6013 Edited Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

SAM 6040 Edited e1328065256334 Carolina Love: Winter Vineyards Tour

If you are an out of state resident planning a trip to North Carolina, an in state resident planning a day trip, or just want  to learn more about the state’s vineyards and wineries,  resources abound at visitncwine.com. Cheers!

 

 

Souper Bowl Sunday – Green Lentil Soups

SAM 5801 Edited Souper Bowl Sunday   Green Lentil Soups

For the past few months, I have been working my way through a few rouge bags of green lentils I found hiding out in the pantry. During the week, I found my cooking aspirations started high but quickly waned to whatever was quick and easy. This often resulted in throwing the green lentils into a pot of broth along with whatever else I had on hand – carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, and as often as possible, sausage.

I had been eyeing two green lentil soup recipes, one making use of curry powder and the other coconut milk, since I started to “cook” with the green lentils. Since I couldn’t decide which green lentil soup recipe I would like better, and to make up for all those nights I used the green lentils as an afterthought, I opted to conduct my own green lentil soup showdown for the last installment of Souper Bowl Sunday.

SAM 5825 Edited Souper Bowl Sunday   Green Lentil Soups

The first recipe, Curried Green Lentil Soup, turned out to remind me of a different take on vegetable soup. I modified the original recipe to include tomatoes and whole chickpeas, and I really liked the additional vegetables and beans. The two tablespoons of curry powder gave the soup warmth and a yellow hue.

When I think of curry powder, the yellow curry traditionally used in Indian cooking comes to mind. I don’t tend to think of the green curry and red curry dishes I see mentioned on my favorite Thai menu, and I certainly never considered what gave curries their color. It turns out turmeric, used in the Green Lentil-Coconut Milk Soup, gives yellow curry its color.

Turmeric provides an intense natural color and is used as a natural dye (think yellow-gold Easter Eggs), so beware it will stain your plastic utensils and plastic containers. I simply want to point this out so you aren’t disappointed when your brand new spoon is a brand new color after you stir the soup (speaking from experience here).

SAM 5803 Edited Souper Bowl Sunday   Green Lentil Soups

The second recipe, Green Lentil-Coconut Milk Soup, retained a green color as much less turmeric was used. The coconut milk gave this soup its very slightly sweet taste. Though both green lentil soups tasted good, I preferred this soup simply because the Curried Green Lentil Soup reminded me so much of vegetable soup, and I set out to make a soup I had never experienced before.

Although you do not see it in the recipe written below (you may see it if you you closely at the picture), I browned some sausage and added it to the soup. I hated to write this as an ingredient in the recipe since the soup is such a great vegetarian dish, but like bacon, I find sausage makes everything taste just a little bit better.

SAM 5827 Edited Souper Bowl Sunday   Green Lentil Soups

Speaking of better, the flavor of both soups improves with time. I made the soups last Saturday, and at first taste, they were just okay; I liked them, but I had not found a new souperstar. But as I ate the soups for lunch each day, I liked them more and more. By Wednesday, they tasted really, really good! I had been eating the soups five days straight by then, so I believe this lends credence to how truly well the flavors blended over time.

With that, I hope you all enjoyed this last edition of Souper Bowl Sunday. If I am still writing this blog next January, I may bring the series back, but for now, it’s back to baking. If anyone has any suggestions for a new series, please don’t hesitate to let me know in a comment below. Enjoy!

Green Lentil Soups
 
Author:
Recipe type: soups
Ingredients
  • For the Curried Green Lentil Soup
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced and divided
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 4¼ cups water, divided
  • 2 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • For the Green Lentil-Coconut Milk Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced and divided
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 1½ cups green lentils
  • 4 cups (1 container) of vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 can of coconut milk
Instructions
  1. To make the Curried Green Lentil Soup, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  2. Add onion, carrot and one of the minced garlic cloves. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about eight minutes.
  3. Add the curry powder, stir, and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
  4. Add lentils and 4 cups of the water to the pot.
  5. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat back to medium and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
  7. While the soup simmers, puree one can of the chickpeas with ¼ cup water, the lemon juice, remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, and remaining garlic clove.
  8. Add the chickpea puree and the butter to the soup.
  9. When the lentils are tender, add the additional chick peas and the tomatoes to the soup.
  10. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with thinly sliced green onions before serving.
  11. To make the Green Lentil-Coconut Milk Soup, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  12. Add the onion and the garlic clove and cook until the onion is soft, about eight minutes.
  13. Add the turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon, and nutmeg, stir, and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
  14. Add the rinsed lentils and the broth to the pot.
  15. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
  16. Reduce heat back to medium and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
  17. Add the coconut milk, stir until well combined, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

Daring Bakers’ Challenge – Scones…a.k.a Biscuits

SAM 5913 Edited 0001 Daring Bakers Challenge   Scones...a.k.a Biscuits

After neglecting to participate in last month’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge due to holiday hustle and bustle, I was very pleased to start the year off right with a new challenge. Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens! That’s right – scones (a/k/a biscuits). Say that again?

As it turns out, the Daring Bakers offers the opportunity to learn not only the ways of kitchen, but also the ways of the world. Or should I say the ways of the words? I learned, via a very thorough explanation from Aud, what I refer to as a biscuit in the States, he refers to as a scone in Australia. After baking such seemingly complicated dishes like Povitica and Sans Rival, I was now faced with a dish I knew how to pronounce and had eaten countless times before.

SAM 5900 Edited Daring Bakers Challenge   Scones...a.k.a Biscuits

A Flying Biscuit biscuit on the left. A Love & Flour biscuit on the right.

Because I was so familiar with biscuits, I fell right into the trap Aud warned of. He suggested such a simple recipe masked the complexities of making biscuits. The image above is evidence of this point. On the left is a biscuit served at The Flying Biscuit. On the right is a whole milk biscuit served in my kitchen. I’ve got a way to go…

I tried my hand at four biscuit varieties: whole milk, buttermilk, spicy cheddar, and sweet dried fruit. All of the varieties can be found in Aud’s recipe at the end of this post. To make the spicy cheddar biscuits, I simply omitted the chives  from the cheese and chive variation and kicked up the cayenne pepper a pinch. I used Craisins to make the sweet dried fruit variety.

SAM 5912 Edited e1327289345207 Daring Bakers Challenge   Scones...a.k.a Biscuits

I experienced the most success with the whole milk biscuits which, ironically, was my first attempt. I measured success (literally) by how tall my biscuits puffed. My buttermilk and sweet dried fruit biscuits were flat, though without further trial and error, I can’t explain why. If the whole milk biscuits weren’t my first attempt, I’d explain the flat biscuits to a lack of refined technique. But things just went downhill after my semi-decent first batch. Perhaps it was baker fatigue.

I do not cook a lot of full-on meals, but when I do, I like to serve bread. Biscuits offer a great option if time or funds are short. They are also very versatile. In addition to the many variations in the recipe itself, biscuits leftover from dinner can be re-purposed into breakfast sandwiches. I’ve also taken to eating the sweet dried fruit biscuits with a cup of tea. This recipe will likely require some experimentation, but even flat biscuits are delicious topped with sausage gravy, jam, or honey. Try them!

SAM 5982 Edited Daring Bakers Challenge   Scones...a.k.a Biscuits

Breakfast Biscuit Sandwich

SAM 5969 Edited Daring Bakers Challenge   Scones...a.k.a Biscuits

My Favorite – Biscuits with Honey

Biscuits
 
Author:
Recipe type: Bread
Ingredients
  • 1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (1/3 oz) fresh baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)
  • Approximately ½ cup (120 ml) cold milk
  • Optional – 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.
  2. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)
  3. Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.
  4. Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)
  6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.
  7. Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.
  8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.
  9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.
Notes
Variations on the Basic Recipe Buttermilk – follow the Basic recipe above but replace the milk with buttermilk, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, increase the fat to 4 tablespoons, in Step 3 aim of pea-sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 fold and turn the dough, rounds are just touching in the baking dish, glaze with buttermilk. Australian Scone Ring (Damper Ring) – follow the Basic recipe above but decrease the fat to 1 tablespoon, in Step 3 aim of fine beach sand sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 knead the dough, in Step 7 form seven rounds into a ring shape with the eighth round as the centre, glaze with milk. Cream – follow the Basic recipe above but replace the milk with cream, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, in Step 3 aim of beach sand sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 knead the dough, rounds are just touching in the baking dish, glaze with cream. Cheese and Chive – follow the Basic recipe above but add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, after Step 2 add ½ teaspoon sifted mustard powder, ¼ teaspoon sifted cayenne pepper (optional), ½ cup (60 gm/2 oz) grated cheese and 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives into the sifted ingredients, in Step 3 aim of beach sand sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 knead the dough, rounds are widely spaced in the baking dish, sprinkle the rounds with cracked pepper. Fresh Herb – follow the Basic recipe above but after Step 3 add 3 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (such as parsley, dill, chives etc). Sweet Fruit – follow the Basic recipe above but after Step 3 add ¼ cup (45 gm) dried fruit (e.g. sultanas, raisins, currents, cranberries, cherries etc) and 1 tablespoon (15 gm) sugar. Wholemeal – follow the Basic recipe above but replace half of the plain flour with wholemeal flour. Wholemeal and date – follow the Basic recipe above but replace half of the plain flour with wholemeal flour and after Step 3 add ¼ cup (45 gm) chopped dates and 1 tablespoon (15 gm) sugar.