2015 M De Mulonniere Chenin Blanc

2015 M De Mulonniere Chenin Blanc

2015 M De Mulonniere Chening BlancNutty, citrus nose on this Chenin Blanc. The palate of this medium-bodied wine offers peach/pear flavors with honey and citrus notes. Just a bit of sweetness on the finish with nice acidity.

Pairings: Seafood, grilled fish, spicy Asian food.

Style: White Wine

Grape Type(s): Chenin Blanc

Region: Anjou (Loire Valley), France

Price: $17

Get Hitched at Taco Bell for 600 Bucks

Get Hitched at Taco Bell for 600 Bucks

Courtesy of Taco Bell

Taco Bell-themed wedding in Vegas – that’s what some couples will be calling a marriage made in heaven (pun intended).

Through a partnership with pop-up wedding planner, Flora Pop, Taco Bell will be offering a whole wedding package couples can order right off the menu at its chapel, Las Vegas Strip Cantina, opening this summer.  

The $600 wedding package will include:

  • Full ceremony and officiant
  • Taco Bell garter
  • Taco Bell bow tie
  • Sauce packet wedding bouquet
  • “Just Married” T-shirts
  • Taco Bell Champagne flutes
  • Cinnabon Delights wedding cake
  • And, of course, a Taco 12-Pack

To kick start the concept, Taco Bell is hosting the “Love & Tacos Contest” where one lucky couple will win an all-expenses paid trip to Vegas, including lodging at Planet Hollywood, and be the first couple to have a Taco Bell wedding.

What are your thoughts on that idea??


The Absolute Best Texas Style Beef Chili

The Absolute Best Texas Style Beef Chili

Texas Style Beef ChiliI’ve been using my “Beef Chili for a Crowd” recipe for as long as I can remember. It’s flavorful, a bit spicy and feeds an army. I never saw a reason to use a different recipe until I judged a chili competition when this elderly gentleman made the absolutely best Texas-style chili I’ve ever had. For those not familiar with Texas-style chili – it contains no beans (blasphemy) and it typically featured hand-chopped beef instead of the common ground beef style that’s so popular here in the northeast.

This chili is hearty, rich, and earthy with just the right level of spice. I won’t lie – cubing the beef into small pieces pretty much sucks, but the final product is so worth it.

While many grocery stores now carry dried chiles, I visited my local Mexican grocer to find the requisite guajillo chiles.

I know it’s a multi-step recipe, but it freezes beautifully for a month, so make it, have a bowl and freeze the rest!   

I serve this chili with tortilla chips for dipping, guacamole, cheddar and sour cream. Use whatever garnishes you enjoy.


  • 8 dried chiles, either New Mexico or guajillo
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 – 2½ pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup dark beer
  • 3 Tbsp. yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • Sour cream, for garnish (optional)
  • Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated, for garnish (optional)
  • Diced avocado, for garnish (optional)
  • Lime wedges, for garnish (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Lay out dried chiles on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast in the oven for 8 minutes, until fragrant. Add the roasted chiles to a bowl, cover them with hot water and allow to soak for 30 minutes. I use a bowl to weight down the chiles in the water – SEE IMAGE OF THIS TRICK.
  3. Drain the chiles (reserve the soaking water), cut off stems, remove seeds and roughly chop them. Add the chopped chiles to a blender along with the cumin, the salt, the pepper, 1/2 cup of the reserved chile soaking liquid and blend until the mixture is very smooth, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Place a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season beef cubes with big pinches of salt and pepper. Add 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and brown beef in 2 batches until browned on all sides, 8-10 minutes per batch. Remove beef and set aside.
  5. Lower the heat to medium, add the remaining 3 tablespoons vegetable oil to the pot and add onions – cook for 4 minutes, stirring frequently then add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  6. Add the beef stock, 1 cup of the reserved chile soaking liquid and the beer to the onions and garlic and scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the beef back to pot with any cooking juices along with the pureed chile paste and the cornmeal. Turn the heat to low and simmer the chili, covered, for 90 minutes. Uncover the chili and cook for 15 more minutes.
  7. Add the vinegar and the brown sugar to the pot, remove from heat, and let sit for 30 minutes for the chili to thicken. The chili can be made a day ahead of serving, up until this point. Simply cool, cover and refrigerate.
  8. When ready to eat, gently reheat chili over low heat, adding more beef stock if the chili is too thick. Give a final seasoning of salt or pepper, if needed.
  9. Serve chili with any/all preferred garnishes.

Yields 4 hearty portions.



Adapted from this recipe.

Vital Dining in Montclair

Vital Dining in Montclair

Last week, I was invited to come try Chef Kwame Williams’ contemporary Jamaican/Caribbean dishes at Vital Dining in Montclair, NJ. Chef Williams and his sisters/business partners, Nataki and Kanika, provide warm, welcoming hospitality and a menu that’s friendly for carnivore, vegan, vegetarian and gluten free diners. 

About Chef Williams and Vital

After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, Chef Williams worked at some of NJ’s top fine dining establishments: The Ryland Inn, Rat’s, The Bernards Inn, Pleasantdale Chateau, Highlawn Pavilion, Hyatt and Minton’s in Harlem, NY. He believes that nutritional and healthy food are synonymous with delicious food. The principal of the “Ital” (where the “Vital” name derives) lifestyle is that food at its most natural state is not only the best, but essential to the gaining and maintaining of life’s energies. This concept plays a major role in Chef Williams’ Caribbean/Jamaican-centric cuisine where everything is made from scratch in house and is always fresh, never frozen.

The Drinks

We visited for lunch so had an opportunity to sample some of the freshly-made drinks. I enjoyed the Sunsplash – a drink made from grapefruit, orange, mango and my guest had the best-selling Vital Lemonade – pineapple, basil, lemonade. Vital also serves various elixirs, smoothies and teas.

The Food

Lunch is comprised of soups, salads and lighter entrées. All are served with a choice of house made chips, okra fries or a side salad.

We started with a newly-added menu item, the Callaloo Dip – callaloo is a green popular in the Caribbean and here it’s served in a creamy hot dip fashion with whole wheat chips that are addictive. We also had the Vital Hummus which is cleverly made with black-eyed peas instead of the more typical chickpea and then served with plantain chips.

For my entrée, I had the Jerk Chicken Wrap which was served with an avocado spread, sweet plantains and spinach. I’ve missed plantains so much since moving away from South Florida so this was a nice treat. I opted for the house made chips which were thin, crispy and delicious. My guest opted for a vegetarian entrée: the Jerk Portabella Mushroom Wrap which came with the avocado spread, mixed greens and tomatoes. She paired her sandwich with the side salad which was fresh and crisp.

Sunday brunch features interesting takes on breakfast favorites – Banana Waffles served with coconut nectar, coconut powder, fresh fruit; Cornmeal Porridge with almond milk and nutmeg; St Mary Breakfast which is scrambled eggs, plantains and callaloo.

I was fortunate enough to secure one of Chef Williams’ dessert recipes – Chia Seed Pudding with Rose Petals, and I’m sharing with you so you can enjoy it at home or fall in love with the picture and go visit Vital!

Chia Seed Pudding

Chia Seed Pudding with Rose Petals


  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • ½ cup chia seeds
  • ½ teaspoon rose water
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • Optional: chopped up rose petals for one rose
  • Garnish with fresh grated nutmeg


  1. Combine all ingredients except chia seeds and strawberries in a bowl. Whisk until maple syrup is completely dissolved.
  2. Add chia seeds pour mixture into a jar or glass container and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight to let gel.
  3. Before serving add chopped strawberries and rose petals, if using.
  4. Finish with grated nutmeg and enjoy.

Makes 4 servings.

Vital is a BYO restaurant.

Vital Dining / 387 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ / @vitaldining

Lunch & Dinner 11am-10pm Tues-Thurs / Sun Brunch 11am-3pm



2013 Vincent Girardin Bourgogne Blanc Cuvee Saint Vincent

Ken Wright 2013Floral, citrus nose on this French Chardonnay. The palate of this medium-bodied wine is rich with peach, ripe apple and Meyer lemon flavors. Creamy texture with nice minerality.

This is the entry-level Chardonnay by this prestigious wine house and at $16, it’s not only a nice example of French white Burgundy, it’s a very good value.

Pairings: Seafood, grilled fish, white meat and mild cheese.

Style: White Wine

Grape Type(s): Chardonnay Region: Burgundy, France

Price: $16

Linguine with Clams and Confit Garlic Sauce

Linguine with Clams and Confit Garlic Sauce

I was watching an old episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate – SAUCED last weekend where Chef Michael Psilakis talked about the linguine and clam sauce at Don Peppe in Queens, NY (watch the mouth-watering episode here). That’s basically all I could think of this whole past week so I decided to try to recreate the simple yet delish dish.

First, please use good quality pasta – my favorite is Delverde. Next, buy your clams from a reputable source. Last, take the time to really confit (slow cook for a long time) the garlic – it’s key in this recipe.

If you want a slightly thicker sauce, you could create a slurry of ¼ cup water and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and add right before step 4. I don’t think it’s necessary and some, I’m sure, would find this sacrilegious.


  • 1 pound of linguine or fettucine, cooked 1 minute less than package direction, with ½ cup pasta cooking water reserved
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp. each salt and pepper
  • 2 dozens little neck clams
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • Chopped Italian parsley, optional


  1. In a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic cloves and allow to cook for 20 minutes. If the cloves are smaller and they begin to brown early in the cooking process, lower the heat to low – make sure the cloves don’t burn!
  2. Add the garlic cloves and the cooking oil to a large sauté pan that has a lid. Turn the heat to medium and add the ½ cup pasta cooking water, wine, lemon juice, red pepper, salt and pepper to the oil. Bring to a simmer and whisk to combine.
  3. Add the clams to the sauté pan, cover with the lid and cook for 3-4 minutes until the clams have opened. Discard any clams that didn’t open (unopened clams = bad clams). Remove the clams to a large serving bowl, leaving the sauce in the sauté pan.
  4. Lower the heat to low and add the butter, swirling until fully melted.
  5. Add the pasta and gently stir to coat in the sauce. Add the parsley, if using, then add the sauce and pasta to the serving bowl with the clams, tossing gently to combine.
  6. Serve with crusty bread.

Makes two VERY generous portions.


Baked Pepperoni Pizza Dip

Baked Pepperoni Pizza Dip

Baked Pepperoni Pizza DipWe were just going to order pizza while watching the “big game” since it was just the two of us, but then I decided to make the next best thing – pepperoni pizza dip!!

The dip would be great with potato chips but I served it with toasted baguette slices. You’ll want a sturdy vessel to run through all the layers of gooey yumminess (see what I mean by gooey and perfect).  


  • 8-ounce block of cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 cup pizza sauce
  • 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese, or Italian blend cheeses
  • 20 slices pepperoni
  • Toasted baguette slices.


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, oregano and black pepper. Spread the cream cheese mixture on the bottom of 9″ round pie plate or other baking dish.
  3. Top cheese mixture with the pizza sauce.
  4. Top the sauce layer with the mozzarella cheese.
  5. Top the Mozzarella cheese with the pepperoni slices.
  6. Bake the dip for 25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the dip is bubbly.
  7. Serve warm with toasted baguette slices.

Yields 8 appetizer portions.



Adapted from this recipe.

2013 Ken Wright Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

2013 Ken Wright Cellars Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Ken Wright 2013Fruity, spiced nose, bright red in the glass. The palate of this medium-bodied wine is rich with cherry/tart berry flavors and some peppery notes. Smooth, silky texture and a slightly-peppery finish.

This wine is a blend of grapes from blocks of Ken Wright’s best single vineyard sites.

Pairings: Roasted poultry, grilled salmon, mushroom risotto.

Style: Red Wine

Grape Type(s): Pinot Noir

Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA

Price: $23

Baked Feta Cheese Dip

Baked Feta Cheese Dip

Baked Fetal Cheese DipI love any type of baked cheese dip. I’d been fortunate enough to find Dodoni brand Feta cheese at my local grocery store a couple weeks ago and really enjoyed it as part of a Greek salad, but I had a lot left that I wanted to be sure to use.

Since the “big game” was coming up and I’d be doing a bunch of appetizers to munch on during the game, I opted for a baked Feta dip that was out of this world. Note that the cheese gets marinated for 12 hours, so remember to start the day before you want to serve this dish.

The dip would be great with baked pita chips but I served it with toasted baguette slices. You’ll want a sturdy vessel to run through the flavored oil created from the marinade and the gooey cheese (video: see what I mean by gooey and perfect).  


  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 8 ounces Feta cheese in a block, rinsed (I highly-recommend Dodoni brand if available)


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, garlic, black pepper and dried oregano.
  2. Place Feta cheese in a resealable bag. Pour the marinade over the Feta and allow to marinate overnight, or at least 12 hours, in the refrigerator.
  3. Preheat oven to 375F.
  4. Place the Feta and its marinade in a small baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, until the Feta is melty and bubbling.
  5. Serve with sliced baguette or baked pita chips.

Yields 6 appetizer portions.



Adapted from this recipe.

9th Annual Crystal Springs New Jersey Wine & Food Festival

Grand Tasting - Photo by Crystal Springs

Grand Tasting – Photo by Crystal Springs

Tickets are now on sale for the 9th annual New Jersey Wine & Food Festival at Crystal Springs Resort, taking place March 31 – April 2. This year, we are excited to announce that one of the most celebrated chefs in the world, Daniel Boulud, will be the Guest of Honor. Proceeds benefit the James Beard Foundation and its mission to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.


Weekend Happenings

Friday March 31

8PM – Chef Daniel Boulud is an industry legend, with 14 restaurants around the world and numerous James Beard awards to his credit. Daniel and his team will be cooking in the Wine Cellar for what will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience rare vintage wines from the cellar. The dinner includes a Krug Champagne reception with dishes by Crystal Springs Resort Executive Chef Anthony Bucco ($1,000 plus tax and gratuity).

8PM – Top Chefs & Top Wines Dinner featuring three chefs from the current season of Bravo’s Top Chef: Katsuji Tanabe, Silvia Barban and Casey Thompson, alongside Chef Martyna Krowicka of Restaurant Latour and Pastry Chef Miro Uskokovic of Gramercy Tavern. ($225 plus tax & gratuity). 

Saturday April 1

10AM – Perfectly Paired Pastries with Chef Jessie Dardar of Le Petit Temptation Dessert Truck ($35).

11AM – A Conversation & Book Signing with Guest of Honor Daniel Boulud – Enjoy a glass of Champagne as Daniel reminisces about his career and signs copies of his cookbooks. ($50, including a copy of either My Best: Daniel Boulud or DANIEL: My French Cuisine).

11:30AM – 1PM – Marketplace Lunch

12PM – The Art of Fresh Pasta with Chef Silvia Barban (Top Chef Season 14) and Aishling Stevens (Crystal Springs), featuring winemaker Ryan Rech of Beringer ($50).

1PM – A Taste of Mexico with Chef Katsuji Tanabe (Top Chef Season 14) and Chef Martyna Krowicka (Restaurant Latour) – refined Mexican dishes with beers and spirits from Mexico ($40).

2PM – Create your own Red Blend with Rodney Strong winemaker Justin Seidenfeld ($35).

2PM – Daniel Boulud Foie Gras Challenge – 4 NJ chefs will compete to produce the winning dish as judged by Chef Boulud ($60).

3PM – An Afternoon in Provence – kick off the spring rosé wine season and enjoy Daniel Boulud’s custom smoked salmon, caviar and more ($45).

3PM – Punch Party – learn how to make the perfect party punch and try punches from top NJ bartenders ($35).

3PM – Secrets of the Crystal Springs Wine Cellar with Wine Director Robby Younes – Robby will open rare wines from the award-winning cellar ($150).

4PM – 7X Ranch: The Perfection of Beef – join Chef Anthony Bucco for a discussion of the prized 7X beef and tasting of this rare delicacy ($65).

4PM – Craft Whiskey Spotlight: Widow Jane Distillery – tastings of this award-winning spirit ($40).

7PM – 10PM; Early VIP admission at 6:30PM – The Grand Tasting returns with 30 top NJ and NYC chefs and winemakers from around the world. The VIP experience will feature Daniel Boulud and 5 acclaimed restaurants ($135 regular, $295 VIP). 

10PM – Meet the Chefs & Winemakers After Party guests can party into the night with a DJ, dancing, open bars and more ($150).

Sunday April 2

10AM – 1PM – Champagne Brunch featuring a sumptuous brunch buffet and free flowing Champagne, the perfect capper to the weekend!

Tickets can be purchased at www.njwinefoodfest.com. Rooms can be booked at 855-415-2776.

Hope to see you there!