Blind Wine Tasting Party

One of my favorite things to do is visit wineries and participate in their tasting programs. At winery tastings, one usually samples a flight of five or six of the winery’s current offerings. But a winery-style tasting certainly is not the only way to taste wine. There are vertical tastings, horizontal tastings, wine-food pairings, Old World vs. New World comparisons, etc. Tastings can be designed according to your budget and can be tailored to the skill level and interests of your guests.
While we were waiting for our guests to arrive, we started off the evening with a little sparkling Spanish Cava, rosemary-parmesan popcorn and watermelon, mint and feta kabobs.
Regardless of the type of wine tasting, the primary goal is to have fun and enjoy the wine! Secondarily, tastings are an opportunity to train your nose and palate to appreciate the subtle and not-so-subtle characteristics of each wine.
I decided to host a blind tasting, which is a tasting where guests are kept unaware of the wines’ identities. I disguised the labels of five wines of different varietals. Guests were asked to identify the varietals from a list of options.
I believe that wine is best when accompanied by food so I added a “grazing table” so that there was always something good to eat alongside the wines. A wide variety of cheeses, olives, condiments, nuts, and other “small bites” were provided to allow guests to create their own pairings.
 
  
Step by step, here’s how this event was put together.

1.  Select your wines. I selected five wines, consisting of two whites and three reds. I chose single varietal wines because I knew blends would likely be difficult for my friends to decipher. The only information I gave my guests was that all of the wines were from California, with one exception.

2. Cover the labels on each bottle. I made bags out of burlap fabric, tied them up with jute strings, and added tags with numbers indicating their order in the tasting. Start with the lightest wine and work your way to the boldest or heaviest. If you don’t know how to order the wines, the internet is there to help you.
For whites:  http://winefolly.com/review/beginners-white-wines-list/
For reds:  http://winefolly.com/tutorial/the-spectrum-of-boldness-in-red-wines-chart/)

3.  Give clues.  A card with a brief description of every varietal included in the tasting was provided to each guest. This helped narrow down the options, but to make things a bit more interesting, I added one additional white and one additional red to the list that were not included in the tasting. (Yep, this threw off even the best tasters in the group!)4. Provide cards for scoring, rating, and guessing the varietal. This gives your guests an opportunity to reflect upon the flavors and characteristics of each wine, to indicate how much they liked it, and to make their best guess at the varietal. I added a few additional questions for bonus points in case there was a tie. Here’s a free editable download of the card I designed: eclecticgirldesigns.com/winetastingscorecard.docx

This tasting consisted of all California wines with the exception of one–a 2012 Cabernet Franc from my native Virginia. I gave my guests a hint that the exception was not a well-known wine region, but no one was able to identify that it was from Virginia.

 

5. Decant each wine before pouring. Although this step is not essential, virtually every wine benefits from decanting. It oxygenates the wine and allows it to “breathe.”  Decanting enhances and softens the flavors in the wine, particularly young wines and is a trick than can make an inexpensive wine drink much better. It also helps remove any sediments that have accumulated in the bottle. Even a brief decanting of 5 or 10 minutes can make a big difference.

6.  Provide a spittoon. This is a container for pouring out wine that isn’t wanted. Tasting wine is a very individual experience and you shouldn’t be offended if not everyone likes everything you serve. I used an ironstone pitcher but any opaque container will work.

7.  Reveal and tally. After all the wines have been tasted, reveal the labels. Tally up the scores and determine the winner.

And the winner is…Tamar! She has a superior palate, correctly identifying all but one wine, and she got almost every bonus question correct.
The prize was a gift basket filled with cheese tasting goodies–because a bottle of wine would have been just too cliché!

This is the first wine tasting party I’ve hosted but it certainly won’t be the last. It was fun, interactive, and provided an atmosphere of good-natured competition that allowed us to get to know one another better.

Putting a wine tasting party together isn’t difficult. It takes a little time to select the wines and assemble the foods, but because I chose to serve mostly prepared foods, it didn’t require a lot of time in the kitchen. I was able to spend most of the evening enjoying the company of my guests. It also provided an opportunity to share some the special wines from my cellar.
If you decide to try a wine tasting at your next gathering, remember it isn’t rocket science and shouldn’t be an intimidating experience. The most important thing to remember is to have fun!

Ironing Monograms

While perhaps viewed as remnants of a bygone era, few household items are more elegant and luxurious than monogrammed linens. If you are lucky enough to have inherited some heirloom monogrammed pieces, I encourage you to use them! But if, like me, you didn’t inherit such works of art, take heart. They can be easily found at estate sales, antique shops, and of course, online. They can also be purchased new. Knowing how to iron these beautiful pieces is key to making them look their best.

There are only a few essential supplies: a spray bottle filled with water, spray starch (if desired), a clean fluffy towel, and a hot iron.

Using a spray bottle filled with water, dampen your fabric evenly and thoroughly. You definitely don’t want it dripping wet, but it should be damp enough to produce some steam when ironed.

Fold your items loosely and let sit for at least 15 minutes. This step is crucial to getting a nice smooth finish. Letting the fabric rest allows the fibers of the fabric to absorb the moisture and relax before ironing. This also applies to cotton and linen clothing, so don’t forget this step if you want a crisp finish.

Then set your iron on a high setting. (Usually the settings for cotton or linen work well, but know your iron. Some irons run significantly hotter than others and you don’t want to scorch the material.) Lay your monogram face down on a clean terry cloth towel. I like to use a bit of spray starch at this point, but it is not necessary, just a personal preference. Begin ironing on the backside of the monogram.

Sometimes the fabric shrinks up around the monogram after washing, so you may need to pull the fabric taut to help it lie flat. Pressing the monogram into the plush terry cloth allows the monogram to gain dimension and “pop up” from the background fabric.

Once it is smooth, flip the fabric over and iron the other side, being careful to avoid ironing on top of the monogram.Take the pointed part of the iron and get as close to the monogram as possible without actually touching the monogram.

I used the same technique on this delicate embroidered runner. Ironing the floral design face down on a thick towel makes the needlework “pop up” and creates dimension.

This also works for dimensional embroidered items where you want the design to stand out.  I used this technique on this beautiful embroidered runner and the flowers nearly leapt off the background!

Heirloom linens are sturdy and can be used regularly. Knowing how to iron them properly is essential to bringing out their beauty. This technique will enhance the appearance of your linens and keep them looking sharp for years to come.

Indian Cooking Class – Part 2

Last week I told you about an Indian cooking class I took at our local community college. That post on legumes and Indian bread is available here:  http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/07/24/indian-cooking-class-part-1/   Today’s post will cover the last two classes in the series on yogurt, cheese making and eggplant dishes.

We were introduced to a wide variety of fragrant spices and herbs in the class.

Yogurt and Cheese

I remember my mother making yogurt and cheese when I was a child, but I wasn’t directly involved in the making of either so the process remained a mystery to me. I was surprised to see how easy both were to make. The flavor of these homemade dairy products was so much better than commercial versions. You can also be assured that there are no artificial ingredients or additives involved when you make it yourself.

Not only is our instructor, Raka Mehra, a great home cook, she is also extremely knowledgeable about nutrition. Throughout the course she enlightened us regarding the nutritional benefits of the dishes we were preparing, yogurt being no exception. It is a fermented food that is nutrient-dense and rich in high-quality protein, important probiotics and linoleic acid. Raka reminded us that yogurt is alive with beneficial cultures and bacteria that are crucial to the health of our gut.


Making Yogurt

There are only two ingredients in homemade yogurt: milk and a starter culture. We used fresh plain yogurt as the starter culture, which is easily obtainable at any grocery store.

Bring whole milk to almost boiling and allow to cool before adding your yogurt starter. The milk is heated to kill the milk’s bacteria so as not to complete with the bacteria we introduce (Lactobacillus & Streptococcus) with the starter culture.

Slowly heat a quart of milk to almost boiling. Then allow to cool to approximately 110 – 115 degrees. Add 1 teaspoon of plain fresh yogurt and stir until incorporated. Incubate in a warm place for 5 – 7 hours. Raka recommended an Instant Pot ( http://instantpot.com/ ) for this process because it has a yogurt setting which simplifies the entire process. However this device is not necessary. The most important thing is to keep the yogurt consistently warm, so putting it inside a warm oven or even wrapping it in a blanket will work just fine. Once yogurt is ready, a layer of water will form on top.  It can then be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Plain yogurt with a little honey and raspberries makes a delicious and nutritious breakfast.

Paneer (Indian Cheese)

Paneer  is a yogurt cheese with a very clean light texture and taste. It is used extensively in Indian cuisine and also makes a healthy snack.

Paneer Recipe (Indian Yogurt Cheese)

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 quart buttermilk or 3 cups homemade yogurt

Heat milk to near boiling. Add warmed buttermilk or yogurt to avoid a dramatic temperature change. Reduce heat to low and stir to avoid burning on the bottom. Large clumps called “curds” will begin to form. Turn off heat when whey and curds separate. (The whey is the yellowish liquid that will form.) Let sit for 5 – 10 minutes. Strain liquid from cheese using a cheesecloth, pressing out as much whey as possible. Then shape the cheese into a flat disc. Place a weight on top to press out more liquid. After about 15 minutes, most of the water will have released and your cheese is ready. Cheese should be stored in the refrigerator in cold water.

You can see the curds forming and separating from the whey.
Strain the whey from the cheese curds using a large cheesecloth. The whey is the yellowish liquid in the bowl to the right. It is loaded with protein and is highly nutritious. Don’t throw it away! It can be added to smoothies, soup stock, used to soak grains before cooking, etc. Some people even recommend bathing in it for smooth soft skin!
Once most of the water has been drained, press out the cheese with your hands, shaping it into a flat disc. Keeping the cheese wrapped in the cheese cloth, place a weight on top of the disc which will help the cheese solidify and continue to strain out even more whey.
Raka sandwiched the cheese between two cutting boards and placed the heavy pot of whey on top to squeeze out any remaining moisture. It was allowed to drain into the sink for about 20 minutes.
Once the cheese has drained and firmed up, it can be cut into pieces for serving.

Eggplants

The final class focused on eggplant dishes from northern India. Emphasizing the importance of freshness, Raka said she chose to present eggplant dishes to us because that was what looked best at the market that day. We made three different eggplant dishes, but in this post I will discuss only one, bharva baingan or stuffed eggplants. This is a dish I had never seen before but I found it to be the most delicious of all the eggplant dishes we made.

Bharva Baingan (Stuffed Eggplants)

  • 6 small round eggplants
  • 2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
  • 3 T. grated coconut
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp. tamarind paste in 2 T. water
  • salt to taste
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
  • 6 -8 curry leaves (found in Indian market)
  • 2 dry red whole chilies
  • Cilantro and grated coconut to garnish

Make two perpendicular slits in eggplants without cutting all the way through. This opening will hold the filling.

Dry roast coriander and cumin seeds and grind in coffee grinder. Mix together coriander, cumin, turmeric, red chili powder, coconut, garlic, and salt. Fill the slits in the eggplants with the filling.

Heat oil in heavy pan. Add mustard seeds, dry red chilies and curry leaves and cover until popping stops. Add filled eggplants to pan and cover with lid. Cook until browned on all sides, gently turning them so that the filling stays inside the eggplants. Eggplants will soften and release their juices as they cook.

Add tamarind and water mixture and cook for another 2- 3 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and a little grated coconut.

Gently spread the eggplants apart and fill with the spice mixture.
Saute mustard seeds, dry red chilies, and curry leaves and add stuffed eggplants to pan. Cover pot to hold in moisture. Turn eggplants frequently to brown on all sides.
Once eggplants are cooked through, they will soften. Add tamarind paste and cook another 2-3 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and fresh grated coconut.

After my four Indian cooking classes, I know I still have a lot to learn. However, I can say that I no longer find this cuisine quite as mysterious or intimidating as I once did. I now have the confidence to continue experimenting and look forward to challenging myself by making even more complex Indian dishes. Are you ready to give Indian cooking a try?

Cooking together inspired a lot of camaraderie. I enjoyed getting to know the other students in the class.
We celebrated in our final class with a meal which included the dishes we made that day and other dishes brought to class by students.

Note:  Many thanks to Raka and my classmates who were so gracious in allowing me to share their images in my blog.

 

Indian Cooking Class – Part 1

As much as I enjoy Indian cuisine, I’ve hesitated to attempt making it at home. The exotic spices, complex flavor combinations, and mysterious ingredients have always intimidated me! So when our local community college offered an Indian cooking class, I jumped at the opportunity to have this extraordinary cuisine demystified.

This is the first of a two-part series. Today’s post will cover the classes on legumes and bread. Next week’s blog will cover the classes on yogurt making, cheese, and eggplant dishes.

A staple in every Indian kitchen is the spice tin or masala dabba. The most commonly used spices are kept organized and ready for use in a handy sealed container.

Our instructor was Raka Mehra, a home cook from northern India with many years of experience preparing her native dishes. Having garnered much acclaim by those lucky enough to be invited to her home for a meal,  she decided to develop this class to teach others the secrets of her delicious north Indian dishes.

Raka emphasized that everyday dishes in India are generally much lighter and healthier than those served at most Indian restaurants. Importantly, she assured us that with basic cooking skills, one can prepare a truly authentic Indian meal.

This is a small sampling of the numerous legumes used in Indian cuisine.

Legumes

In our first class, Raka gave us a brief overview of the numerous legumes used in Indian cooking. Economical and high in protein, legumes are extremely nutritious and contain a range of essential nutrients including vitamin B (especially folate), iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. They are also abundant in dietary fiber.

Of all the legume options available, we focused on lentils which are among the quickest to prepare. We made two lentil dishes but my favorite was coconut daal made from red (or washed) lentils. The dish contains coconut milk which makes it rich and creamy with a somewhat delicate flavor.


Raka’s Coconut Daal

1 cup washed red lentils (masoor)
1 can coconut milk (full fat)
1 ¼ cup water
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 -2 green chilies, sliced
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. turmeric
2 T. oil
2 tsp. black mustard seeds (or cumin seeds)
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped

Place lentils, coconut milk, water, chopped onion, tomatoes, chilies, salt and turmeric in a pan.  Simmer 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

While lentils are cooking, heat oil in frying pan. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds and cover until popping stops. Add sliced onions and fry until crisp.

Mix sautéed onions and mustard seeds with cooked lentils and garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice.


The finished product, Raka’s Coconut Daal.

Bread Making: Roti and Paratha

In our second session we learned about the classic Indian bread commonly known as roti or chapati. This is an unleavened whole wheat tortilla-like bread that is hearty and versatile. While most of us think of naan as the quintessential Indian bread, we learned that roti is more typically consumed on a daily basis in India, while naan is usually reserved for special occasions.

The basic dough for roti contains only two ingredients: flour and water. It is kneaded by hand, formed into balls and rolled into flat discs. It is then cooked on a  lightly greased griddle on top of the stove.

Basic Recipe for Roti

1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Mix all ingredients until stiff dough forms.  Knead until dough no longer sticks to your hands. Let rest for about 20 minutes.

Divide dough into 8 equal parts and roll into balls. Roll balls into 6 – 8″ discs. Lightly grease pan and heat to medium high. Cook until brown blisters begin to appear and flip. Roti will puff up when done.


When done, the roti puffs up and then quickly deflates.

 

While roti is delicious simply spread with a little butter, we also made paratha which is roti filled with vegetables, or cheese and spices. My favorite was paneer paratha, which is roti filled with cheese (paneer).


Paneer Paratha

2 cups shredded paneer (Indian yogurt cheese)
1 T. finely chopped ginger
2 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 t. cumin powder
1/4 t. red chili flakes
Salt to taste
2 T. yogurt

Mix all ingredients except yogurt together.  Then add yogurt until crumbly paste forms.

Place filling in the middle of the rolled out roti and then gently gather edges together, forming a purse-like packet. Roll flat again and fry in lightly oiled pan until brown on both sides.


Place the cheese filling in the middle of the roti.
Pinch the edges of the roti together. Once the filling is fully encapsulated in the bread, roll it out flat again and cook it in a lightly greased pan on top of the stove.  The bread will begin to blister and may puff up a bit.  Flip and cook the other side.

With a little spiced yogurt, paratha make a delicious accompaniment to a meal or a filling snack. Both roti and paratha are well-suited to freezing, so a batch can be made ahead of time and taken out as needed.

Paneer  paratha with spiced yogurt.

Perhaps the most important tip I gleaned from this class was how important it is to purchase whole spices and dry roast them in a frying pan before grinding. Dry roasting changes the chemistry of proteins, releases the oils in spices, changes their flavor, and enhances the scent and taste of spices.  If you want maximum flavor in your Indian dishes, don’t skip this step!

Raka, our knowledgeable instructor.

I did not find any of these dishes to be difficult to make and was delighted to learn how nutritious they are. I am excited about adding these dishes to my repertoire and hope you will give them a try as well.

Stay tuned next week for part two of my foray into Indian cooking!

 

Flowers and Scotch Tape

What do flowers and Scotch tape have to do with one another? Well, they go together perfectly when you want to make a flower arrangement in a wide-mouthed container and don’t have any floral foam or a flower frog to secure the stems!

Floral foam (or Oasis) is probably the most widely-used material for flower arranging today. It is similar to styrofoam but is more delicate and holds a considerable amount of water. Easy to use, this medium allows the arranger to simply push stems into it. Floral foam must be soaked in water before it can be used. Otherwise it will be buoyant and will not secure your arrangement properly.

Floral foam can be found at any craft store. It is quite malleable and is easy to cut to fit the shape of your container.

Popular in the 1920s and 30s, vintage flower frogs are another great way to anchor stems. Placed in the bottom of your vessel, stems are inserted into the holes, indentations or needles of the frogs. If the frog is much smaller than your container, it may need to be secured to the bottom with a little floral putty to keep it from moving around.

Here are some nice examples of vintage metal flower frogs. Picture courtesy of Ellie Campbell of http://froggoestomarket.blogspot.com
Frogs were also made from glass and ceramics and came in different colors, shapes and sizes.  Picture courtesy of Peter Tholl of Crow Ridge Studios.

My collection of vintage frogs is currently packed away and I had no floral foam on hand. I wanted to use a wide-mouth bowl for my arrangement and lacked a way to keep the flowers upright. I remembered seeing my mother use this easy tape technique and thought I’d give it a try.

Simply place tape in a grid pattern across the top of your vessel, making sure the ends are pressed down and secure. Then fill your bowl with water. Try not to get the tape too wet. However if some water gets on the tape, don’t worry. As long as the ends are firmly secured, the grid should stay in place.

Now insert the stems in the grid openings. You don’t have to fill every opening in your grid. Just distribute the flowers evenly and in a pattern that is pleasing to you. This technique is particularly effective for loose, informal arrangements.

My stems were a little short and I had to move them around a bit to get them to stay where I wanted them.
After adjusting my arrangement, the tape ended up getting rather wet. Still the structure held up nicely and the tape didn’t come off until I removed it.

This technique works for most containers with a wide opening. Next time you find yourself without the usual flower arranging tools, remember Scotch tape and flowers go together beautifully!

 

The Creative Presentation of Food

It has often been said that we first eat with our eyes.  I would argue that eating involves all of our senses and perhaps that is why is so pleasurable.

I recently had the pleasure of taking a workshop on creative food presentation at Pasadena’s Shakespeare Club, the oldest women’s club in Southern California. Our speaker was Dr. Ann David, educator, author, and Vice President of the Shakespeare Club. She began with a slide show of elegantly displayed hors d’oeuvres and noted the importance of having different flavors, textures, and colors in the presentation of food. While it’s fine to place a wedge of cheese on a plate with a basket of crackers, it takes very little additional effort to add flourish with a few pieces of fruit, a bowl of nuts, a drizzle of honey or other garnish.

The vessels on which the appetizers are displayed should be of varying heights, and of different materials. It makes the table much more interesting to use a variety of shapes, levels and textures. A glass pedestal stand combined with a basket or rustic wood tray adds dimension and interest to the overall presentation, whereas several flat plates of similar size and height would not give the same effect.

We also were reminded that it’s important that the appetizers not only look good but they should taste great as well. Because guests will usually be eating just a single bite of whatever you are serving, your goal is to make that one bite an incredible one!

This lovely room was our makeshift “kitchen.” While it was challenging to work with limited resources, we were still able to make a surprisingly attractive display of hors d’oeuvres.

After Anne’s brief presentation, the organizers of the event set up a practice exercise where participants were given the opportunity to put their newly acquired knowledge into practice. We were divided into small groups and given a “mystery bag” of groceries with which to prepare an appetizer.  Some bags had numerous food items such as cheese, crackers, vegetables, fruit, and other goodies. My group got a single bowl of hard boiled eggs! Fortunately we were allowed to trade with other folks for ingredients and there was a table with various condiments available to everyone.

This picture from Pinterest was our inspiration for our dish.

My teammates and I decided to recreate a Pinterest picture we found of deviled eggs that looked like chicks hatching. We traded an egg for some orange peppers  and a few cherry tomatoes, and picked up some mayonnaise, mustard, pickles and capers from the condiment table. We cut a zigzag pattern into the eggs to separate the halves and remove the yolk. We mixed up our filling, filled the eggs, and made eyes from capers and beaks from orange peppers.

Though our deviled eggs were not as aesthetically pleasing as the Pinterest picture, everyone seemed to grasp what we were trying to achieve. We added some dill springs around the edge of our platter to create a nest and a few cherry tomatoes for garnish.

Here is the final table the class presented at the end of the workshop.  It’s a cornucopia of color! (Though it did not live up to our expectations, our nest of deviled egg chicks is shown on the left.)

When everyone was finished, our creations were displayed and everyone was invited to eat and enjoy the appetizers with a libation. In spite of limited resources, the groups created some very attractive platters and delicious combinations of flavors.

In my opinion, this platter was the winner. It was immensely creative and incorporated all the elements of good presentation. Note the caprese kabobs using parsley as skewers. Also check out the “flower” made from thin crackers broken into petals with dried cranberries in the center. The lavender sprigs in the center give height and fragrance to the display.

What will you do to elevate your appetizer presentation at your next event?

Fizzy Honey Lemonade

Many Fourth of July gatherings include a pitcher of ice cold lemonade. While it’s easy to make lemonade from powdered mixes or frozen concentrates, I don’t think there is any substitute for the real thing. It doesn’t require a tremendous amount of additional work to make lemonade from scratch. If you’re planning to serve up this summertime thirst quencher, here’s an easy way to dress up the standard recipe.

For the past month, our lemon tree has been producing beautiful juicy lemons in abundance. It is a joy to pick them right off the tree in my backyard.

For this recipe, I’ve switched out the sugar for honey and replaced regular water with sparkling water.  The honey pairs beautifully with lemon (think hot tea with lemon and honey) and adds a depth of flavor sugar doesn’t have. The fizz of sparkling water is refreshing and gives the lemonade a little extra pizzazz!

The honey will make this lemonade a little darker than sugar-sweetened lemonade.

 

Fizzy Honey Lemonade (serves 4)

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup honey (light or dark)
  • 1 liter bottle of sparkling water
  • ice and lemon slices

Mix lemon juice and honey together. Pour in sparkling water, add ice, lemon slices and serve.

Give the mixture a good stir to fully dissolve the honey.

Happy Fourth of July!

What could be more refreshing than a tall glass of ice cold lemonade on a summer day?

Coffee Roaster Tour in Hawaii

To the left of the entrance to the cafe, they are experimenting growing coffee plants.

I recently spent a week in beautiful Hawaii. While my husband was cooped up in a conference, I was seeking out some of the wonderful food-related experiences available on the lush island of Oahu!

Because Hawaii is known for its Kona coffee, I wanted to pay a visit to one of the sources of this liquid gold. I discovered Lion Coffee, the nation’s first coffee roaster and distributor.  I was able to see how they roast and package their coffee, and I learned a lot about coffee history in the U.S.

Lion Coffee was founded in Ohio in 1864 by Alvin Woolson as part of The Woolson Spice Company. Mr. Woolson noticed that green coffee beans, shipped over long distances in questionable conditions, wound up being pan roasted in households, often resulting in burnt bitter tasting coffee. His experience in the spice industry gave way to “fancy roasting,” a more reliable and consistent way of roasting coffee beans.  He then ground the roasted beans and began selling the ground coffee in prepackaged one pound bags.

Woolson launched the first great advertising campaign in history by offering customers “promotions” with purchases–picture cards, pins, holiday items, and other trinkets. His promos created buzz about the product and encouraged customer loyalty. Demand became so great that Lion Coffee began distributing coffee through a mail order company. The mail order business was incredibly successful–so much so that the U.S. Post Office had to come up with a new shipping category for “bulk” shipments!

In their cafe, a display of antique roasting and brewing apparatuses dating between the late 1800’s to the 1920’s shows the evolution of roasting, grinding and brewing techniques.

Lion Coffee was purchased by Jim Delano in 1979 and relocated to Honolulu. They launched a website in 1999 and have been delivering coffee to loyal fans all over the world since then.

The master roasters start every day in the cupping room where they taste the previous day’s roast.

My tour started in the cupping room. In this laboratory-like room, Lion’s master roasters perform a cupping ritual every day.  Samples of the previous day’s roast are ground and tasted according to strict protocol for quality control. This daily step ensures that every bag that leaves their facility meets the high standards for which Lion Coffee is known.

My next stop was the warehouse where massive stacks of burlap bags of raw coffee beans were stacked nearly to the ceiling. Much of the coffee is the prized Kona coffee which is grown only in Hawaii. The favorable weather conditions, combined with Hawaii’s mineral-rich, well-drained volcanic soils, create the ideal growing conditions for Kona coffee. Lion Coffee is the largest roaster of Kona coffee in the world.

This is the parchment, or outer hull of the coffee bean. The hulls are very lightweight and look a little like peanuts.

The first step after receiving the coffee beans is to put them through a machine that removes the parchment, a lightweight hull that surrounds the coffee beans. The green beans are then placed in a roasting machine for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees to achieve the perfect roast.

The roasting machine looks a little like a flying saucer and works hard throughout each day roasting the beans that will make their way to stores, hotels and restaurants throughout the country. The smell is glorious!
The beans are constantly swirled during the roasting process to ensure uniformity in color and roast.
The bags are formed from a roll of flat foil lined film.

Once roasted (and sometimes ground), the coffee is sent to a bagging machine. The machine forms the bag from a roll of film, applies the label and a one-way valve. The valve releases the natural gases the coffee produces and keeps air from entering the bag. Any remaining oxygen is forced out of the bag by injecting nitrogen. This ensures that the beans stay fresh. Once bagged and tagged with their golden insignia clip, the coffee is boxed and shipped to various distributors, restaurants, and mail order customers all over the world.

This machine forms the bag from the flat roll and sends it off to be filled with coffee.
These bags await receiving their golden clip, a Lion Coffee signature feature, which helps preserve freshness after opening.

Lion has a complete espresso bar/cafe and a gift shop at the end of the tour. You can sample their various products, enjoy a beverage and a freshly baked pastry, as well as purchase bagged coffee (and tea) to take home.

I ordered my first “nitro-brew,” an iced coffee concoction infused with nitrogen gas to create small bubbles and a foamy head on top of the coffee. This technique makes the coffee richer and creamier than standard coffee brewing techniques and I found it quite delicious.

For a coffee lover like me, touring the roasting facility was educational and gave me a greater appreciation of how my morning cup of java is created. I purchased several bags of this delicious coffee and am now brewing my own Lion coffee at home.

If you would like to purchase Lion coffee yourself, you can buy it at their online store. https://www.hawaiicoffeecompany.com/lioncoffee

The last stop on the tour is their cafe and gift shop where you can sample all their coffees. Lion’s baristas brew up a plethora of delicious coffee drinks. And of course, you can also purchase bagged coffee and tea here.

Note: I have received no compensation from Lion Coffee for this blog. All opinions expressed are my own.

Italian Dinner Party – Pasta and Polenta


This is the final post in a series on the Italian themed dinner party we hosted a few weeks ago. If you’d like to catch up, you can read about the appetizers and cocktails here:  http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/05/italian-dinner-party-appetizers-and-cocktails/

Part two on the table setting is available here:  http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/12/italian-dinner-party-the-table-setting/

This post will cover the menu and recipes for the meal, as well as a small parting gift we gave our guests at the end of the evening. 

Primo: Homemade Spaghetti with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

After our guests were seated, the first course was served, homemade pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil. While you can certainly use boxed pasta, homemade pasta is not difficult to make and the flavor is substantially better than boxed. I find it is worth the extra effort to make it when entertaining. I promise a post on how to make it soon!

The cherry tomatoes were oven roasted with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. They were added to the cooked pasta along with toasted panko breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and fresh basil. I served a small portion as a first course for this dinner, but it’s a hearty dish that would also make a wonderful main course. Here is a link with the recipe:  http://www.abeautifulplate.com/spaghettini-with-roasted-tomatoes-fresh-basil-and-toasted-garlic-breadcrumbs/

Segondo: Polenta Board with Shredded Beef in Wine Sauce and Kale Mushroom Saute

Years ago I saw a television chef serve up a dramatic polenta board and vowed that I would do it one day. This was my moment! I headed to my local hardware store and purchased an eight foot long 12″ wide pine plank and had the hardware store cut it in half for me. I covered both boards with parchment paper and wrapped them like gifts by taping the edges of the paper down on the underside. This provided a sanitary surface upon which to spread the polenta.

The polenta was spread out in a thin layer on each board and served with shredded beef in wine sauce and sauteed kale and mushrooms alternating down the board on top of the polenta. I learned that it’s important to form a lip around the edge of the polenta to keep the sauce from dripping out.

I kicked everyone out of the kitchen for the night’s biggest surprise–bringing out the polenta boards. It required two people to carry each four foot long polenta board to the table! According to our guests, this was the highlight of the evening. Each table had its own board, and every guest was provided a large spoon and invited to serve themselves by scooping up the polenta directly from the board. There were lots of oohs and ahhs when the boards came out, but it became oddly quiet once the polenta board began to be consumed.

Here’s the recipe for the shredded beef sauce:  http://www.thekitchn.com/dinner-party-recipe-braised-beef-in-tomatoes-red-wine-recipes-from-the-kitchn-186550

The recipe for both the polenta and kale mushroom saute can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/562809284673365728/

A crisp citrus fennel salad was served as an accompaniment. It added just the right contrast in temperature and the licorice-like flavor of the fennel cut through the heavier flavors of the polenta board. I used toasted pine nuts instead of walnuts and added a little arugula to this recipe: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/562809284673391976/

Dolce: Tiramisu

One of the most well-known and beloved Italian desserts is tiramisu. Importantly it does not require any last minute prep, other than a shaving of chocolate on top for garnish. It can be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated.

I found a recipe called “The Best Tiramisu You Will Ever Make” and couldn’t resist trying it. It was creamy and delectable. I didn’t tinker with the recipe one bit (other than topping it with shaved chocolate rather than cocoa powder). Given that I’d only made tiramisu once before, I can honestly say it is the best tiramisu I’ve ever made!  Here’s the link:  https://www.askchefdennis.com/the-best-tiramisu-you-will-ever-make/

We concluded the meal with a digestif of limoncello, a cold, sweet, lemon flavored Italian liqueur. While the actual medicinal benefits of digestifs are yet unproven, it is thought that such drinks help to digest the prior meal. I don’t know whether it assisted anyone’s digestion at our party but it did give us an excuse to remain around the dinner table a little longer.

Parting Gift

To make the memory of our evening linger, I prepared two types of biscotti for our guests and packaged them up as a parting gift. Each guest was given a pair of cookies upon their departure. While there are many variations on this twice-baked cookie, I made chocolate walnut and lemon anise almond flavors. I placed the cookies in separate bags so that the flavors wouldn’t mingle. The two cookies were tied together with a tag that said, “Ciao Bella.”

Ciao means both hello and goodbye in Italian. Hopefully our guests will come back soon so that we may greet them again with ciao.

Italian Dinner Party – The Table Setting

Last week’s blog focused on cocktails and appetizers for our Italian themed dinner party.   In case you missed it, you can check it out here: http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/05/italian-dinner-party-appetizers-and-cocktails/  This post will describe the table setting. Next week, the last post in the series will cover the menu and recipes.

The Table, Place Cards, and Menu

What could be more classic for an Italian themed dinner than a red and white checked tablecloth? I put two folding tables together to form one long banquet style table and placed a red checked tablecloth over both.  To this foundation, a white table cloth overlay was added to the center and the table was set with white dinner plates. I designed my menus and place cards using free online clip art and repeated the logo throughout the event, keeping the font and colors consistent. A printed menu was placed on each plate and place cards were mounted in little wooden place card holders next to each plate. (These were purchased but it would be easy to make them from fallen branches.)

The Napkin Fold

I used a napkin folding technique called the “twin candle roll” for my white cloth napkins and placed them in the stemware. They added height and whimsy to the table and couldn’t be easier to do. I recommend starching your napkins first as they will stand up better. Here is a video which shows how to make them:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRjvOuzHPlU

 

 

A Conversation Piece

Around the holidays last winter I came across a gigantic bottle of Italian wine and immediately knew it would be perfect for an Italian themed dinner party. I purchased it and held onto it for this moment! It was placed front and center on the table and quickly became a conversation piece. It is not terribly common to see a magnum of wine and my guests spent a little time trying to figure out how many regular sized bottles of wine it contained. (The correct answer is three.)

The Centerpiece

The pièce de résistance for the table setting was a large floral arrangement of red gladiolas in the center of the table. I used a classically-styled urn to raise the arrangement up off the table. Floral foam was used to hold the long stems in place and the flowers were arranged in a spray design. I added a few stalks of spiky palm leaves and some lemon leaves from my backyard to fill out the base of the arrangement and provide additional texture. A floral arrangement of this scale certainly makes a statement and can really give your table a “wow factor!”

My sweet husband lit the fire and directed guests to their places at the table.

Creating Ambiance

A few weeks prior to the party, I began saving empty wine bottles to use as candle holders. The bottles were soaked in warm soapy water to remove the labels and candles were inserted into the openings. They were placed on the mantle above the outdoor fireplace. Our weather turned chilly that evening and we ended up lighting the fireplace for warmth.  The flickering glow of the candles and crackling fireplace made for a cozy and convivial setting.

Next week’s blog will provide the menu and recipes for the meal and will feature a dramatic polenta board. Stay tuned!

This picture was taken the morning after the party. The dripping candle wax covering the wine bottles is evidence that the party lasted late into the night.