My Love/Hate Relationship with Weekly Meal Planning

It all started two January’s ago, when I decided to make meal planning my New Year’s resolution. I was tired of the nightly scramble for dinner, the constant grocery shopping and way too much money spent on last minute takeout. Not to mention, it made for some pretty unbalanced meals.

I wanted to succeed at this resolution, so I first started by doing some research and talking about it with my husband, and then my friends and family. A friend recommended a great lifestyle blog, Live Simply, which includes a whole guide to menu planning, along with monthly ideas and recipes. I read through the materials, feeling more knowledgeable about what it takes to make meal planning a success.

I also sat down and made a list of all the meals my family likes to eat (and that I know how to cook). This gave me a base of meals to use for my weekly planning. I focused mainly on Sunday – Thursday, since the weekend was usually pretty unpredictable and figuring out two meals on the fly would not be that much of an issue.

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A Taste of Hawaii: Kalua Pork, Musubi and Squadra Bianco

I love Hawaii. In my mind it is beautiful and perfect: sandy beaches, warm weather and delicious foods. And lately, I have been really wanting to go back (I don’t know, maybe it is from all this dreary Seattle weather). Unfortunately, I can’t jump on a plane and head off to Hawaii at this moment, so I decided to bring a touch of “Aloha” to the dinner table.

Aloha BabyThe Saturday menu: Kalua Pork, Masubi, Macaroni Salad, Coleslaw, Kings Hawaiian roles and Squadra Bianco.

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Nebbiolo, Agnolotti dal Plin and the Piedmont Region (Italia)

I got stuck in Italy. Well, virtually stuck in Italy. And I am not complaining. Italy is one of my favorite European countries. You see, I started a virtual wine tour, so I could enjoy both wine and food from different wine regions all over the world. I merrily ate and drank my way through England, France and Spain.

For some reason, I landed in Italy, had a few eats and drinks and went on permanent Siesta. I am embarrassed, especially since I was so excited for this part of my journey.

Well, I am starting my virtual Italy tour over and this time, and I am starting in the Piedmont region. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Piedmont region is a culinary capital in Italy, as well as the home to Nebbiolo, Barolo & Barbaresco wines. Sometimes called the “Burgundy of Italy“, the Piedmont region is known for good red wines and exquisite food, including the white truffle (mangia mangia!).

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Le Grande Fete -Our Very Own Le Diner En Blanc

The day started out sunny and bright, another perfect July morning. After a cup of coffee and a few moments vegging on the couch, it was time to start setting-up for our Le Dîner en Blanc.

The first step was to figure out timing for the menu. When to stop decorating and when to start cooking. Some items we were able to make ahead, but others we had to prepare on demand during the dinner. Continue reading

Mountain Dome Brut and a side of Donuts

It is Saturday morning and I am hungry. It has been a long week, and I want to indulge on something more than my normal coffee breakfast. I want brunch.

The thing is, I love the idea of brunch, but I cannot eat most “brunch” foods (I am lactose intolerant). Eating any kind of breakfast at a restaurant consists of poached eggs and a mimosa or coffee = boring.  And between you and me, I think a mimosa is highly overrated. If you had any decent sparkling wine, you would not ruin it by adding orange juice.

But enough of that. I am in charge [of my stomach] and I am making the executive decision that breakfast will consist of donuts and sparkling wine.

Mountain Dome and Donuts

I know of a place that makes both vegan and regular donuts, making it a win-win meal for everyone in my family.

As for the sparkling wine, I am going with Mountain Dome Brut. Mountain Dome holds a special place in my heart. It is a family winery from my hometown of Spokane and the children attended the same high school as me. While I was not in the same class as either child (one was in the grade below me), I have a sense of hometown pride every time I see or drink their wine.

It was also one of the first sparkling wines I drank. My parents bought me a bottle to celebrate my 21st birthday, and it was a good wine to cut my teeth on.

Ah, the memories….

I choose a donut, a yummy maple bar looking one, and sip my wine. The wine has almost an apple taste, sweet, but not sugary, and crisp. Hmm, different, but not bad. I take a moment to smell my wine, light and airy, not too much of a nose to it.  Not bad, not bad at all. I take a big bite of my donut and a generous drink of my wine. Bliss.

Honestly, the Mountain Dome Brut is the perfect pairing with my donut breakfast. So good, in fact, I have to tweet about it (between bites):

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”>

Cheers @sethgn & @IJNichols Having the #breakfast of champions: donuts & @mtdome brut. #cheers all!

— Chloe Nichols (@ChlNichols) March 7, 2015

My breakfast choice is excellent, and is taking the edge off of my week. What better way to surge into the day than with a sugar rush (and some pretty darn good wine). Now, I am ready for the weekend.

Chianti Classico Casalino, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Mi Familia

After a long break, I am ready to pick of up virtual “World Tour of Wine,” and what better place to start than Italy and a large dinner with Mi Familia.

My brother, Seth and I decided to do a dinner featuring a bottle of 2009 Chianti Classico Casalino. And what better to pair it with than Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Seth and Me - Enjoying our Wine

Seth and Me – Enjoying our Wine

Chianti is one of the most well-known wines to come out of Italy.  It heralds from the Chianti region of Tuscany and is comprised mainly of the Sangiovese grape, with a small percentage mixture of other red grapes. There are many sub-regions of the Chianti region, but for my beginner wine brain, that is overload.

One of my favorite Italian wine bloggers, Alfonso Cevola, recently wrote a post on the Chianti region titled “Chianti: An Elusive Arrangement, Wrapped in a Fiasco, Inside a Conundrum“. In this article, he does a great job of outlining the seven different levels of Chianti, and was my inspiration to finally write this post.

Seth had found this great recipe in Bon Appetit: “Spaghetti and Meatballs All’Amatriciana” and while the recipe originated from a town called Amatrice (a town northeast of Rome), it was a delicious meal and complimented the wine perfectly.

Spaghetti and Meat Balls

The 2009 Chianti Classico Casalino was the perfect mixture of spice and fruit.  Beautiful dark red in color, the wine had a nose of spice and berries.  The palette had a touch of leather, as well as a bite of spice and fruit, ending in almost a light raspberry.  The spice complimented the smokey bacon in the dish perfectly and held up nicely against the robust pasta sauce.

2009 Casalino Chianti

2009 Casalino Chianti

What I loved most about our dinner wasn’t necessarily the wine (although it was terrific) or the food (which was pretty darn tasty), but the overall experience of cooking and eating the meal.

Fresh Ingredients

Our Ingredients

This meal did one of my favorite things – it took a bunch of fresh, vibrant foods and turned them into a delicious feast.

Cooking Meatballs

Cooking Meatballs

It was also a process.  First we had to make the meatballs, letting them rest before any cooking began.  The sauce was cooked in the same pot as the meatballs, allowing the onions and garlic to soak up the drippings from the meat, which softening the flavor of the onion.

I have to admit, I do not like bacon (I am strange, I know), but to my surprise, the bacon did not overpower the dish, or make it too rich.  The flavorful sauce was a nice counter to the meatballs, making it all quite delicious.

By having to take time to make the meal, it gave us a chance to talk and laugh.  The payoff was well worth the time to cook and it added to the fun of the weekend.

Cambria Chardonnay, Scallops and a Toast to the End of Summer

It’s fall, school has started and the rain is falling (already).  The best cure for the fall blues is reminiscing about the great times I had this summer, and the great wine.

In the middle of August, my family gathered over in Spokane, WA to celebrate birthdays and being together.  My brother Seth had purchased a large bottle of Cambria Chardonnay a few months back, and decided to pop it open while we were all together.

Cambria Chardonnay

It was a very hot day, and the crisp cool, wine was exactly what was needed to cool us all off.  We sat around the wading pool, sipping our wine while the kids splashed around and laughed how we should have originally chilled the bottle in the pool.

Seth paired the wine with Scallops with Herbed brown Butter. Since it was so hot, he even cooked the Scallops outside, so it was kind of like we were camping.

The Men Cooking Scallops

The Men Cooking Scallops

The pairing was excellent – the sweet and salty of the scallops was a perfect match with the crisp, citrus of the wine.  The wine had a light nose, so it didn’t overpower the herbs from the meal.  The perfect light meal on a very hot day.


Ah, the dog-days of summer.  Those can be some of the best days of the year. Cheers to hot days and cool nights, playing in the pool, the smell of sunscreen, great summer wines and delicious meals.

Domaine Courtois Cotes du Rhone Paired with Salade Lyonnaise Sandwich

I have arrived in the Rhone Valley and, like all of the French wine regions, there are many sub-regions.  I decide to go with Lyon – mostly because it is the gastronomy capital of France.  The first order of business is to figure out what to eat.

Maybe it is because it is winter or maybe it simply because I really like to eat, but I am really enjoying the food part of my journey.  I had Fricassee de Poulet at my last stop, so I am thinking maybe some kind of red meat dish would work.  I could then pair it with a red wine.  I was originally planning to make Pot au feu, but after reading the ingredients and instructions, I realized it was a bit over my head.

So, I continued my search, and oddly enough, each search led me to Salade Lyonnaise.  Salade Lyonnaise is basically a salad with bacon, a Dijon dressing and a poached egg on top. I decided it was fate (and I am a huge fan of poached eggs), so I started to look for a recipe.

That is when I found a recipe for Salade Lyonnaise Sandwich on a blog called A Cozy Kitchen. I was super excited by this recipe (and the picture was gorgeous) and right away could envision myself eating this sandwich and sipping a glass of white wine.

salad lyonnaise sandwich

With my dinner in mind, I went back to West Seattle Cellars for a bottle of Rhone wine.  I settled on a bottle of Domain Courtois La Source 2011.

I modified the Salade Lyonnaise sandwich recipe slightly, using some old red wine that had been open a bit too long instead of the red wine vinegar, mixed greens and a basic roll.  I gave it my flair 🙂

The sandwich turned out quite tasty, and while I normally do not like bacon (I know, I am weird), I didn’t mind the flavor it gave to the meal.

Domaine Courtois La SourceThe wine was a lovely accoutrement to my dinner.  Pale yellow in color, it has a very fresh, almost green nose, with hints of citrus, pears and ginger.  I could taste white grapes, ginger and a hint of citrus, and the wine was overall very light and airy.  The freshness of the wine cut through the salt of the bacon nicely, and the salt of the meal actually brought out more fruitier notes of the wine – green apples.

I could imagine myself sitting on the back porch on a hot summer day, eating the sandwich and sipping this wine.  A perfect porch wine.

With a full tummy, I am heading to my last stop in France – Provence.

Touring the Burgundy Region of France – Two Great Wines & Beef Bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon & Burgundy Wine

Beef Bourguignon & Burgundy Wine

I left the Champagne Region and headed over to Burgundy.  The Burgundy region is in Eastern France and the wines are primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are 6 regions within the Burgundy region, so there are many different types of wine to chose from.  This is also the birth place of coq au vin, Dijon mustard and beef bourguignon.

But before I tried the local fare, I would want to visit the Autun Cathedral and take a ride down the Canal de Bourgogne.

And now, time for some dinner and drink!  I knew right away I wanted to try beef bourguignon, but I wasn’t sure about the wine pairing.  I have to come clean, I failed to recognize the complexity of the various wine regions I have encountered thus far – there is so much to learn. Plus, every time I hear the word burgundy, I think of the movie Anchorman – and Ron Burgundy.

cooking beef bourguignonSo, I did what any little sister does, I called my big brother, Ian.  He told me that he would take care of the wine for this leg of the journey, if I took care of the food – easy enough.  My husband, Michael, has a culinary degree, so it was the obvious choice to let him cook our beef bourguignon.

Ian brought over two wines – a Camille Giourd 2009 Bourgogne Grand Vin de Bourgogne and Digioia-Royer 2010 Bourgogne Appellation Bourgogue Contolee Pinot Noir.

The Camille Giourd had a light ruby-red color, with a very light nose of raspberry and the palette tasted of tart cherries.  The Digioia-Royer was similar in color, with a richer nose of plums, blackberries and cherries and a palette of raspberries and tart cherries.

Honestly, I was surprised by the tartness of both of these wines.  To this point, most of the wines I have tasted have been American, primarily California and Washington, so the taste of this authentic French wine was a shock to my palette.

But both wines did pair nicely with the meal.  The beef bourguignon was a savory, rustic dish.  And our side dishes of steamed fingerling potatoes and petite carrots brought out earthy notes.  The tart and earthy flavors of the wine melded nicely with the beef, which does support the argument that the native foods and wines are always the best pairings.

Ian also gave me some good nuggets of information about the Burgundy region.  The Burgundy region is basically a big hill with a highway running through the middle.  The wines that are labeled with Appellation Bourgogne Controlee mean that the grapes are from all over the Burgundy region, and most of these wines are made from the grapes at the top of the hill.

The vineyards at the bottom of the hill are called the village appellations. The wines from the very bottom of the valley are called the Premier crus and the wines from right above are called the Grand crus (the best wines).  There are 32 Grand Crus.  Wow!

Enjoying wine with familyI also learned that the Digioia-Royer is from Chambolle-Musigny.  Originally, Chambolle was the town in France and Musigny was the winery.  Way back when, towns started attaching themselves to the winery to put themselves on the map, and the names stuck.

The wine and the food combination was very tasty and left me wanting more.  So, I have decided for my next stop, I will head back up North to the Alsace region.

In the words of Ron Burgundy – “Stay Class France” – and stay tuned for more French wine and food.

Barrister Winery Sauvignon Blanc and Roasted Chicken – Easing Into Fall the Right Way

Fall is here, as much as I hate to admit it, and the rain is moving in.  In my mind, nothing cures the dull-drums like roasted chicken.  I love the way the cooking chicken fills the kitchen and the house with warm flavors.

Another great thing about roasted chicken: it pairs well with white wine.  I had a bottle of Barrister Winery2011 Klipsun Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.  I have a soft spot for Barrister Winery.  Last April, I went on a wonderful tour of the winery and have savored that experience.

The Sauvignon Blanc was faint yellow, almost clear and had a very light lemony smell.  The wine had a lovely lemon and grapefruit palette, with a sweet finish. It paired nicely with the chicken, and rounded out my meal nicely.

It also got me wondering – why am I just putting up pictures of wine, when I should include my meal too – after all, it may be more entertaining to readers to see pictures of something yummy…hmm…food for thought I guess.

Anyway, I was very pleased with the Barrister Sauvignon Blanc and that I succeeded in a nice pairing.  But then again, can you really go wrong with wine and chicken?