Dried herbs are a must for any quick cooking. They add great flavor and are inexpensive and are long lasting. Whether you dry your own herbs or buy them from the store use the following tips to get the best flavor:

  • Most herbs begin to lose their flavor after 6 months. I believe that this is a fact of Mother Nature. It is not a coincidence that in autumn we dry our herbs and they last throughout the winter and spring until a new batch of herbs can be planted and harvested!
  • If you are using store bought dried herbs watch the expiration date. If the herbs do not have an aroma they will no longer be strong enough to cook with.
  • Long slow cooking times can diminish the flavor of dried herbs. So if you are using a crock-pot add the dried herbs at the very end of the cooking process.

I was asked recently at a business function we were catering, what wines can I serve with my cheese course? Are there any rules or guidelines to follow? I am intimidated by the task! I assured her that there are no set rules but there are many “rules of thumb”, general guidelines, and many exceptions to these rules and guidelines.

Since man discovered how to make cheese and wine, there has been on going discussion on which wines pair best with certain cheeses. Wine and cheese pairing is an inexact and highly subjective process. All of us do not have the same number of taste buds in our mouth and we will have different taste perceptions in tasting the same cheese and wine.

So let’s forget about the old rules such as white wine should be paired with soft cheeses and red wines are best with hard cheeses. Here are some good guidelines that you can follow:

Salty Cheeses paired with Sweet Wines:

 

As in making candy, saltiness and sweetness are a savory combination. A salty cheese will pair well with a sweet wine. If the cheese is less salty, go with a little  less sweet wine. I have outlined below for you some typical pairs of salty cheeses and wines for your review.

Less Salty Cheeses                 Less Sweet Wines                  Salty Cheese               Sweet Wines

Cheddar                                   Gewurztraminer                        Feta                              Port

Provolone                                 Zinfandel                                  Chevre                           Reisling

Havarti                                     Rose                                       Roquefort                       Pinot Noir

Asiago                                     Bardolino                                 Stilton                           Port

Manchego                                Rioja                                       Cheshire                        Reisling

Regional Cheeses & Wines

            If you are serving a regional cheese from a country, use the wines from the same area to compliment the cheeses. This works for several reasons. The wine and the cheese have been developed together over time. The cheese matches the flavor of the wine as well as the wine complimenting the flavor of the cheese. In addition, the wine and cheese generally contain the subtle nuisances of the air, water, and soil of the region. You will not go wrong by following this guideline.

Regional Cheeses                   Regional Wines

                                                Bel Paese                                 Italian Chardonnay

Brie                                          Champagne

Mozzarella Bufala                      Chianti

Raclette                                    Beaujolais

Cotija                                        Chardonnay

“Stinky” Cheese with Full-Bodied Wine

 

            As a general guideline , a full-bodied red wine works well with pungent “stinky “cheeses. You will want a red that has a high level of tannin, a thick texture and astringent quality to balance the uncompromising flavor of a Limburger. Or, you do as the Belgians do and drink beer with their Limburger Cheese.

Stinky Cheese                        Full-Bodied Wine

                                                Limburger                                Cabernet Sauvignon

Stilton                                     Port

Munster                                   Syrah

Stinking Bishop                       Zinfandel

Rich and Creamy with White Wine

 

            Creamy Cheeses are fatty. This high fat level will coat the taste buds with fat. If you are drinking a red wine, the presence of the fat on the palate will lessen the flavor of the wine. Crisp white wines pair well with creamy cheeses. The acidity in Sauvignon Blanc, for example, will provide a refreshing counterpoint to any fatty cheese.

Fatty Cheese                          Crisp White Wines

Camembert                              Chenin Blanc

Neufchatel                                Pinot Grigo

Boursin                                    Champagne

Brie                                         Sauvignon Blanc

Sharp, Acidity Cheese

 

            Sharp, acidity cheeses, such as Goat Cheese, pair well with a crisp white wine. Sauvignon will not disappoint you. A crispy acid wine pairs well with the tangy zip that you get from goat cheese.

Some Cheesy advice

 

            The key to maximize your enjoyment of cheese and wine is one word – temperature! The most common mistakes are to serve the cheese and white wine too cold and red wine too warm. The flavor and texture of cheese reach their peak at room temperature. Cheese should be removed from the refrigerator an hour or two before serving. Most white wines reach their full flavor between 50-55 degrees. Red wines taste best around 60 degrees. Sparkling wines a temperature of 42-52 degrees is best

Eat well – drink well!

-Nancy

Summer, winter, spring or fall, salad is always on our menus. So what about the dressings for the salad?

 

Most people buy their salad dressings at the supermarket in a bottle. There are literally hundreds of options at the grocery store. Some are on a shelf in an aisle and some in the refrigerator section. Of course, now there are some in an organic section. Many of the major brands of dressings available today were on the market as early as the 1920’s. It certainly is convenient. Just shake it up, pour and toss the salad. You can buy a huge range of dressings, but they are expensive and contain preservatives. You can create your own with little effort and know the purity of all ingredients.

 

 Some people think they are “making” it when they use a little envelope of pre-made seasonings and add vinegar and water.” That is the way I grew up. Occasionally we would have a bottled French type dressing.

But my love for homemade dressing started in the sixty’s when I tasted Green Goddess dressing at a restaurant; a salad dressing that is a mixture of mayonnaise, anchovies, tarragon vinegar, parsley, scallions, garlic, and other spices. Yummy, creamy, herby and tangy all at once! Can you think of a restaurant dressing that you love? Chances are you can recreate it with some experimentation or searching. I found my green goddess dressing in “The Joy of Cooking”. I love this dressing as a vegetable dip as well as a salad dressing. I feature this dressing in many of my catering jobs.

The original and oldest of all dressings is the oil and vinegar better known by its French name vinaigrette. Mayonnaise based dressings are not only used on green salads but also is used in fruit salads, potato salads and cole slaw. My mother used to make a quick and easy salad dressing of mayonnaise and pineapple juice served over a wedge of cream cheese with rings of pineapple.

 

I make salad dressings the old fashioned way- from scratch. We even make our salad dressing in our café and catering business. Many times I use dried herbs and some times fresh. But I always use a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil (it pays to get the best quality) and some sort of good vinegar or citrus juiced. The olive oil can be Italian, Greek French or even Spanish. Sometimes I even use some fruit preserves as taught to me by my good friend Pat. There can be many other ingredients. For instance the ever popular Caesar salad dressing has garlic, anchovies, Worcestershire sauceDijonmustard and an egg as well as vinegar and oil.  As always, the key is in the quality of the ingredients.

 

At home I use only a wooden salad bowl and utensils. My salad bowls are well seasoned. I never wash them with soap. I wipe them with a damp cloth so they stay seasoned. I also serve salad on a plate and fork taken from the freezer at the last moment.  I also learned this from my Mom.

There is old French saying “politeness is in the bottom of the bowl”. It means simply do not drown your lettuce in dressing. The proper way to “dress” a salad is to mix your salad dressing in a bowl. Then pass your tossing utensils through the dressing, then at the last possible moment add delicately picked apart leaves to the bowl and toss the salad gently so as not to bruise the delicate leaves. It is also considered “polite” to serve yourself first because there will be less dressing on those leaves. You will be leaving the better servings for your guests.

Making a good salad dressing is easy and just takes moments to do. You can make a different salad dressing every time with out all those bottles and jars in the refrigerator.

There is an anonymous saying: Be a benefactor with the oil, a miser with the vinegar, a poet with the salt, and a demon with the pepper! The best dressed salad is one that allows individual ingredients be tasted. 

We just returned from Las Vegas and boy am I tired! Me and 4999 other carefree from 25 Countries attended the 2011 Catersource Convention. We stayed at the AWESOME all new Cosmopolitan Hotel.

Okay, now you are overwhelmed. But informed which is good..believe me. Let’s look at this more carefully.

Now you know what you need to consider. What is most important to you? That is what it comes down to. Budgeting is the real deal and for many of you this is the first real experience at budgeting for yourself and your spouse to be. Most brides look at the wedding dress as the big thing. And that is true. My experience is that people remember wedding by 3 things; the dress, the food and the cake. Wow there is more to it than that! I mean what about the photo’s…isn’t that important? And flowers…what is up with that? The truth is it is all important in many different ways.

You will absolutely know the dress you want when you put it on. It is so personal I cannot reccomend anything to you. I will say that you should carefully consider how much of your budget will go into your dress. I know it is important, but consider that this is 1 day in your life to wear it.

The cake will probably follow your theme so consider this:

Let’s start with your theme. Is it beachy….chic…glam….unique in many ways? You can start your budget here, because you can decide where to go bearing budget in mind.

For instance, you can do DYI and go beachy by using shells you picked up on the beach on the tables as a throw or in vases or in a bowl for decor. Also sea grass in trellis small or large.. Maybe use sea glass and sand somehow. Blues and greens of course…

Maybe you do chic and use a single white orchid in a very tall black vase and use a classic black and white theme. I would use black linens and cover them with shorter white organza linens, or table runners of white. You can even do a white AND regular chocolate fountain!

Glam-orous is right up my alley. I LOVE bling! And black shows of bling like no other color. So start with black table linens and throw around some bling from craft stores and on line. Hang bling from the flower arrangements. Use crystal chandeliers. BTW they look great and glamorous in a tent!

Use a garden theme and have flowers in all kinds of pots and containers as if you were in a garden. A few years ago I created an English garden in a retail type bin display stand with colorful crudités in the bins to munch on and beautiful colorful flowers at the base with grass here and there poking out. Use pastel colors for linens and have everything scream spring.

Carry these themes and others into your food and beverage selections.

Beachy might mean a clam bake take off or at the very least seafood for food. I think of lobster bisque sip shots and clam cakes or crab cakes. How about lobster 3 ways? Maybe the lobster bisque soup shots, lobster salad on baby greens with a citrus vinaigrette of some sort and lobster tail with a lemon tarragon beurre blanc garnished with a filet and smokey bacon relish? Yummm if I do say so myself! Pair this with a signature drink of berries and aguave nectar and a pour of champagne- very refreshing.

Chic might start out with a classic martini- shaken not stirred poured through a fabulous ice martini louge. Serve wonderful scallops seared and presented with saffron aioli, then a wonderful micro green salad with pomegranate seeds and toasted candied walnuts and warm goat cheese with sherry honey vinaigrette, then lamb chops, with polenta, marscapone cheese, asparagus bundles and a dusting of smoked sea salt.

Glam might be starting with a simple seared scallop garnished with a light mole and gold leaf. Then a traditional Caesar salad prepared table side. Then beef Wellington and duchess potatoes with pattypan squash.

The garden theme is simple in season crudités in beautiful “picking baskets and flower pots. Then a harvest of seasonal vegetables for a beautiful simple salad and a light fish or chicken dish with a delicate lemon sauce with seasonal fresh vegetables.

The possibilities are endless really. If you can dream it you can create it and you can create it well with the help of professionals in the wedding business. Good luck and above all have fun!