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Monday, November 23, 2015

Holiday Entertaining Tips from Pastoral!

If you aren't familiar with Pastoral, this European-inspired specialty cheese, food and wine shop offers an amazing array of delicacies from around the globe. They have multiple locations in Chicago, the newest of which is connected to Appellation- a 75 seat bistro serving all of the finely curated savory delights you love in a comfortable yet chic atmosphere. I was fortunate enough to interview their wine buyer and head cheesemonger, both of which are sharing their top picks and tips for making your holiday an epicurean spectacular! 

I approached Mark Wrobel, Pastoral's Wine Buyer, and asked him what he recommends for the holiday season. Pastoral offers wines at multiple price points- from approachable to premium- and carries approximately 200 great-tasting, small production varieties.

Appellation's Wine Bar offers 20 wines by the glass

Q: There are so many options when it comes to pairing wines with Thanksgiving dinner! What would you recommend that most would enjoy? 

Sparkling wines are perfect for the holidays because they are celebratory and pair so well with everything on the table
·         Furlan Prosecco – Just a touch of residual sugar but with enough to acidity to keep things fresh. $18.99
·         Champagne Camille Saves – Every day should call for Champagne but sometimes people need a special occasion. Not just for the connoisseurs; this is the perfect way for everyone to celebrate family and friends coming together. $59.99

White Wines 
Riesling is a great option because it is such a diverse varietal. It can be sweet, dry, highly acidic or fruity.
·         Keller Riesling Trocken (Trocken is German for dry) – This bone dry Riesling is ideal because it can liven up over cooked turkey but also has the acidity to cut through all the gravy. $22.99

You can go heavier or lighter when it comes to red wines and Thanksgiving

On the heavier side:
·         Field Recordings ‘Fiction’ - This should be on every table whether it comes in a bottle or a CAN. It is juicy, spicy and robust but it has just enough acidity to keep it from being flabby. The higher ABV is helpful because sometimes its your turn to be the drunk relative at thanksgiving. $19.99

On the lighter side the safe bet is Pinot Noir:
·         Brooks 'Runaway Red' Pinot Noir – A great introduction to Oregon PN that maintains cherry fruit but also a touch of savory cooked mushroom. $19.99

I also had the chance to gather excellent advice from Pastoral's Head Cheesemonger, Jordan Edwards. Pastoral offers an incredible selection from near and far. 

Q: When selecting items for a charcuterie platter, are there general guidelines for variety that you recommend? 

Jordan: You always want to select a range of charcuterie when planning out your platter. It's a good idea to choose a few different styles and textures so that there is something for everyone. I recommend Tamworth Prosciutto by La Quercia, which is cured pork shoulder with great marbling from a good Midwestern company. I also like West Loop Salumi's 'Nduja, which is an Italian soft-cured spreadable salami that contains tasty peppers and spices.
Holiday Cheese and Wine Tips from Pastoral

Smoking Goose Meatery from Indianapolis uses some adventurous combinations, like its "Gin N Juice" salami which is sourced from Midwest farms and contains juniper, orange zest and black pepper. To finish your platter up, you want to add a pate or terrine, such as a country paté. At Pastoral, we offer a great viariety of charcuterie for an easy-to-make platter.

Q: Are there food styling tricks to assembling a gorgeous, Instagram-worthy platter at home?

Jordan: Cheese and accompaniments are always gorgeous, but you can make any cheese plate especially attractive by selecting different styles of cheeses and accompaniments that vary in color, and by placing them on a slate cheese board. For example, brightly colored jams, mustards and tapenades like those we offer at Pastoral are not only great to pair with cheese, but their color really pops against a slate board.

Pastoral Andersonville offers rotating French mustard on tap from Maille
Another good tip is to make the cuts of cheese the same size and arrange in fun patterns to really make it look nice. Some cheeses I recommend for a pretty plate are a Bavarian Mountain Cheese called "Lola Montez," which is named after a beautiful Irish woman who ended up married to the King of Bavaria in the 1800's. The cheese is covered in herbs and wildflowers, which makes it look very unique on your cheese plate. Another idea is Roelli Cheese Haus' Red Rock Cheese, which is a natural rinded cheddar spiked with blue veining- its strikingly red with blue streaks like a a bleu cheese, but tastes like cheddar.

Holiday Cheese and Wine Tips from Pastoral

Try an Italian cheese called Il Nocciolo, which is a cow/goat/sheep cheese the size of a hazlenut and comes in a cube with a pretty wrinkled rind that looks great on a cheese plate (and is easy, give you can unwrap it an place it directly on the cheese plate).

A few more ideas are the O'Banon, from Capriole, which is wrapped in chestnut leaves, or a washed rind cheese whic can be pink in hue. Try Von Trapp Farms' (as in The Sound of Music!) "Oma," which is bright orange on the outside and butter yellow on the inside. Finally, don't be afraid to use ramekins and bowls to give some height and make it pretty- put some mustard on a measuring spoon and place it on the plate, or jam in a ramekin. Mix it up!

Q: EVERYone gives wine as a gift, which is quite lovely, but are there some other unique gifts you think people might enjoy?

Jordan: One of our favorite gifts this time of year is a slate cheese board. Not only is it a great way to serve cheese, it really makes the entire presentation look amazing. A slate board isn't something most of us think to buy for ourselves, so you'll usually surprise and excite the person you give it to.

At Pastoral, we have a few different sized slates for sale, so you can really personalize the gift. I really like our "Serving Essentials" Gift Set, which includes a bamboo cheese knife, a cheese plane (for creating ribbons of cheese), a slate and a cheese paper and cheese journal (helps you keep track of the cheese flavors you enjoy and helps you match flavors).

We also have a "Cheese Survival Kit," which includes a cheese pocket knife from France, cheese paper and a cheese journal. Think of it as a camping set with cheese!

Q: Craft beer is all the rage- are there types of cheese that pair particularly well with specific beers?

Jordan: Cheese pairs really well with beer- and I would also add craft cider- because the flavor profiles really complement each other. In fact, some of the cheeses at Pastoral are actually washed in beer and cider before they are packaged and sent to us. Cheese washed in beer and cider helps to bring out some of the sweetness and cut the salt in cheese. A cheese that Pastoral offers that I think goes really well with craft beer and cider area "Good Thunder" from Alemar (which is washed in an oatmeal stout and goes well with a dry cider). IPAs and cheddars pair well too, and Quickes from England makes a fine goat cheddar that is amazing (goes well with porters and stouts too).

Also, my favorite pairing is tripel karmeliet Belgian Beer (which is on tap at Appellation) with Challerhocker, a cheese that tastes like French Onion Soup and is made by hand by Walter Rass, a top producer in Switzerland. Challerhocker also goes really well with Bell's Best Brown Ale from Kalamazoo. I really like the fact that the company that imports Lola Montez and Challerhocker is Columbia Cheese, which takes a "maker to monger" approach to sourcing, meaning it imports the cheese it gets right into the shops. It's a great family ran company that been around since the 1940's and also pushes cheese education.

Q: What is one easy appetizer that is your go-to, sure to be a crowd-pleaser every time?

Jordan: As a cheesemonger, I would of course recommend an amazing cheese plate. At Pastoral, any of our cheesemongers are happy to help you pick out a few great cheeses, but also some amazing accompaniments that you may not have tried yet, or not thought to put on a cheese plate.

Our housemade tapenades, spiced almonds, and other sweets give any host or hostess the ability to make a great cheese plate appetizer. Personally, I like to buy Prairie Fruits Farm Fresh Chève, or Hidden Springs Farm's "Driftless" sheep's milk cheese (the cheesemakers name all of their 500 sheep!) and stuff it inside our peppadew peppers (we also sell pre-stuffed jars of them). The peppers are available at all retail locations- serve them in a bright bowl and watch your guests become addicted (be sure to buy enough to satisfy your hungry crowd).

Appellation has a cheese melter- divine!
Another appetizer I like is fondue using the Swiss Vacherin Fribourgeois Crepi (THE original fondue cheese), which is handmade. Melt over low heat (low enough that you're able to keep your finger in the pan- under 200 degrees). Add garlic into pan with a dash of white wine until the wine cooks off, then add in water and small handfuls of shredded cheese at a time; stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. Just add bread and other goodies for dipping.

Look for more Appellation info and photos as I head there next month to dine. Thank you to Mark and Jordan for their wealth of knowledge- I can't wait to plan my next party selection with you!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Easy Entertaining- Home for the Holidays!

Yes, the holidays are fast approaching and I am so thankful to have a few fabulous events to get me in gear. I recently attended the Pulte Homes Easy Entertaining event with one of my FAVORITE social chefs, Johanna Cook of Momma Cuisine!

I am having a few parties scattered throughout the holiday season, and a bit nervous about the whole cooking and decorating thing. FASHION is more my jam- I can whip together an outfit from nothing, mixing prints and matching silhouettes with ease. I put this outfit together to wear to the event in two minutes flat...the dinner would have taken me two months to prepare:

When it comes to cooking, I prefer to "assemble" food instead of cook from scratch. I can put together a mean mashed potato bar or dessert display, but as for cooking a whole As for decor, I usually browse the clearance section of a craft store or troll the Virtual Yard Sales for quirky pieces. This is not my forté, so I was ecstatic that these two powerhouses in home entertaining showed me how to make it simple yet elegant!

A group of lifestyle blogger pals gathered in the BRAND NEW kitchen of the Pulte Homes community in Hawthorn Woods ('round the corner from my old stomping grounds). This home is the Stockton model- open, airy, light-filled and incredibly intelligent when it comes to entertaining and everyday living.

Johanna had a delicious yet deceptively simple menu ready and showed us just how feasible it was to actually prepare everything!

The drink of choice was a Caramel Apple Sangria, featuring Pinnacle Vodka (yes, it was delicious and a perfect afternoon treat!).

Of all the items on the menu, my favorite is the Black Rice Salad (and yes, she MIGHT have put that on the menu just for me). It is just such a delish mix of different flavors, and I will be making it for Friendsgiving this year. I love how she used mini pumpkin for individual serving bowls!

And I can't leave out the TurDucKen- a turkey stuffed with a duck which is stuffed with a chicken, AND stuffed with different stuffing choices. You can find them now at Costco for $10 off! If you have ever wondered what bloggers do at events, here is a behind the scenes shot! We photograph and socialize...through our phones. It is pretty funny to answer the person's tweet who is standing right next to you!

As for the home, I love the incredibly party-friendly layout. My dream home (and my only real criteria for selecting a house) is to have the kitchen open to the living area. I also adore the "Pulte Planning Center" featured on the far right- a little desk nook with a view of the kitchen and living area. SWOON! My desk is right smack in the middle, and my computer gets hacked by my little ones constantly.

How do you make entertaining easy for the holidays? I am always up for more tips!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Transition Fashion for Fall: Stripes

There are some dresses that are a little too warm for summer and to chilly to wear when that cold wind blows. So what do you do with them? I used to throw a cardigan over and hope for the best, but I now employ a variety of different layering options experimenting with textures and patterns!

I purchased this dress two years ago from Target with the express purpose of accommodating my 3 week post-baby body for the holidays. It was the perfect foil- my arms were still fairly intact (hoisting a then 2.5 year old up and down the stairs and unpacking thousands of boxes will do that to you), but I needed that fit and flare dress style to provide creative camo for that awkward phase.

What I didn't realize was the multitude of complementary outfit options that this color scheme provides- it pairs perfectly with all black, is lit up with gold accents, and- HELLO!- provides the perfect stripe for a classic leopard print mix.

In this photo, I added a silky gold shirt under the dress, hiding these weird semi-epaulette details on the shoulders. As for the boots, these are from Target- insanely comfortable, a nice height wedge, and don't cut into your ankles like most booties do! They come in back, brown, grey and tan and are on sale right now for $28. Oh, and my assistant wanted to jump in a shot with me, complete with her notebook.

Transition Fashion for Fall: Stripes

I then paired it with a short sleeve tie back shirt that had eyelet detail on the sleeve (and the shirt was accidentally run through the dryer, but didn't matter because the new crop style doesn't show under a dress).
Transition Fashion: Fall Stripes and Eyelet

As I mentioned, I am also loving this color combo with leopard. In the summer, I might pair this with my favorite Ivanka Trump leopard heels. In the winter, throwing a leopard scarf on or a leopard print cardigan, belted around the waist with a skinny patent leather belt would be lovely!

Print Mix Fashion: Leopard and Stripes

How do you style your transition pieces? Loving this fall weather!