3 Easy Pasta Dishes When You Have No Idea What to Make For Dinner

We all have those nights where we haven’t made a plan for dinner, haven’t gone grocery shopping, and don’t really FEEL like cooking…before reaching for the phone to order a pizza, I’m saving you with 3 easy pasta dishes that use ingredients you should already have in your pantry. Dinner? DONE!

Recipe 1: Pasta in Tomato and Onion Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 Onion, cut in half

  • 5 Tbsp Butter

  • 1 28-oz can of imported tomatoes (or 2 smaller cans is fine) (crushed or petite diced is best)

  • 1 lb Pasta such as Spaghetti or Penne

  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  • Optional: Grated Parmesan Cheese and Crusty Bread

Directions

  1. Add the crushed tomatoes, butter and onion to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and simmer VERY slowly for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season as you see fit with salt and pepper to taste.

  2. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain.

  3. When the sauce is done, add the pasta to the saucepan and stir. Serve with optional grated parmesan on top and crusty bread on the side.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese, Chianti, or Barbera


Recipe 2: Pasta in Cream and Butter Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Pasta such as Linguine or Fettuccine

  • 1 Cup Heavy Cream, divided

  • 2/3 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese, divided plus more for serving

  • 2 Tbsp Butter (make it good quality for best result)

  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  • Optional: freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain.

  2. Add 2/3 Cup of the heavy cream and all of the butter into a large saucepan and turn the stove to medium heat. Cook and stir together until the butter has just melted and the cream has thickened up. Turn off the heat.

  3. Add the drained pasta to the butter and cream and turn the heat to low. Toss the pasta until thoroughly coated. Add the remaining 1/3 Cup heavy cream, the 2/3 Cup Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. If you have nutmeg, grate just a pinch over the pasta.

  4. Serve with grated Parmesan on top.

Wine Pairing: Oaked Chardonnay


Recipe 3: Lemon-Garlic Spaghetti

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Pasta, such as Spaghetti or Angel Hair

  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, more to taste

  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced

  • Juice of 1 Lemon

  • 1/2 Cup reserved cooking liquid from the cooked pasta (feel free to substitute chicken stock or white wine)

  • a Handful of Spinach

  • Grated Parmesan Cheese for serving

  • Optional: Lemon Wedges for serving

Directions

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain.

  2. Add the olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the minced garlic, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.

  3. Add the cooked pasta, the lemon juice, the reserved cooking liquid, and spinach. Stir until the spinach wilts

  4. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan cheese on top and lemon wedges for extra acidity (optional)

Wine Pairing: Unoaked Chardonnay (like Chablis), Pinot Grigio, Sparkling Wine

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Scallops in Lemon Cream Sauce Paired With Chardonnay

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you might agree with me that Valentine’s Day is hands down the WORST night of the year (hello too many reservations and 2-tops! #restauranttalk).

So ever since I’ve began dating, I’ve never bothered to go out on Valentine’s Day. Instead, Andrew and I cook a nicer-than-usual meal at home, open up some wine, and enjoy our night together.

This year I’m sharing with you an incredibly easy date-night meal you can make at home whether its V-day or not! These scallops in lemon cream sauce come together in under 10 minutes and take hardly any skill at all (in case you’re new to cooking!). They also require minimal ingredients so overall, compared to going to a restaurant, you’ll be saving lots of money.

Remember to complete the meal with mashed potatoes and a salad!

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

  • 1 pound scallops

  • 5 large garlic cloves, minced

  • salt and black pepper to taste

  • 1/4 Cup dry white wine

  • 1 Cup heavy cream or half and half

  • juice of 1/2 lemon

  • chopped chives for garnish

Directions

  1. Prepare side dishes and measure out ingredients prior to beginning since this meal comes out FAST!

  2. Thaw frozen scallops in cold water and pat dry with paper towels right before cooking.

  3. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Make sure the pan is well heated, the add the scallops. Sear for 3 minutes on one side until golden brown, then flip and sear for another 2 minutes. Transfer scallops to a plate.

  4. Turn the heat down a bit, then melt 2 Tbsp of butter into the same pan and scrape up any browned bits. Add in garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.

  5. Add the wine and simmer until the wine reduces by about half.

  6. Turn the heat to low, then add the cream and stir until well thickened. Add the lemon juice, stir, then add the scallops back into the pan.

  7. Garnish with chopped chives and serve.

15 Pantry Staples to Get You Cooking From Scratch

Over the few years of nearly eliminating processed food from my meals, I’ve found there are 15 ingredients I always like to have on hand that set the foundations of many homecooked meals. Today I’m sharing those with you as sort of a “step one” in cooking your own meals from scratch at home!


Watch the video or if reading is more your style, check out the list below!

Cranberry Dip and Aperol Spritz: How to Get the Party Started on Thanksgiving

Let’s get the party started this Thanksgiving with an appetizer and cocktail pairing!

Alright my friends, let’s be honest…when it comes to preparing for Thanksgiving Day, appetizers and pre-dinner drinks are pretty low on the priority list. I’m usually in the kitchen as early as 9:00 am and am not thinking about entertaining soon-to-be-arriving guests. My mind is on much more important things like stuffing and sweet potatoes.

But having a game plan for an appetizer is life-saving, and I’ve got you covered this year with a yummy dip AND a cocktail to pair with it!

I recently discovered this simple cranberry-orange relish which is the easiest, least-filling-but-still-appetizing dip perfect for turkey day, and it will satisfy all the dinner guests looking to munch on something while waiting for the main meal (at my house that would definitely be my husband). You can mix it up a day ahead (and seriously, why wouldn’t you?) and finish it up in minutes before serving.


Cranberry-Orange Relish

  •  1 (16 oz) bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed

  • 1 jalapeno, minced

  • 3 green onions, white and green parts finely chopped

  • 1 handful cilantro

  • 2 tsp orange zest

  • 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • `1/2 Cup sugar

  • 1 (8 oz) package light cream cheese (optional)

  • pita chips or crackers

Directions

  1. Place the cranberries, green onions, cilantro, orange zest, and orange juice into a food processor. Process and pulse until finely integrated.

  2. Transfer to a bowl and mix in salt and sugar. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight (make this the day ahead of time to ease up your turkey-day schedule!)

  3. When ready to serve, spread cream cheese along a bowl or plate. Top with the relish and serve with crackers/chips.


The Pairing

Anytime company comes over, it’s a party in my book. And its not a party unless drinks are being offered! This year I’m keeping it simple and pairing the Cranberry-Orange relish with Aperol Spritz cocktails. If you’re unfamiliar, Aperol is a aperitivo, meaning it is generally drank prior to a meal to wake up your taste buds. We need that on Thanksgiving!

Aperol has a slightly bitter, tart cherry and orange flavor profile but is sweetened up in this cocktail thanks to the addition of Prosecco and club soda. Its very easy to make so you can keep your attention in the kitchen (or hey…just show your guests how to make them and they can do it themselves!).


Aperol Spritz

  • 1 parts Aperol

  • 1 part Prosecco

  • splash of club soda

  • Orange wheel for garnish

Directions:

  1. Place orange wheel at the bottom of a wine glass. fill with equal parts Aperol and Prosecco (about 2 ounces each if you must measure). Add just a splash of club soda

  2. Top with ice cube and enjoy!

Note: Any sparkling wine will work with this cocktail, although Prosecco is traditional. I like to use Cava as a budget alternative.

Note: This drink is totally customizable to each drinker’s liking. Too bitter? Add more Prosecco. Too bland? Add more Aperol. if anyone isn’t a fan of aperol, skip it altogether and pour them a glass of Prosecco. Boom. Done.

The Beginner's Guide to Buying Wine

The Beginner's Guide to Buying Wine on LibationsAcademy.com

Hey Champ! Are you new to wine and totally freaked out about how and where to buy it? Don't worry, we've all been there. The best way to get comfortable with buying wine is to taste it often, which means...you have to buy wine in order to get comfortable with buying it. Sorry!

But fear not, I have 5 tips for you on how to buy wine when you have NO idea what you're doing. Above all, don't be overwhelmed. Don't think there is some magic secret to buying wine and don't put pressure on yourself to find "the perfect bottle". Just keep trying new things and educating yourself by hanging out with me here at the Libations Academy. 

Watch the video or keep reading below for my beginner's guide to buying wine! 

Want Dani's cheat sheet of wines to buy as a beginner? Get that here! 

How to Get into Beer: Beer 101

Let me guess...you went to a party and all they had to drink was beer. Your friends seem to like beer, but you just can't seem to get into it! Not to worry, I have some tips of how you can learn to enjoy and appreciate beer. 

Beer is a wonderful thing...if you love wine, I have no doubt you will learn to appreciate beer as well. You just have to (gasp!) start trying different styles to find out what you like! 

You might be thinking...NO! I hate hoppy, bitter beers! 

I get it: that's all that seems to be out there these days. The United States is going through a crazy bitter beer scene right now, which can often be bad for people that are new to beer. But other styles DO exist, and if you go to a local brewery, they should have some newbie-friendly beers for you to try. My recommendation for you if you want to get into beer is to try blonde ales, wheat ales, sour ales, and Belgian ales. 

Blonde Ales are great entry-level beers often with malt sweetness and mild flavors. They are essentially the craft-beer version of well-known lagers. 

Wheat Ales are almost always (I want to say always, but you never know...) low in bitterness and boast citrus and spice notes easily digestible for beer newbies. Try: German Weissbier, Hefeweizen, Belgian Wit. 

Sour Ales are not for everyone, but in my experience, the person that has hated every beer they've tried usually likes sours. Wine drinkers usually like sours as well because they have acidity, just like wine. Try: Flanders Red, Flanders Brown, Lambic, Barrel-Aged Sours. 

Belgian Ales across the board are usually low in bitterness and have complex fruity and spicy aromas and flavors. When I discovered Belgian ales, I was hooked. Try: Belgian Golden Strong, Belgian Dubbel, Belgian Tripel, Belgian Dark Strong. 

GET THE BEGINNER BEER CHEAT SHEET

So I mentioned that the only way you are going to find a style you like is by trying different beers. The best way to do this is to actually visit beer bars and breweries. Many offer samples (if allowed by law) so you can "try before you buy", or you can order flights of beer and try many different styles side by side. And don't be afraid to ask for help when choosing! Many bartenders know what's up and won't steer you in the wrong direction. 

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Finally, remember that beer is subjective. I can't tell you what will be your favorite, I can only provide you with the information to discover what you might like. Above all, have fun with beer--there are so many styles, that there is bound to be something out there that entices your palate. Cheers and happy tasting! 

Fall Seasonal Beers: All About Pumpkin Ale!

A lot of beer styles have great stories, but Pumpkin Ale's story is one of my favorites. 

A True American Beer

Back in the colonial days of America, pumpkins were everywhere. It wasn't uncommon to find fields of wild pumpkins, and for that reason, they weren't exactly a hot commodity (because they were everywhere!). 

If a year's harvest was poor and brewers didn't have access to the amount of grains they needed to brew beer, they would turn to the excess pumpkins laying around as substitute. Pumpkins provide plenty of sugar, and that is all that brewers needed to create beer. Therefore pumpkins were used as a "last resort" in brewing--no one purposely used them in brewing unless it was absolutely necessary. 

Fast forward to the 1980s and Bill Owens of Buffalo BIll's Brewery--Bill read that George Pumpkin used to brew beer with pumpkins, so he decided to resurrect the style. However, simply adding pumpkin to the beer didn't impart much flavor, so BIll added traditional spices you'd find in pumpkin pie to give the beer a little more oomph. Other breweries followed with their own interpretations and before we knew it, pumpkin ale is a style again! 

Pumpkin Ale Profile

There is no specified flavor profile for pumpkin ale, but many brewers will commonly include pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice to add "autumn" character to their beer. I've tried ones that are straight up "PUMPKIN!" like Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale, and others that are a bit sweeter and dessert-like, like New Holland Brewing's Ichabod Ale (one of my personal favorites this past year!). 

I feel like it has been a recent trend for beer geeks to poo-poo on Pumpkin Ale, but I happen to enjoy them for what they are--a historical beer style resurrected into something completely new. Although most pumpkin ales are released as early as August, I'll hold on to them through September and October and drink to get into the fall spirit. 

Do you like Pumpkin ale or despise it? I want to know! 

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The Beers of Oktoberfest

Fall is my favorite time for beer because this is Oktoberfest season! There are two styles of beer that we associate with Oktoberfest: traditional Marzen and modern-day Festbier. Check out the video above for how these two styles came to be! 

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How to Open Sparkling Wine

Hey there! I'm so glad you've decided to learn how to open sparkling wine like a pro! Watch the video below to see how to open in action. Please note: opening sparkling wine can be very dangerous. Always make sure to keep the cork pointed AWAY from people when opening. 

 

In today's video, we're going over how to safely open a bottle of Champagne (or Prosecco or Cava or whatever your sparkling wine of choice is). Safety is of the utmost importance here because the last thing you want is for your party to come to a halt because someone got whacked with a flying cork from across the room! 

Here are the proper steps of opening sparkling wine:

  1. Make sure your bottle is chilled. And I mean CHILLED. The warmer a bottle is, the more it will want to release it's pressure, equaling a difficult experience for you. 
  2. Remove the foil from the top of the cage. Place your thumb on top of the cage and loosen it with your other hand (turning the handle 6 times). The cork is now vulnerable to pop off (even with the cage on!). Keep it pointed away from you or other people at all times. 
  3. Keeping your thumb on top of the cork to prevent it from popping out, turn the bottle onto a 45 degree angle. 
  4. With your hand on the top, begin turning the base of the wine slightly to slowly loosen the cork. You can turn it completely around or rock it back and forth (reference the video for this insanely difficult step to put into words!). The cork should begin coming out SLOWLY...keep it where you want it by applying pressure and maintaining control.
  5. As the cork comes out, begin bending it a bit to create an air gap between it and the bottle. This will prevent your bottle from making that loud "POP" noise (which is the ultimate goal, believe it or not). The cork should remove slowly and a small "hiss" should be the only noise coming from it. 

Don't be nervous with this method of opening sparkling wine...it's the method sommeliers use! Sure, I've had bottles completely explode and wine shoots everywhere, but it happens. Just be sure that the cork is never pointed towards anyone or anything that can break! Have fun learning and enjoy your bubbly! 

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7 Mistakes to Avoid When Tasting Wine

So you want to enjoy your wine a little more and have actually started paying attention to how it smells and tastes. Good job! That's step 1 (if you're not doing that, check out this video to learn how to start doing that.) 

But you might be making some wine tasting mistakes that you're not aware of that could affect how your wine tastes. In today's video Dani goes over 7 wine tasting mistakes that could hinder your wine tasting experience. Whether you are going out to a winery or just sipping wine at home, you've probably made at least one of these mistakes at some point. The mistakes are:
1. Filling your glass with too much wine
2. Not sticking your nose in the glass
3. Using the wrong wine glass
4. Talking about wine legs
5. Eating while you taste
6. Wearing perfume or cologne
7. Not thinking about your wine

Check out the video for more details about these common wine tasting mistakes! 

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How Long Wine Lasts After Opening a Bottle

We all love drinking wine, but what should you do when you can't finish an opened bottle? How long will it still be drinkable? The long answer is...it depends. But the short answer? 1-2 days.

Say what?! Yes! A bottle of wine maybe only has a day or two after it has been opened. After about 48 hours, the flavors in the bottle will have changed so much that the wine will taste drastically different than when you first opened it.

Now, like everything in wine, there are definitely exceptions to what I just told you. If you opened, say, a 4-year old Barolo that was so giant that it needed some time to “open up” and become drinkable, then it will probably be good for a little longer. But we’re talking about everyday wine here, friends. And 90% of wines out there fall into this category. So believe me when I say your wine has 48 hours before it needs to go down the drain.  

So why is there this short timeline for drinking a bottle of wine? Because as soon as you pop that cork or twist off the screw cap, the wine will come into contact with outside air. Oxygen is a big killer of wine and as soon as it touches it, there’s no way to stop its effects. Over time, oxygen essentially turns wine into vinegar. From the moment you open the bottle, changes will start happening to your wine. 

At first, oxygen might “open up” wine a little bit, releasing desirable aromatics and flavors. But as time goes on, those aromatics start changing for the worse--any fruit components go away, tannins and structure deteriorates...it’s a sad process. 

How to Slow Down Your Wine From Going Bad

What can we do about it? Like I said earlier, there’s no going back once that bottle has been opened. But there are some things you can do to help your wine stay fresh a little longer.

If you have decided that you can’t finish a bottle until later, here's what I do: stick the cork back in it (or screw the cap back on) and put the bottle in the refrigerator. Do this no matter if the wine is white, rose, or red. Cooler temperatures in the refrigerator (rather than just leaving the bottle on the counter) will reduce the effects of oxygen in the wine and give your bottle a little more time before changing too much to be undrinkable. Drink the rest of that wine the next day...if you wait any longer, the wine may have changed too much and won't display the flavors that the winery intended it to. 

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There are some other gadgets out there that can help your wine last a little longer, but really nothing more will prolong the aging time to more than an extra day or so. I used to have this suction pump thingy that claimed to suck oxygen out of the bottle to preserve it. It didn’t work for me so I don’t recommend this method.

There’s also wine spray that you can buy at most wine stores and amazon. I personally don’t use this either but know of many restaurants that do...and it works pretty well. All you do is spray it into the inside of the bottle and it pushes out the oxygen and replaces it with heavier argon gas. Still--drink your bottle within a few days of using the wine spray because your wine will still change! Just not as quickly as if you didn’t use it.

The final contraption out there for wine preservation is the Coravin system, which is very pricey (think $200-$300) but pretty effective. A Coravin has a needle that you inject into the cork of an unopened bottle of wine. Then you squeeze a trigger which will dispense wine from the bottle through a spout. It replaces the wine with Argon gas which will not alter the wine, so theoretically no oxygen comes into contact with the wine. Although many people praise the Coravin system, I have witnessed that the wine still changes in the bottle over time...so don't bank on opening a bottle months after being Coravined and having it taste the same way. 

Bottom line--drink your wine within 1 day of opening it. If you don’t finish it, put the cork back in and stick the bottle in the fridge to help keep it fresher longer. If you find yourself with a wine that has been opened for more than 2 days, just taste it to see if it is drinkable. If you still like it, drink it! Otherwise, down the drain it goes!

Christmas Gifts for the Home Bartender

It’s finally time to get all your loved ones presents (and maybe a few for yourself!)! If you’ve got someone on your list that likes cocktails, is a home bartender, or maybe is wanting to become one, today’s post will give you some perfect gift ideas for them. There are many ridiculous products out there that are just not needed and I know you don’t want to buy yet another gift for someone that will collect dust in the corner or end up in the garage sale pile. So fear not! Here are 5 gift ideas for the home bartender:

Books

I have a huge library of cocktail books and will gladly accept more. If your gift recipient is a cocktail lover, they will definitely appreciate a new book to read as well. For the new enthusiast, consider buying an “all around” cocktail book with good recipes (my favorite is the first one listed below!). For the expert, buy them a specialty book on one specific interest they have like gin or tiki drinks. Here are some suggestions from my library:

  1. The Ultimate Bar Book. Every bar should have this book/great for newbies (Mittie Hellmich)

  2. Liquid Vacation: 77 refreshing tropical drinks from Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas

  3. The Spirit of Gin: A Stirring Miscellany of the New Gin Revival

  4. Sherry: A Modern Guide to the World's Best Kept Secret

  5. The Old Fashioned: The Story of the World's First Classic Cocktail, with Recipes and Lore

Bar Utensils

If your gift recipient is a seasoned home bartender, they may already have most of the bar utensils they need; but for someone new to the scene, proper bar utensils are absolutely essential for getting started. Here’s what I can’t live without in order of most important to least important (but all are still important lol):

  1. Boston Shaker. Don’t waste your time with fancy cocktail shakers! Every single one that I’ve purchased in the past has leaked! Every. Single. One. This is the one I use. 

  2. Jiggers: used to measure ingredients for cocktails. Here’s what I’ve bought. 

  3. Strainer

  4. Mixing Spoon

  5. Fruit Peeler

  6. Grater

  7. Muddler

  8. Fun cocktail picks. My latest purchase.

Glassware

Everyone will appreciate good glassware! But don’t be thinking that I’m telling you to buy your recipient a tacky martini glass that says “cocktail time!” or whatever. I’ve accumulated many 1-glass presents over the years and most of them were donated immediately to the thrift shop. I’m talking about gifting a nice set of glassware which can get expensive, but will most definitely be appreciated. Just try to find out what your loved one needs so that you don’t buy them something they already have:

  1. Martini Glass Set

  2. Low Ball/Old Fashioned Glass Set

  3. Hi Ball Glass Set

  4. Coupe Glass Set

  5. Whiskey Glass Set

  6. Decanters (even better if you fill it with booze!)

Bar Cart

This one may be reserved for big budgets, but if you’re looking for a statement piece for your home bartender, get them a bar cart! I got mine at an antique store but new ones are also an option, like these: AmazonWest Elm

Spirits

Finally, don’t forget that your home bartender will appreciate a good bottle of booze...after all, that’s why they are into home bartending! Find what type of spirit they need or like most, and get them a good bottle (with a little research you can find fun options, or just ask me!). For instance, my husband likes scotch. Last year I got him Aberlour because it was something new for him to try and something he probably wouldn’t have purchased himself. If your recipient is looking to just grow their collection, find some fun bitters to give them. Last idea--find a fun cocktail recipe you think they’d like, then buy all the ingredients to make that cocktail. If you feel like spoiling this lucky gift recipient, buy them the utensils and bar cart to go along with the cocktail!

Happy shopping and leave a comment below if you have any questions! 

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How to Pair Beer With Thanksgiving

Everyone remembers to put wine on the dinner table for Thanksgiving, but what about beer? You can't forget about the beer!

Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite meal of the year because I put about 9 bottles of both wine and beer on the dinner table (as if I need an excuse...). Wine is a great contribution, but seriously, beer is where it's at.

Beer is excellent with a meal like Thanksgiving because it is carbonated and can have a dry finish, which cleanses your palate after every sip and makes the next bite of food taste like its your first. With so many flavors going on in the meal, it is excellent to have a palate cleanser like beer. 

There are two beer styles that I recommend pairing with Thanksgiving dinner: Saison and Biere de Garde. Saison is from Belgium, and Biere de Garde is from France. The two styles are very similar (their differences are a discussion for another day) in that they both have spicy, earthy components that will pair excellently with Thanksgiving. Many of them actually have spices IN them, but many just taste that way naturally because of the yeast strain used. 

Saison and Biere de Garde are also excellent because they come in 750ml bottles which makes a great presentation on the Thanksgiving table. They are usually cheaper than wine as well, so you can open plenty up without feeling guilty. 

These two beer styles from Europe may be difficult to find depending on where you buy beer, but don't fret: many American craft breweries are making interpretations that you can substitute easily. Just look for "farmhouse" or "saison-style" on a beer label and you know you've got a winner.

 

DANI'S SUGGESTIONS:

Saison

  • St. Feuillien Saison (Belgium) 
  • Saison Dupont (Belgium)
  • Brasserie a Vapeur Saison de Pipaix (Belgium) 
  • Brasserie St. James Daily Wages (Nevada)
  • Ommegang Hennepin (New York)
  • Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (New York) 
  • Dogfish Head Saison du BUFF (Delaware)
  • North Coast Brewery Le Merle (California) 

Biere de Garde

  • Brasserie La Choulette Amber (France)
  • Brasserie St. Sylvestre Gavroche (France)
  • Brasserie Theillier La Bavaisienne (France) 
  • Sierra Nevada Trip in the Woods (California)

If you can't find these beers, fear not! Here are some other Belgian styles ales I recommend that can be found easily: 

Belgian Tripel

  • Chimay Cinq Cents (White Label) (Belgium)
  • Unibroue la Fin du Monde (Canada) 
  • Westmalle Tripel (Belgium) 
  • Tripel Karmeliet (Belgium) 
  • Victory Golden Monkey (Pennsylvania) 
  • New Belgium Trippel (Colorado)

Golden Strong

  • Delirium Tremens (Belgium)
  • Duvel (Belgium) **Dani's fave! 
  • Russian River Brewing Damnation (California)
  • North Coast Brewing Grand Cru (California) 
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How to Pair Wine With Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite meal of the year—Christmas of course wins the “favorite holiday” category, but let’s face it…what other meal do you have mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes on the dinner table at the same time?! (theoretically, I know I could do this any time, but it is more special if it only happens once a year!)

This is a holiday that exemplifies everything I stand for—enjoying a great meal around the dinner table with family and friends. This is a holiday that’s ALL about giving thanks, spending time with those you love, cooking, eating great food, and relaxing. It’s what I aspire to do every day of my life.

Thanksgiving also happens to be my favorite because I use it as an excuse to open a bunch of wine and beer, give everyone at least 5 glasses to *taste* said wine and beer, and have fun pairing with the myriad of side dishes on the table. It really is a dream come true for me.

Although I open about 9 different wine and beers every year, no matter how many people are over, I want to make things easy for you and give you my two must-have wines for the Thanksgiving table plus a couple of “runners up” that you can choose to add to your holiday as well.

Wine #1: Beaujolais

Bow-jo-what? Bow-Jo-Lay. This is THE wine to buy for Thanksgiving if you only plan to drink one thing all night. Beaujolais comes from Burgundy, France, and is made from a grape called Gamay. The wine is light-bodied like Pinot Noir and has lots of red fruit (think tart cherry, currant, and cranberry) going on. It also tends to be a bit herbal and earthy, depending on the kind you get. A wine that tastes like cranberries and has herbal notes to it is going to be PERFECT with Thanksgiving. Bam.

Dani's Picks: 

  • Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages $
  • Georges DuBeouf Beaujolais Villages $
  • any Cru Beaujolais $$
    • Morgon
    • Moulin-a-Vent
    • Brouilly
    • Cote de Brouilly
    • Julians
    • Chenas
    • Fleurie
    • Regnie
    • Chiroubles
    • Saint-Amour

Even better is that Beaujolais is kinda out of fashion right now, so you can get a GREAT bottle for under $20. Beaujolais Nouveau comes out around this time every year so that is a fine option, or if you want to spend a few extra bucks go for Beaujolais Villages. And then if you want to get really fancy you can do a Cru Beaujolais. Any of these will be perfect with Thanksgiving. If you don’t think you will like this wine, please just trust me and try it with this meal. It is such a good pairing that it won’t matter if you like bigger reds or whatever your reason is.

Wine #2: Riesling

Before you go all “I don’t like sweet wine” on me here, let’s think about the kinds of dishes that are served at Thanksgiving: sweet potatoes. Cranberries. Creamed Corn. I see a lot of sweet dishes on the Thanksgiving table. Sweet food does NOT go well with dry wine. Any Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, whatever that you put on the table that doesn’t have sweetness to it will not work with food that has sweetness. Therefore, Riesling is awesome with Thanksgiving because it has great acidity (perfect for food pairing) and a hint of sugar which will match any sweetness in dishes. Make sure to pick one that isn’t dry, but also don’t pick one that is dessert-sweet. We’re looking for off-dry or “kabinett” level here.

Dani’s Picks:

  • Elk Cove Estate Riesling, Willamette Valley OR $$
  • Dr. Loosen "Blue Slate" or "Dr. L", Mosel Germany $$
  • Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling, Columbia Valley WA $
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Runner Ups

Pinot Noir

Similar to Gamay, this is a good pick if you can’t find Beaujolais or are really that afraid of trying something new.

Dani's Picks:

  • Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley CA $$
  • Adelsheim Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley OR $$
  • Erath Pinot Noir, OR $

Gewurztraminer

this wine often has some residual sugar in it, acting like Riesling while pairing. Gewurztraminer is also known as the “spicy” grape, meaning it carries spice aromas and flavors like cinnamon, clove, ginger, and allspice (matching many flavors on the table)

Dani's Picks:

  • Trimbach Gewurztraminer, Alsace France $$
  • Columbia Crest Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley WA $

Sparkling Wine

This is a great wine to have before dinnertime because it can get the party going. It also provides a nice palate-cleanser throughout the meal because those bubbles will scrub flavors off your palate. If you pick an off-dry style (one with a hint of sweetness), it will also pair well with dishes on the table (please refer back to the Riesling comments to understand why).

Dani's Picks:

  • Roederer Estate Sparkling Wine, Anderson Valley CA $$
  • Any Champagne
  • Freixenet (or any) Cava, Spain $

Looking for a wine to pair with pumpkin pie? Sorry, I’m not a fan of wine with pie. Beer wins that race. But if you must, opt for a sweet wine like Riesling or Moscato. Personally I might have some Bailey’s and coffee this year.

How to Build a Home Wine Collection: 6 Wines to Start With

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If you are just getting into wine, I bet you don't have a little collection of bottles at your house waiting for you when you want to pop something open. But just like how speeding to the grocery store because you need a loaf of bread is annoying, you shouldn't stay in the habit of having to run out to grab a bottle of wine every time you want one! 

To help you out, I've put together a list of the 6 types of wine to buy for your home collection when you're just starting out. These are my top 6 "staple" wines that I always seem to need for one occasion or another. Start keeping these wines at your house regularly (just 1-2 bottles of each at a time will do just fine!) and you can forget about running to the store whenever you want wine! 

1. Bubbles

Okay, so if there’s ever just ONE bottle of wine to keep at your house at all times, make it bubbly.

First of all, bubbles go with almost everything. Since it is carbonated, it can scrub away flavors in many dishes, refreshing your palate. Second, I’m a firm believer of always having sparkling wine around just in case you need to celebrate something. What if you get a big promotion tomorrow? What if your friend you haven’t seen in months pops by to surprise you? What if your kid got an A in school? These are things to celebrate! There’s nothing easier than having a bottle of sparkling wine on hand for one of those “let’s have a bottle of wine” moments. We easily forget about bubbles, thinking they are only for special occasions...but in truth they are for any occasion! Whether it’s Champagne, Cava, Prosecco or whatever, make sure you’ve got a bottle of sparkling wine available at home.

2. Chardonnay

Other than bubbles, this is the only other white wine that makes the list. That may seem surprising, but honestly...Rose will cover any other white wine situation. Chardonnay comes in all shapes and sizes, but the type of Chardonnay I’m talking about having on hand is full-bodied Chardonnay with creamy, buttery notes. Now...there’s a lot of bad Chardonnay being made in this style, but if the wine is balanced with great acidity and fruit flavors like lemon, apple, and pear...it’s a winner. This style of Chardonnay is going to pair with anything from lemon chicken to fettucine alfredo to popcorn. Apparently I eat a lot of these foods at my house because I’m always running out of Chardonnay!

3. Rosé

Rosé all day everyday! There is truth to this phrase in that Rosé pairs with almost everything, which is why you should always keep a bottle of it at your house! Rosé has flavors of a red wine but drinks like a white, making it incredibly versatile. Rosé is my go-to for daydrinking as well so...always gotta have it available. Side note on Rosé though: it doesn’t stay fresh very long (only about a year) so make sure you drink it!

4. Pinot Noir

Being the lightest of the major red grape varietals, Pinot Noir finds itself in many wine drinking situations. I personally love Pinot Noir with earthy dishes, especially ones that feature mushrooms. Other light dishes like salmon and chicken also go great with it. I actually don’t drink Pinot Noir as much as some of the other wines I’ve suggested here, but it would be really terrible to need it and not have it available. Keep one around!

5. Sangiovese

Spaghetti, anyone? I am CONSTANTLY needing to replenish my supply of Sangiovese because I’m always drinking it. You may know this grape variety better by the region it is most famous from...Chianti. Sangiovese is the most planted red grape in Italy and for a good reason...it goes so well with Italian food! The wine is high in acidity which goes great with foods that are also high in acidity...especially anything with tomatoes. Since tomato sauce is a staple in my household, I always find myself reaching for a bottle of Sangiovese over any other red wine in my house.

6. Cabernet Sauvignon

Last but not least, we can’t forget about Cabernet Sauvignon! This is the most in-demand wine in the world and the easiest wine to pour when company comes over. One of your friends may not like Sangiovese or Rosé, but he or she probably won’t complain if you give them Cab! Steak and Cab are best friends, by the way, so if you’re a meat eater like me you will find yourself sipping on it often.

There you have it my friends, these are the 6 styles of wine that I always have around and what I suggest you start out with in your home collection! Add any other styles that you love and don’t forget to try new things! As time goes on, you  will find your own wines that you need to have around all the time. Let me know in the comments below if there are any wines besides the ones I suggested that you NEED to keep at home!

Wine Aromas: What to Smell for in Wine

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When you stick your nose into a glass of wine, do you just smell....wine? 

We've all been there, I promise. Actually, it's pretty normal to only smell "wine" when you are not a seasoned wine taster because your brain is trying to make things easy for you. Although there are a ton of different compounds in wine that your brain can detect, why would it confuse you with that? Instead, your brain sends out one signal: you're smelling wine. 

Our sense of smell is one of the most powerful senses out there, linking many aromas to memories (and is one of the reasons why experienced wine tasters have less risk of getting alzheimer's disease...score!). Remember that scene in Ratatouille where the food critic is taken back to his childhood after tasting the ratatouille served to him? You might give credit to the flavors of the food giving him that flashback, but really...its the aromas and his sense of smell doing the work.

This is why smelling your wine before tasting it is so important. Your nose deciphers what is going on in your glass, then your palate just confirms it.

So, how do we train our brains to dig deeper than just smelling "wine"?The easiest way to start is to look for fruit that you might be smelling (and don't say "grapes!"...most wines do not smell grapey). Do you smell fruit? Ask your brain what kind of fruit. You could be smelling citrus, tropical fruit, red fruit, black fruit, or tree fruit. Then dig deeper...lets say you smell red fruit in your wine. Is it strawberry, cherry, cranberry, raspberry, or redcurrant? Is it unripe, ripe, jammy, baked, dried, or overripe? See where I'm going with all these questions? Just dig deeper and make your brain work a bit. It will be hard at first, but in no time you will be smelling your grandpa's pipe tobacco or that time you were finger painting in preschool. 

Check out the video above, and make sure to download the Wine Aroma Cheat Sheet I've created to help you pick out what you may be smelling!

Final note: Don't be afraid of being "wrong" when picking out aromas in wine. Everything is subjective and there are no wrong smells out there. If your brain says you smell a shoe store in a glass of Cabernet, write it down. As you get better at smelling wine, you might calibrate your brain to recognize that shoe store aroma as leather, but you'll never get there if you don't explore first. Have fun with this and don't be intimidated. It just takes practice! Happy smelling my friend! 

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Download it here

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How to Taste Wine Like a Sommelier

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Hey there wine taster! Welcome to the beginning of an amazing journey through the world of wine. Today I want to help you learn how to stop DRINKING wine and start tasting wine.

What’s the big difference between drinking wine and tasting wine? Your whole life, you’ve been drinking it (or...I guess...you’ve been drinking it since you’ve been ALLOWED to). You might swirl it around, smell it a bit, and take a sip. You determine that you like it or dislike it, but that’s about it. You’re not making your brain work too hard to think about what exactly it is that you’re tasting and why you like or dislike it. And because of that, you’re not doing yourself any favors if you are interested in becoming a better wine taster (and wine enthusiast in general).

From this moment forward, I want you to dig deeper and really THINK about the wine in front of you. Really look at it. Really smell it and try to pick out 3-5 things you specifically smell. If you smell something sweet, dig deeper. If you smell something fruity, dig deeper. What kind of fruit? Is it tart, ripe, jammy, or dried? Then taste your wine, and really explore what it is that you’re tasting. How is the mouthfeel? How long does the wine linger? (So many questions!)

It might be really hard at first as a beginner wine taster (do you often just smell “wine”?), but practice is all you need to get better! One of the easiest ways to get over the “I smell wine” hurdle I so often come across with students is to smell and taste two wines side by side. Your brain may not know exactly what is different about the two, but it will be able to distinguish at least that there IS a difference. From there, you can continue training your brain to eventually pick out specific aromas and flavors that are going on in whichever glass is in front of you.

Check out the video below for the exact wine tasting process I teach to beginners. Then, start practicing as much as you can! (wink wink)

Cheers!

Beer Ingredients: Why Your Beer Tastes the Way it Does

One of the best ways to understand why certain beers taste the way they do is by knowing the ingredients. And whereas wine is pretty easy (there’s only one ingredient...grapes!), beer has 4 ingredients to know: malt, hops, water, and yeast.

Watch the video or keep reading the blog post below!

Malt

Malt can be described as the grains used to create sugar, which then in turn creates alcohol (because the fundamental equation for alcohol is: yeast eats sugar and excretes alcohol and carbon dioxide.) Any grain can make up malt, but barley is the most common because it is the easiest for brewers to work with.

The aromas and flavors of malt are determined by how much the malt gets kilned, which is basically the equivalent to toasting the malt. Think about the difference between a piece of light toast compared to a piece of burnt toast--the same chemical reactions will happen to malt. Flavors in our beer from malt therefore can be really bready like bread dough, bread crust or pie crust up to roasty with flavors like coffee, chocolate, or even burnt toast. You can also get  caramel, nutty, or toffee flavors in your beer too, which all come from the malt.

Hops

The second ingredient in beer that contributes to aroma and flavor is hops. Hops contribute bitterness to balance out the sweetness coming from malt. They give beer a refreshing quality because in all honesty, if they weren’t around, your beer might taste like leftover cereal milk.

For most beer styles in the world, the flavors and aromas from hops are very subtle giving floral, minty, herbal, and earthy notes to the resulting beer. But here in America, our hops are a little bit stronger. They contribute more of a piney, citrusy, resiny note to our beers, and since we love hops in this juncture of the beer world, those flavors tend to dominate American beer styles.

Yeast

Moving onto the third ingredient in beer: yeast. Yeast is one of my favorite ingredients to talk about because it is often overlooked, but contributes some of my favorite aromas and flavors in beer. As I mentioned earlier, yeast is what is responsible for making beer alcoholic, and when it eats up sugar and creates alcohol, it also makes byproducts called esters and phenols that contribute to the beer profile.

Esters are simply “fruit” notes in beer, like:

The Ingredients in Beer
  • Apple

  • Banana

  • Peardrop

  • Honey

  • Pineapple

  • Plum

  • Citrus

Phenols contribute “spicy” components to beer, and even though they aren’t as prominent as esters, some beers will have a black pepper or clove component to them from the phenols. Yeast contributes a lot of flavor to most ales, so start paying attention when you’re tasting. Check out this video on ales vs. lagers.

Water

Finally, our last ingredient in beer is water, which is really important because it makes up 90% of beer. There are minerals in water like calcium carbonate, gypsum, chlorine which can definitely influence the aroma and taste of beer. Calcium Carbonate will clash with hops and make them taste harsh, whereas gypsum will accentuate hops and make the beer taste more refreshing. Chlorine will make beer taste like medicine. If water has a high iron content, the resulting beer will taste metallic.  Historically this was an issue, but today enough technology exists that gives brewers the freedom to add or detract minerals in their water.

Beyond these off-flavors, we really don’t talk about water adding flavor to beer. Most of the aromas and flavors come from malt, hops, and yeast. So the next time you sip on a new beer, think about what you’re smelling and tasting...now you’ll know which ingredient those flavors are coming from!

The Difference Between Ales and Lagers

Beer Friends! Today's lesson comes to you in the video below! Or, feel free to read the accompanying blog post. 

Every beer style in the entire world fits into one of two categories: It’s either an ale or a lager. What determines this?

Yeast, my friends.

Yeast is the whole reason that alcoholic beverages exist:

Yeast eats sugar, and creates alcohol, CO2, and a bunch of other byproducts as a result.

There are many strains of yeast out there but there are two main ones used in brewing...ale yeast and lager yeast.

Ales

Let’s run over ale yeast first. This yeast is known as Saccharomyces Cerevisieae (feel free to choose to remember that one only if you’d like). And this was the first yeast used in brewing since the dawn of civilization.

Ale yeast likes to eat up sugars in a warm environment...let’s say 55 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. Its happiest in warm temperatures, so it creates a lot of aromas and flavors, namely things called esters and phenols. Esters make aromas that smell particularly fruity, like:

  • Apple

  • Pineapple

  • Citrus

  • Peach

And then there are phenols, which give spicy characteristics to beer. Think black pepper, clove... whatever is in your spice cabinet.

Fun Fact: Phenols can also provide other aromas to beer, some that are not the best-smelling. If you smell barnyard, horse blanket, barbecue smoke, or band-aid in your beer, you are smelling products of phenols.

Lagers

Let's move on to lagers, which are a much newer category of beer because of the yeast strain used. Around the 1400s, the Germans discovered that their beer would last longer if they brewed and stored their beer in cold caves. You already know that ale yeast doesn't like cold temperatures, so it wasn't too happy in this environment. So a different strain of yeast had to emerge to ferment the beer, and that yeast strain was called Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis aka Saccharomyces Pastorianus, aka, Lager Yeast.

Side note: lager means to store in German, which comes from the fact that they would store their beer in these cold caves.

The Difference Between Ales and Lagers Libations Academy

Lager yeast ferments at colder temperatures….and I don’t know about you but when I’m cold i’m not moving around a lot...so lager yeast works very slowly and therefore does not create all those fruity and spicy aromatics that ale yeast creates.

Therefore the PRIMARY difference between ales and lagers is that ales will have all these fruity, spicy characteristics coming from the yeast strain, and lagers will not. Lagers get all their flavor from the malt and hops and therefore are more “clean” and “straightforward”. It is difficult to make lagers because it costs more money, takes more time, and is difficult to hide any impurities in the beer...so when people just start out in brewing, they usually start with ales.

Now that you know the difference between ales and lagers, go out and try them side by side! Seriously, this will help you learn a lot. Taste both together and observe how there’s just a lot more going on in the ale than the lager.

 

How to Pair Wine With Barbecue

There are a few dishes out there that beer hands-down wins the war over wine when it comes to pairings.

Barbecue is DEFINITELY one of those dishes

How to Pair  Wine With Barbecue

Let’s start off by clarifying that we’re not talking about throwing some steaks on a grill and calling that barbecue. The debate of what barbecue is is a topic for another day, but what we are referring to here is meat slow-cooked over indirect heat (or smoked) over several hours and then served with barbecue sauce, coleslaw, potato salad, beans, cornbread, or whatever other sides you feel worthy.

Smoked meat and wine? Amazing. My real problem with pairing wine with barbecue is not the barbecued meat on its own, its with barbecue sauce.

Most barbecue sauces have sweet and spicy flavors which generally do not pair well with wine. Sweet flavors in food need sweet wines to match, otherwise the wine will taste bitter and flabby. Spicy flavors also need a sweet wine to cool it down: a dry wine will seem hot and more alcoholic if paired with spicy food, and a wine high in alcohol will elevate all those spicy flavors. It isn’t very pleasant.

So really, we are very limited to wines that could theoretically pair well with barbecue. They must be sweet and low in alcohol.

I got so sick of the arguments with bbq and wine that I decided yesterday to make a bunch of traditional bbq fare, open up a couple of wines, and test it all out. I realize that there are many styles of barbecue, so I made sure to cover (most) of the bases.

The food

Carolina Pulled Pork, Memphis-style ribs and smoked beef brisket and served them up with cole slaw, potato salad, beans, pickles and potato chips. Then we made authentic Carolina, Kansas City, Texas and Memphis barbecue sauce.

The wines

  • Zinfandel

  • Shiraz (Syrah)

  • Carmenere

  • Riesling

Here was the general concensus:

We all loved each of the wines on their own (obviously).

Carmenere

The Carmenere didn’t really pair with anything because it was a dry wine with no residual sugar. Any “smoky”, charred flavors in it got cancelled out when paired with food, so it didn’t taste like much.

Shiraz

The shiraz was also bad. This was a fun one that was aged in whiskey barrels so on its own it had really rich black fruit characteristic and a nice dilly vanilla note from the oak. But the spices from the barbecue just overwhelmed the wine, made it taste super hot and took away all the fruity flavors.

Zinfandel

This was the best of the red wine selection. On its own, the wine definitely had a little bit of residual sugar (sweetness) and was a total fruit bomb (like most zinfandels). The barbecue made it seem less sweet and took away most of the fruit and made it seem SUPER oaky, which is crazy since it didn’t smell or taste like oak at all on its own!

Riesling

Of all the wines, the Riesling was by far the best with barbecue. It was the most sweet out of the bunch so it cooled down the sweet and spicy flavors in the food. When eating it with food, it actually didn’t taste sweet at all...it just worked because the food was equally as sweet.

The Final Verdict

None of these wines actually went well with barbecue. The Riesling just worked the best and the Zinfandel was decent. The good news about this experiment is that I went from being totally anti-wine at barbecues to kind of not minding it. Because let’s be honest...before we sat down to eat I had backup beers waiting because I thought wine and barbecue was going to be absolutely awful. But it was tolerable...it just wasn’t amazing.

Bottom Line, this is all subjective so don’t get mad at me if you really think wine and barbecue go together. If you tell yourself it does, chances are you won’t mind it. But here’s my advice if you’re going to a traditional barbecue and HAVE to bring wine: bring a wine with residual sugar in it, like the following:

Wines to bring to a barbecue

  • Riesling

  • Moscato

  • Gewurztraminer

  • Zinfandel

  • Brachetto

Break out the beer if that’s your style, because for every wine that is tolerable with barbecue, there are 5 beers that will gladly step in to accomodate those sweet and spicy flavors.

Check out the video for footage of the wine and barbecue party! Cheers!