Chocolate and Wine Pairings for Valentine's Day

Planning on indulging in some chocolate on Valentine’s Day? Make the day even more special and pair your heart full of chocolate with the perfect wine.

Chocolate and wine really is a marriage made in heaven. The process of making chocolate is very similar to wine and both cocoa beans and wine are fermented with the  same type of yeast. 


White Chocolate

White chocolate is the mildest form of chocolate. Some don’t consider it real chocolate, as cocoa butter is the primary ingredient. Good quality white chocolates are creamy and buttery and benefit from a wine that shares its sweetness like a sparkling Prosecco or Moscato d’Asti from Italy or a demi-sec champagne. Demi –sec varieties will be sweeter than a brut or extra-dry so be sure to read your wine labels.



Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate is the most popular style of chocolate. It’s versatile and offers the right balance of sweetness and creaminess without being bitter. There is a higher sugar content. This combined with its milk content, results in a mild, sweet candy with few flavors or aromas. That is why it is the preferred chocolate type for filling with strong flavors like nuts, caramel and syrup-soaked cherries.  Tanglerose Backyard Red, a blend from California, is an ideal milk chocolate pairing wine. It has a nose of dark chocolate, black fruits and cassis with some earth in the background. Supple on the palate, with some spice (black pepper over fruit) and a good overall structure.

Dark Chocolate

To be considered real dark chocolate it must contain a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. The higher the cocoa solid value, the more bitter the taste. Consider that when you pick a wine. High tannin wines may compete too much with the bitter taste of a chocolate that is 70% cocoa or more. So, choose one that has subtle tannin notes, like Traveling Vineyard’s Amped from Argentina, if you love really good dark chocolate.

The tannat grapes in Amped are sourced from Argentina’s Tulum Valley in the San Juan province. A semi-arid dessert climate, San Juan is the number two-ranked wine-growing province in Argentina, sitting at elevations ranging from 2,000 and 4,500 feet above sea level. The Tulum Valley averages about 300 days of sunlight per year, with moderately hot summers and mild winters, a combination that results in a grape that produces a medium-to-full bodied wine with notes of ripe black fruits, subtle tannins, dark chocolate, leather and anise.


How to Pair Wine with Girl Scout Cookies


February  8th is National Girl Scouts Cookie Day. While a glass of milk won’t hurt, the cookie sale you’ve been waiting all year for deserves more of a celebration. Think outside the box and reach for a bottle instead. Because, after all, there is a wine for everything. In fact, finding the perfect pairing will only enhance your cookie enjoyment.



These buttery shortbreads benefit from a lighter, sparkling wine partner. The refreshing fizz in Traveling Vineyard’s Confetti provides the crisp flavor and bubbles that make for an ideal pairing.


The perfect alternative to pricy champagne, prosecco and cava, Confetti is made from a base of Moscatel from South Africa. It’s got notes of citrus, zest and a hint of brioche that will complement shortbread perfectly.






Peanut butter and chocolate could be the culinary world’s most perfect marriage. Add a wine with the right balance of sweetness and acidity and you’ve got a trifecta that is hard to beat. Some might prefer a rich port with this cookie, but the balance of sweetness mineral richness from Calamity Sue, a Riesling from California, does this cookie right.  A good Riesling has a minerality that you can sense rather than taste and Sue delivers in the best way possible.  It really brings out the rich peanut butter flavor in the cookies, and the underlying richness of the chocolate adds another flavor layer to the whole combo.








Thin Mints

The trick here is to find a wine that won’t be overwhelmed by the minty flavor of this cookie. Heist, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, holds up perfectly to the mint and chocolate flavors. It has a hind of currant and dark chocolate on the palate, too. So, not only will Heist make a Thin Mint that much more enjoyable, the cookie will really make the flavors in the wine pop.




Again, you want something with a bit of fizz to cut through the caramel, chocolate, coconut and butter flavor of the Girl Scouts’ most popular cookie, the Samoa. Fissata provides the much-needed effervescence while adding hint sweetness and a small nutty quality that is just perfect with this cookie.


Visit Traveling Vineyard for more info on the wines  or contact me to schedule an online or in person tasting. Support your local Girl Scouts troop!



Nutellasagna Hits New York & a DIY Version: Nutella TiraMiSu Recipe

Nutella fans everywhere are freaking the f*ck out. Brooklyn's Robicelli bakery has unveiled the Nutellasagna - a dreamy dessert stuffed with cannoli cream, lasagna noodles, roasted hazelnuts and Nutella. The dessert makes its debut just in time for the holiday season. The bakery is offering  Half Trays ($65) that feed 10-15 people and Full Trays ($120), which feed 15-24, starting Monday, December 8th.

We love the idea, but honeslty, if you're Italian and an Nutella fan, you've probably created a version of this at home. My favorite lasagna-style Nutella dessert is a twist on a TiraMiSu. I add a small jar to the marscarpone mixture and layer it between lady fingers. I have also used Pan de Stelle cookies instead of lady fingers a few times, for a real chocolate treat. Allison Robicelli tops her Nutellasagna off with roasted marshmallows, which is a delicious and slighly genius touch. Here is my recipe for Nutella TiraMiSu, which you can make at home for roughly $10.



  • 3 cups brewed coffee, cooled *use decaf if you are feeding this to kids
  • 2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone
  • 1 (13-ounce) jar of Nutella at room temperature
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 14 ounces savoiardi cookies (firm ladyfingers) OR Pan de Stelle chocolate cookies
  • 4 ounces sugar, plus 2 tablespoons or more, for the coffee
  • 2 shots Nutella creme liquor  *recipe below, omit if serving to kids
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup shaved dark chocolate, to garnish


Pour your chilled coffee into a flat bowl or square shaped tupperware container.  Set aside.

Mix the egg yolks with 2 ounces sugar, until it's light and creamy.  In another bowl, mix the mascarpone with a rubber spatula until it's creamy and has no lumps. Fold 3/4 of the jar of Nutella one spoonful at a time until it is well incorporated. Add the Nutella-mascarpone mixture to the egg-sugar mix, folding until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg whites, pinch of salt, and the remaining 2 ounces sugar, until they reach a afirm and fluffy consistency. Fold the whites into the mascarpone-Nutella mixture. Add the Nutella creme liquor.

Dip the savoiardi or Pan de Stelle cookies  in the coffee, and one by one lay them flat into a 7 by 11 tray or casserole dish. Don't saturate the cookies, just dip them quickly so they absorb some of the coffee but don't lost their firmness. Spread a layer of the cream mixture on top of the first layer of cookies. Dust with a thin layer  of cocoa powder (about 1 tablespoon) and a drizzle of Nutella. Add another layer of coffee-dipped biscuits, cream, powder and Nutella. Garnish with the shaved dark chocolate.
Cover the tray with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours and up to 12. 
Nutella Creme Liqueur

3/4 cup Nutella (room temperature)
1/2 cup Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup Heavy whipping cream
2+ cups Vodka

In a medium saucepan, whisk together Nutella, sugar, and vanilla extract. Cook over medium heat, slowly adding whipping cream. Gently whisk until everything has combined into a smooth, creamy mixture.

Continue heating, whisking frequently, until it starts to simmer. Remove from heat, allow to cool down to almost room temperature.

Once mixture has cooled, whisk in vodka until well combined. Taste, add more vodka if you so desire.

Keep in fridge for up to three weeks.




A Cake Boss Thanksgiving: Buddy Valastro's family recipes

cake-bossHis cakes are stunning and so richly detailed they could easily be considered edible works of art. The Cake Boss Buddy Valastro has become a phenomenon in the pastry world, creating cakes for the likes of the NY Giants and Rachael Ray on his TLC show Cake Boss.

Needless to say , the show, which features Buddy and a cast of characters he calls his "famiglia" (some actually are his blood relatives), is a hit. The appeal in the show is that it is not just about cake, but also about family. Buddy is as passionate about his family as he is about his work and as we get closer to the holiday season, the cake boss is eager to bring his two passions together.

“When I was a kid, I would cook with my family all the time. And now, my kids cook with me,” said Buddy.

Getting kids in the kitchen is how traditions actually become traditions. “When I was a kid I would cut out the shapes for the Christmas cookies during the holidays and help my mother make meatballs for Sunday dinners. I’d watch her fry them up and she would always flatten one and put it in a crust of bread for me to eat before dinner. I loved it!

cake-boss1If you’ve seen the show, you know that now Buddy welcomes little helpers in the kitchen, too. Little Buddy, the son his longtime friend and colleague Mauro, has made several appearances on the show and if you visit the Hoboken bakery Carlo’s where the show is set, Little Buddy will probably be the one who greats you at the door.

“You’ve got to get the kids involved in the traditions so they realize how important they are. My daughter helps me make meatballs now. She gets all excited, washes her hands real clean and rolls up the meat and really gets into it. When that happens, when they get into it, they learn the recipes and techniques and you can bet they will carry those traditions and memories on with their kids. We’ve got generations of family eating those meatballs now.”

On Thanksgiving though, those meatballs will take a backseat to an oversized turkey dinner that Buddy and his family will prepare. The dinner is based on a collection of recipes from his grandmother and father. “My grandmother’s stuffing has all kinds of good, Italian ingredients in it. There is sausage, breadcrumbs, cherry tomatoes, proscuitto, mortadella. It’s like, forget about it! It’s the best.” Of course, buddy is in charge of dessert. “ I will definitely make the pumpkin and pecan pies. The pecan pie is based on a recipe my dad came up with, that I tweaked a bit and made my own.”

So when will they start cooking?

“The day before. We will stuff the turkey, tie it, and then bring it to the bakery to cook. We have a big family, so it’s a big bird.”

Buddy’s Thanksgiving Day tips:

1.Stuff the turkey the night before. “ Some people say to cook it without the stuffing because it will dry out but my grandmother always cooked it with stuffing and it was as juicy as can be, so that is how we do it now.”

2. Truss or tie the bird. That helps the bird to stay compact and tight so nothing falls out when cooking.

3. Pit a few pats of butter between the skin and meat to crate a nice, crisp skin when it cooks.

4. Baste your turkey. “Basting is important. We cook our turkey in oven in the bakery, and the oven rotates so it cooks up nice and even with no hot spots. Most people don’t have a rotating oven, so every hour or so, turn the pan about a ¼ turn and baste it nicely and it will have the same effect that our rotating oven does.”

5. If you are in charge of a dish, pick a recipe and make it your own.

“It’s great to carry on family recipes. It’s very important to honor your family, but you may want to put your own spin on one, so that one day, that is the recipe you are famous for. I love pecan pie, but it can be too sweet for me sometimes. So I took my dad’s recipe and looked at it and thought about what I could do to cut the sweetness just a bit and put my spin on it. I added some chocolate liquor and it worked. It’s to die for!”


3/4 cup Sugar

1/2 teaspoon Salt

1 cup Light Corn Syrup

1 ounce of chocolate liquor. Or substitute with 3 (1 ounce) squares of Unsweetened Chocolate, melted and cooled

3 tablespoons melted Butter or Regular Margarine

3 Eggs

1 teaspoon Vanilla

1 cup chopped Pecans

1 (9 inch) Unbaked Pie Shell


1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Combine first seven ingredients in a bowl.

3. At medium speed, with electric mixer, beat until well blended.

4. Add the pecans.

5. Pour pecan pie mixture into the unbaked pie shell.

6. Bake 35 minutes, or until set.

7. Cool on a wire rack.



2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 egg whites from large eggs

1/2 cup shortening

1 cup whole milk

2 large eggs (add egg whites for a white cake; yolks, for a yellow cake)

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick) softened

1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract

4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted (approximately 1 lb.)

2 tablespoons milk

Makes: About 3 cups of icing.

Cooking Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, shortening, milk and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Mix at low speed for 2 minutes. Scrape bowl. Add egg whites and mix at high speed until fluffy and smooth, approximately 2 minutes. Fill liners 1/2 to 2/3 full of batter. Do not overfill. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans then remove from pan, and place on wire racks to cool completely.


(Medium Consistency)

In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Keep bowl covered with a damp cloth until ready to use.

For best results, keep icing bowl in refrigerator when not in use. Refrigerated in an airtight container, this icing can be stored 2 weeks. Rewhip before using.

Check back in a few weeks on when we visit Buddy again as he hosts an all Italian feast for Christmas


SooWoo Opens in South Beach



Reviewed by: Fabiana Santana

555 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, FL
See map: Google Maps


Opening Date: Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sharing is caring, literally, at Miami's newest hotspot restaurant. SooWoo, which means sharing in Korean, is located in the heart of South Beach and is the brainchild of Seoul born Bok H. An, a 17-year restaurant vet. 12 Teppanyaki tables hold court where talented chefs show off their knife skills preparing dishes like hoisin-marinated hangar steak, scallop sashimi and live uni with white truffle. Gochoo –a Korean pancake dish with pork pepper + scallion, Bul Go Gi – thinly sliced marinated rib eye steak and the ever popular Bibimbop – assorted vegetables, egg fry and beef are some of the traditional Korean menu options. Chef Bryan Emperor  - who apprenticed in Tokyo and earned a  "Best New Restaurants" title from Esquire and Food & Wine's nod as  "The People's Best New Chef" is leading the kitchen as Head Executive Chef.  He is the Seven Sushi Samurai U.S. champion and trained at the three Michelin starred Kikunoi Honten in Kyoto, Japan.  Chef Joe Bonavita, who did time in the kitchens of Todd English, Grant Achatz and Graham Elliot, is helming the kitchen as Exec Chef and  is crafting the menu of sophisticated Japanese small plates.

Chris Hudnall, a consultant and founder of Bar Culture, puts his creative touch on the beverages taking inspiration and giving a figurative bow to Asian culture with his signature cocktail menu featuring can't miss libations like the SooWoo Bellini - a watermelon infused sparkling sake and the Tokyo Rob Roy made with, vermouth, chocolate bitters, cherry and Yamakazi 12 year whiskey (which is created with pure spring water that bubbles up from a bamboo grove).