Delicious Summer Getaways!

Whether your summer travel takes you to the ocean, the mountains or anywhere in between, making it delicious means taking full advantage of local fare and wine pairs!

Whether your summer travel takes you to the ocean, the mountains or anywhere in between, making it delicious means taking full advantage of local fare and wine pairs!

There is a currently airing television commercial that says “sometimes you find that you need a little down time to bring you back up.” Summer Get Aways aren’t just fun and relaxing, they are good for the soul. Of course, for me, it’s always about the local fare. I usually have our meals planned for any vacation even before the travel arrangements! Jeff had a pretty big birthday this spring, and my gift to him was a trip to Northern California for the US Open Golf Tournament at Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula. We love Pebble, Carmel by the Sea, the beautiful Carmel Valley and Big Sur. Years ago we spent a lot of time in this area, and I was craving a trip back and with Jeff’s birthday, the 100th Anniversary of Pebble Beach, the US Open, it just seemed serendipitous that this would be the perfect time to re-visit. And while in the neighborhood, why not spend of few days at Half Moon Bay on the way to Pebble and a few days in the wine country after the tournament? It was an amazing couple of weeks filled with fabulous food, incredible wines, celebrating with wonderful old friends, and toasting with new friends. I wanted to share our itinerary of our culinary and wine explorations along with recommendations to inspire your next trip to Northern California. Read all the way to the end for a few tips from my friend and wellness blogger, Cheryl Conklin at Wellness Central. Cheryl shares some great ways of Fitting in Self-Care and How to Feel Better with Any Schedule or Budget, including her number one tip, Get Away!

Let’s begin our adventure as we did, at Half Moon Bay!

Let’s begin our adventure as we did, at Half Moon Bay!

This beautiful stretch of Pacific Ocean located just south of San Francisco and northeast of the silicon valley is a little slice of “half moon” coastline heaven. A popular weekend getaway for Northern California city dwellers, this beautiful resort and Ritz-Carlton property offers golf, tennis, walking trails, fantastic dining all with stunning views. Fly into San Jose (SJC), an easy airport to maneuver and quickly be in your rental car and on the way to Half Moon Bay! By the way, “Do you know the way to San Jose? I’m going back to find some peace of mind…” (Vintage Burt Bacharach for the incomparable Dionne Warwick, circa 1968)

This quaint Bay Town offers a variety of culinary experiences, some with fabulous views. You simply can’t go wrong with any of the dining options at the Ritz Carlton. Navio (pictured above) and The Conservatory both offer gorgeous seaside views and fresh seafood and farmers market to table cuisine. The raw bar at the Ocean Terrace is also not to be missed. Just up the bay is Sam’s Chowder House. A waterfront seafood house with fabulous fresh seafood, salads, pastas and more, well known for their famous Lobster Rolls. And for a delicious Italian farm to table experience, visit Pasta Moon Ristorante where their passion for fresh, authentic cuisine shines through.

On to the Monterey Peninsula, as the fog rolls into Pebble Beach, making it a bit chilly for summer!

On to the Monterey Peninsula, as the fog rolls into Pebble Beach, making it a bit chilly for summer!

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After a delicious weekend of fresh bay area seafood, head south to the Monterey Bay Peninsula, one of our very favorite places in the world. Stunningly beautiful, home of the infamous 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach, the quaint and super chic Carmel By The Sea seaside village filled with art galleries, shopping, dining and so much more. The US Open was a spectacular event to attend especially since it was the 100th Anniversary of Pebble Beach. The fog rolled in however, and the air became quite misty and chilly! Our culinary itinerary included Village Corner in Carmel for a cozy al fresco breakfast by the fire pit, serving locals and tourists since 1948, an amazing Pizza Margherita at il Fornaio at the Pine Inn and who can resist the Treviso style Tiramisu for dessert? On to drinks and appetizers at Mission Ranch watching sheep graze in the meadow with Point Lobos and the Pacific as the backdrop, then dinner at another long time favorite, Casanova, in the heart of downtown Carmel, a European garden setting with contemporary & rustic cuisine and terrific wine list. Day two, you must take a drive down Pacific Coast Highway to experience Big Sur’s seaside cliffs and winding turns. For a super special culinary experience, Sierra Mar at Post Ranch Inn, situated high in the cliffs above the Pacific, is one you will never forget. The 4 course tasting menu paired with delicious wines and amazing views looking straight down some 1200 feet to the surf with floor to ceiling windows from your table is certainly not your everyday dining experience. Perhaps one of the best dishes I have ever eaten, the Abalone Appetizer (pictured below).

It’s time for the grande finale of this Northern California adventure…the wine country of Sonoma and Napa Valleys. We were treated like royalty while we tasted, paired foods and tasted again, all while enjoying the beautiful summer weather and glorious views of vineyards, mountains, gardens and we even got a little golf in! We had so many terrific experiences, I wanted to share a few of our very favorites. We began our journey at Alpha Omega Winery learning about processing and varietals with an amazing and professional (not to mention super fun!) staff of Oenologic and Viticultural professionals. Oenology, the science and study of winemaking slightly different from Viticulture, the agricultural element of vine growing and grape harvesting. Alpha Omega’s stunning Cabernet Sauvignons have received the highest acclaim including 99 points for 3 of their 2016 vintages which we were honored to have the opportunity of tasting.

Many thanks again to Kelly Carter, Director of Communications at Alpha Omega, and New York Times bestselling author! Super fun and beautiful day, not to mention magnificent wines and very special company!

The Jordan Winery Picnic Lunch at this incomparable Alexander Valley winery was simply fabulous! The food selection paired with the amazingly elegant, crisp and delicious, low alcohol Jordan Chardonnay amidst this beautiful property was incredible, then the desserts…oh my, paired with a rich and lovely low alcohol Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, silky, velvety and perfectly balanced, completed a glorious day of picnicing in Sonoma and the Alexander Valley Wine Country. We ended the day on the terrace at Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley with a casual dinner watching the sun setting over the beautiful mountain ranges.

An afternoon at the Napa Valley Classic, Duckhorn Winery, is not to be missed. With wines for every season an every event, from date night at home to special celebrations with family and friends, the Duckhorn Family of Wines can meet every need. We had the honor of tasting several wonderful Duckhorn wines starting with their light, crisp and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. Then came the parade of reds! Merlot’s from Napa Valley and Three Palms Vineyard, and lush, beautiful Cabs also from Napa Valley and Three Palms, then came The DIscussion, an amazing blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, French oak aged to perfection, this rich, complex and beautifully balanced wine is elegant, creamy and oh so delicious!

Thanks Geordy for being such a fantastic host! Dining options in both Sonoma and Napa Valley are limitless and amazing. This is truly a wine AND culinary destination, feel free to reach out for my entire list of favorites!

Photo courtesy Bistro Jeanty, Yountville, California

Photo courtesy Bistro Jeanty, Yountville, California

You can’t go wrong almost anywhere in the wine country with fresh and wonderful dining options. Everything is fresh and delicious and paired so beautifully with the areas fantastic wines. I could write an entire blog, book really, just with recommendations and information for restaurant, market and culinary experiences. A couple of our favorites to check out are Bistro Jeanty in Yountville and Mustards Grill in Napa. There is so much more to share, in another blog, another day! If you are heading to the area, please reach out. I am happy to help plan your itinerary and provide referrals and recommendations for your trip. Stay tuned for my next blog where we will pair several of my summer dishes with these and other, fantastic wines. Now it’s time to learn how important a delicious getaway really is for our soul from Cheryl Conkin who is so lovely to contribute to this week’s blog.

Photo by  Pixabay

Photo by Pixabay

Fitting in Self-Care: How to Feel Better with Any Schedule or Budget (by Cheryl Conklin)
Fitting self-care into your budget can be stressful, especially if you’re also pressed for time. Working a few new methods into your daily routine may seem overwhelming or impossible at first, but there are actually several simple things you can do to feel better. If you’re living with stress or anxiety, for example, it might be helpful to address those feelings and identify the source. Think about the types of changes you can make within your lifestyle that will help you relax, step back, and take a deep breath. Since stress can have a major effect on your body as well as your mind, it’s important to take steps to improve your overall wellness.
When you’re on a budget, it’s still possible to have fun and unwind; it just takes careful planning. You may not have the money to take a trip to Hawaii, but you could look for a destination a little closer to home and ask a friend or family member to go in on it with you. Here are a few tips on how to fit in self-care no matter what else is going on in your life.
Get Away
We all need to get away sometimes and de-stress, but being on a strict budget can often make your options feel limited. However, instead of packing up and heading to another city, state, or country, take a look around your own hometown for activities you may have missed. For example, if you live in Hilton Head, you could get away from home for a little while by renting a vacation property near one of the area’s many gorgeous beaches. If you’d like to skip the beaches and hang out in nature, Turnkey points out that Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge has 14 miles of trails just waiting to be explored, and you can easily find a nearby rental around Harbour Town. As you can probably tell, you don’t have to go very far to have a little fun!
Eat Right
Good nutrition is the cornerstone of self-care since it helps to balance both your mind and body. Eating right is all about finding healthy foods that you can work into your existing diet; this way, you won’t feel like you’re depriving yourself. Limiting those bad choices — such as refined sugars and caffeine — is also crucial. It’s important not to make big changes without consulting your doctor, especially if you are living with diabetes or another health issue. You don’t have to spend lots of money to eat healthily; there are simple ways to start that won’t blow your budget.
Unplug
It’s not always easy to unplug and get away from technology for a significant amount of time, especially if your work is done online. It’s crucial to put the gadgets and technology aside every now and then, as looking at a screen and/or sitting for several hours a day is bad for your mental and physical health. If you find it hard to get away during the day, start in small increments. Rather than taking a long break, begin with shorter moments at night by putting your phone away a half hour before bed. Not only will this help you relax, destress, and turn off the constant flow of information, but it might also help you sleep.
Take Up a Hobby
Finding a hobby is a great way to boost your mental health, and it can have a positive effect on your physical health as well, depending on what it is. Whether you want to learn how to paint or how to speak a new language, there are many things you can do to boost your enjoyment of life and your overall well-being at the same time. Try a free smartphone app or a YouTube tutorial when you want to learn something new.
Fitting self-care into your budget can often feel extremely tricky, but it’s not impossible. With a few small changes to your lifestyle and some creative thinking, you can turn things around immediately and start enjoying all those healthy benefits.
-Cheryl Conklin (wellnesscentral.info)

Many thanks Cheryl for these awesome recommendations! Stay tuned for more of the wine country with menus, recipes and wine pairings coming next week. Until next time…

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It's Grilling Season!

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Finally right?! Time to fire up the Barbie and get the table set out doors for summertime alfresco dining! Longer days and mild spring weather make for perfect al fresco dining and fresh, healthy and delicious meals right off the grill and just in time for Memorial Day Weekend celebrations! Whether you are Green Egg, Infrared Gas or traditional Weber Charcoal Grill Meister, we’ve got you covered with Fun & Simple menu ideas from grilled shrimp cocktail to slow roasted pulled pork shoulder, citrus glazed salmon to grilled corn on the cob.  And who can resist fresh grilled fruits for dessert?  When it comes to table dressing, I prefer a simple but elegant table.  Themed table clothes are fun with simple, clean white flowers and linens and some fun accents.  In our neck of the woods that might include palm fronds or sea grape leaves.  Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs always make nice table accents.  In the summer I love using lemons, limes and oranges for color with white table linens on top of sea grape leaves or in different shaped white bowls.  I do like using plates and flatware (rather than paper or plastic) but I do often use nice paper napkins, especially if the menu options are going to be deliciously messy! I don’t often let Jeff in the kitchen, but when it comes to grilling, he is my chef du jour! I do the prep, and he cooks everything beautifully!  Not only does the grill bring unique flavor to foods, it sure makes for easy clean up and who doesn’t enjoy eating outdoors whenever possible.  With Memorial Day and summer weekends approaching, having some new dishes to share with friends and family are not only a must, it’s just super fun!

Here is one of my favorite menus, straight from Fun & Simple Gourmet!  This steak is so tender, juicy and flavorful.  I’ve prepared the recipe for Steak Victor with flank steak and ribeye, both are equally as delicious.  Whether a special summer holiday, or just another weekend of summer fun with friends and family, this menu offers a different twist to traditional burgers and dogs but no more difficult to prepare.  Grilled shrimp cocktail, marinated flank (or ribeye) steak, tangy Mediterranean potato salad, grilled corn on the cob, finished with a delicious fruit crumble.  I like to serve a slightly chilled Pinot Noir from California with it’s fruity, earthy aroma and delicate flavor that does not overpower food with this menu.  Ribeye and butcher cuts of meat, like flank steak and hanger steak, pair very well with fruity younger reds.  A younger Cabernet Sauvignon would pair beautifully as well.  Grilling corn is so simple and adds texture and flavor as opposed to simply boiling it. Plus, if you are going to be on the grill anyway, so easy to just throw the corn on there too!  Just pull the husk back from each ear, far enough to remove the silk, but do not remove entirely.  Remove silk from the corn and rinse thoroughly.  Roll the husks back to the top of each ear and soak in a large bowl of cold water, 5-10 minutes.  Heat grill to medium high and lay the corn in its husk directly on the grates of the grill.  Cook 15-20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, until the corn is steamed through.  Remove husks and serve with herbed butter.  If you’d like the grill marks on the corn, simply place back on the grill after removing the husk and sear on all sides 1-2 minutes.

More options for fresh from the Barbie dining! Enjoy these menu suggestions, signature dishes and wine pairing recommendations to complete any al fresco menu in spectacular fashion.

One of my favorite grilled vegetables is this tangy Grilled Bok Choy.  It’s fresh and flavorful with a little kick in the sauce.  It compliments the Grilled Citrus Salmon beautifully with it’s sweet and tangy glaze.  And who doesn’t love pizza?  This Grilled Margherita is so fresh and delicious.  I love doing pizzas on the grill and when tomatoes are in season, this is my absolute favorite!  The crust cooks so well on the grill which also adds beautiful charred flavor and crispiness.  With fresh bufala mozarrella, parmigiano-reggiano and fresh julienned basil leaves, without a doubt one of the best grilled pizzas you will ever taste.  And of course, everyone loves a pulled pork sandwich with sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, crunchy cole slaw and ooey, gooey mac and cheese!  The pulled pork can be oven roasted of course, but a slow roast on the grill adds so much flavor with charcoal or wood chips, the trick is keeping the temperature inside the grill between 225-250 degrees.  When we are invited to a BBQ at someone else’s house, they always ask me to bring the Mac & Cheese and one of my fruit crumbles.  Click here for the Mac recipe, you will want to bring it to your next neighborhood BBQ!

Now, let’s talk about wine pairings.

For the Salmon…

I am partial to a chilled Rose’ it just screams summer! One of my favorite’s from California, the Decoy Rose’ a lovely blend of Syrah and Pinot Noir, crisp, dry and refreshing. It is also a welcome option for the tangy pork barbecue, though a smoky Pinot Noir, slightly chilled, is another great choice.

For the Steak Victor & Pork BBQ…

I highly recommend the Decoy Sonoma County Pinot Noir, with soft tannins and a hint of oak, which gives that smoky note, the perfect compliment to barbecue sauce.

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So, now you have everything you need to prepare a Fun & Simple Memorial Day Celebration! Wishing you a fabulous holiday weekend and even better summer! Stay tuned for more super summer meal planning & entertaining ideas, along with fun summer trip recommendations and travel tips. Now, go fire up the Barbie and get this weekend party started!

Happy Memorial Day…

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Spring into Lighter Fare with these Fresh Spring Dishes & Wine Pairings

Ah, the joys of spring, spring showers, spring flowers, spring vegetables, spring pollen, well maybe not that one, and spring cleaning. Spring symbolizes new life, and rejuvenation, our senses become alive again with the scents of spring and longer days allow us to spend more time enjoying evenings outdoors and al fresco dining. March is one of my favorite months of the year. I love the warmer temperatures during the day, but still cool enough for a sweater or jacket in the evening, and the occasional spring shower, that makes everything green, fresh and bright! There’s nothing like the fresh clean scent of a spring shower.

Of course, for me, the newness of spring is all about the food. Spring is a great time to lighten things up with a more delicate fare after the hearty dishes of winter. I love cooking with fresh spring vegetables this time of year, sweet peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, asparagus, leeks, butter lettuces, fennel and arugula. Fresh herb pestos are also a great way to add depth to lighter dishes with a fresh spring flavor. Spring is also a fun time to explore new lighter wine varietals after the hearty dishes and more robust wines of winter. Spring salads, soups, entrées and wines feel somehow energizing and new. Here are some of my favorite spring wines paired with my fun & simple spring dishes like this month’s featured recipe on my Recipe Page, Spaghetti with Wilted Greens in a light and velvety sauce.

This spring try a light Sauvignon Blanc, which is produced from a green skinned grape originally from the Bordeaux region (France) though now grown just about everywhere wine grapes are cultivated. It produces a crisp, light bodied and fresh flavor, which makes for a perfect pairing with the fresh flavors of spring vegetables. In fact, a well-aged Sauvignon Blanc is said to develop aromas of spring vegetables like asparagus and peas as it ages.  One of my favorites is Decoy Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc from California.

 Another wonderful spring wine is Sancerre from the Loire River Valley.  Sancerre is similar to  Sauvignon Blanc, in fact it is a member of the Sauvignon Blanc family. Sancerre is produced in the Loire Valley, specifically the left bank of the Loire River. It’s medium bodied due to the minerals in the soil, yet delicate, floral and mildly acidic and pairs perfectly with goat cheeses, rich creamy bries, grilled fish, shellfish and chicken. 

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Pan Seared Halibut with Risotto Primavera & Sweet Pea Pesto, a delightfully mild fish, pan seared to crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside with creamy risotto and fresh pea pesto. Perfectly paired with a Sancerre from the Loire River Valley  with its floral mild acidity is a perfect balance with this mild and flaky fish, the complex flavors of the pesto and creaminess of the risotto. I’ve never met a Sancerre I didn’t thoroughly enjoy like the Domaine Fournier Les Belles Vignes.

Shrimp Provencal, shown above served with angel hair pasta, with fresh grilled shrimp in a luscious Provencal sauce and sweet pea & basil pesto, pairs perfectly with the Sancerre, though the versatility of this dish also pairs nicely with a Rose’ from Provence or even a nice chilled Pinot Noir.

The complex flavors of the Provence sauce including, fennel, garlic, lemon, tomato, capers and olives are perfect for the medium bodied Sancerre or the pale colored Grenache based Rose’s of the Provence with their notes of citrus and melon, crisp and light, usually produced with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault grapes. There are so many great ones! One of my favorites, Aix, a crisp and light wine with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. A few more of my favorite spring dishes…

Sweet Pea & Proscuitto Salad with Romaine, Butter Lettuce, Shaved Parmigiano & Proscuitto, a well rounded side salad to compliment any spring dish. Asparagus & Leek Soup, fresh, green, soothing and healthy! Paired with a crisp light Sauvignon Blanc.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint/Basil Pesto, succulent lamb chops with a fresh minty pesto, paired perfectly with a nice California Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend.  The rich earthiness of the lamb balanced with the fresh pesto calls for a bold red wine that’s not too heavy. One of my favorite blends is the Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and oaky yet perfectly balanced with the robustness of the Cabernet grape and lighter fruitiness of the Merlot.

Enjoy these Spring Wine Pairings and Fresh Fun & Simple Spring Recipes! Remember to send me your photos of my dishes and tag them #gigistyle #funandsimple to be featured! If you haven’t already, don’t forget to download “Fun & Simple Gourmet” at iTunes (click here) for your Apple devices. You can also order your hard copy edition here or at Amazon.com!

Wishing you all the joys of spring!

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Some of my favorite Wine Tools to help you enjoy exploring Spring Wines!

A Merry Merry Holiday Menu

Everyone has been asking me what I’m preparing for our holiday celebrations this year, so I decided to share my menus. The one thing that I always talk about is planning. Being organized isn’t just a good idea, it makes serving a holiday feast, or entertaining a crowd so easy! It doesn’t have to be difficult or daunting, it is meant to be fun, especially for the cook! And, don’t be afraid to let guests bring a dish if they offer, whether it’s an appetizer, side dish or dessert, it never hurts to have a little help and it saves room in your kitchen while you focus on preparing the main dishes. My favorite thing about the holidays is the cooking, so, I will do a big holiday dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Call me crazy I know, but I really do love doing it. Here’s a preview of this year’s Christmas Eve dinner which always includes a pasta dish, this year Fettuccine with Brown Butter & Sage, Toasted Hazelnuts finished with Hazelnut Pesto.

I usually start 2-3 days in advance of the holiday just getting little things together to save time the day of. Desserts usually come first. My fig cake is moist and can be baked at least 2 days in advance. The glaze can also be prepared 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator, then just spooned over the cake the morning of. And this rich and delicious Pecan Tart can also be prepared a day or 2 in advance. Just store in the refrigerator until the morning of, and bring it out to room temperature before serving.  There’s nothing wrong with re-heating slightly it in the microwave just before serving to bring back the fresh from the oven ooey gooeyness!

The day before is perfect for making salad dressing, cooking side vegetables and potatoes, like mashed potatoes that can easily be reheated in the microwave while the meat is resting, just be sure to bring back to room temperature before re-heating.  Haricots Vert can be blanched the day before, and then heated through in a sauté pan with unsalted butter.  The shallots and fennel can be roasted early the morning of and just left at room temperature until added to the sauté with the beans. These are both staple sides on my Christmas Day Holiday Table.

And, it woudn’t be Christmas without Jeff’s favorite Coconut Creme Cupcakes! His favorite special occasion dessert, so he gets them twice a year, Christmas Day and his birthday.

Coconut Creme Cupcakes

Coconut Creme Cupcakes

That’s it! Fun & Simple yet elegant and delicious. That’s my kind of holiday! Wishing you and you’re a  most wonderful and delicious holiday season and safe, happy and healthy new year!

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Here are some of my favorite tools of the trade for preparing these dishes perfectly every time!







5 Things You Need to Know About Incredible Edible Peanuts!

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I had the pleasure and honor of spending a few days with a group of super talented and amazing food professionals, for Peanut Tour 2018 hosted by the Georgia Peanut Commission and Southern Peanut Growers. Planned perfectly for harvest season, we were able to experience a harvest, first hand, from the fields to the buying facility, to shelling, blanching and distribution. I must say, I was astounded by the true science of farming and the agricultural research being tested and developed for the next generation of food products, here, by the University of Georgia Food Science and Engineering Departments, to make our food healthier, safer, more sustainable and better for the environment. In addition, this research helps to safely and efficiently increase yield to feed our growing global population. Because of DNA technology, scientists at UGA are developing peanuts that are healthier and more cost effective, reducing the need for pesticides and increasing yield, also known as Genomics…pretty cool stuff! More on those 5 essential things to know about peanuts after some fun talk about our adventure!

Our journey began in Atlanta, where our fabulous hosts from the Georgia Peanut Commission, Joy Crosby and Whitney Brannen, Leslie Wagner, Southern Peanut Growers and Trista Cady of FLM Harvest, treated us to a fabulous dinner at King & Duke in the heart of Buckhead. This gem, named after characters in Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” features a 24-foot open hearth right in the middle of the restaurant. Chef Hodgkinson and his amazing staff prepared a tasting dinner for this group of foodies fit for kings, or queens as the case may be, since our fabulous, self named, #peanutgang, was all women, incredible women, featuring 2 nutritional PhD’s, award winning chefs, a culinary arts professor, food industry writers & bloggers and food television personalities. Combined with our wonderful hosts, this was a #girlpower journey not to be reckoned with!

The Peanut Gang featuring South Georgia Peanut Farmer David Reed

The Peanut Gang featuring South Georgia Peanut Farmer David Reed

The next morning we were off to the UGA Food Science Lab to learn all about what they are cooking up, literally! Product testing and development is there expertise, we were even “tested” ourselves in the Sensory Lab, with a taste comparison study of a new nutritional drink the scientists are developing for nutritional enhancement in underdeveloped countries.   

Then we were off to The Whistle Stop Café, of Fried Green Tomatoes fame (circa 1991, Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, directed by John Avnet) for a southern hospitality lunch of fried green tomatoes, of course, and other down home southern favs.

After an overly satisfying lunch, we continued to head southeast to the Georgia Peanut Belt to experience the harvest, first hand, with David Reed and his family on their amazing farm. David took us through the very technical process of the harvest. BTW, these aren’t your grandfather’s tractors! Today’s farmer uses GPS guided equipment that tracks the exact location of the peanuts, for precision harvesting. This science of farming, called “Precision Agriculture,” is optimal for the most efficient production. Soil moisture levels can be monitored on a farmer’s cell phone and irrigation can be controlled by the touch of a button from your phone! How crazy is that?

We were hosted that evening at the family farm and cabin of Armond and Brenda Morris for a most special dinner on their beautiful property. Armond is the Chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission and he and Brenda were the most gracious hosts, telling stories of their family and farm, opening their home to us, truly a very special evening. The next morning we started our day by visiting UGA’s Water, Energy and People Efficient Model Home that was built right on the Tifton Campus. It is surrounded by an edible landscape and is a net-zero energy and water lab home that students helped design and build, and, a few very fortunate grad students actually live in. Net zero energy uses 70% less energy than most new homes combining solar and geo-thermal energy. In fact, it is possible that the home creates more energy than it actually uses during certain times of the year, sending the excess back to the power plant. Wouldn’t it be great to get a credit back from the power company every month rather than paying a bill!

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The edible landscape includes peanuts, bananas, other fruits, vegetables and herbs developed by plant breeding teams, designed to be beautiful and functional. Like frost tolerant citrus fruits, with improved genetics, creating efficiency of water and energy and flavorful nutritious plants that are perfectly adapted with the environment around them. So cool…     

Next we visited the National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory (NESPAL) at UGA Tifton Campus. The DNA testing lab here was by far the most intriguing part of this journey for me. Here scientists slice and test plant DNA to breed hybrid peanuts to be healthier and self protective, decreasing the need for pesticides, lowering cost, increasing yield and continuing to perfect the plant for optimum nutrition and environmental benefit. DNA of a peanut…are you kidding? When I say these scientists, are so incredibly brilliant, I am not even close to describing the remarkable work they are doing.

Did I mention that the peanut is the ONLY plant that flowers above the soil, but fruits below. Here you see Scientist Juliet Chu pointing out the fruit (peanut) below the soil of the yellow flower above. The Georgia Peanut Commission helps to fund these research programs under the Commodities Promotion Act, through a small assessment on the producers and the information that they receive is priceless. Now, on to the actual processing. So we experienced the harvest, now those peanuts are taken to a registered buying point where they are cleaned, inspected by the USDA and purchased by a Shelling Plant. There the peanuts are further cleaned, shelled, blanched, sorted, sold and packaged for shipment to a production facility or storage. The peanuts are processed by very high tech machinery, gone are the days of human hands cleaning and sorting peanuts! I was most impressed by the number of times the peanuts are cleaned and inspected throughout this process. They have this gig down to a “science!”  Also impressive is that every part of the peanut is utilized, after the shells and husks are removed they are packaged separately along with small broken pieces to be used for feed and fertilizer making them 100% sustainable!

On our final day, we were hosted for another fantastic lunch at the Georgia Peanut Commission with sensational speaker, Casey Cox, a young sixth generation farmer who came back home to manage her family farm after graduating from college. Casey is an amazing young woman, committed to preserving the integrity, efficiency and water conservation of her family farm, through science and technology. Check out this video short featuring Casey and her work.

Our final evening was spent reflecting on our experience and enjoying a fabulous farm to table dinner at The Local Kitchen & Bar, in Tifton where all of the food is sourced from local producers. The food was fresh and beautifully presented, not to mention superbly delicious, especially the peanut soup appetizer!  The perfect farewell dinner for this group of enthusiastic foodies! Jeff came to join in the fun for our farewell, and to save me from the impending hurricane. He fit right in with the #peanutgang, read everyone’s palms, including a texted photograph of one of our peanut gal’s fiancé’s hand, Jeff approved!

Back to that list of 5 Essential Things to Know About Peanuts!

 1.     Peanuts are not NUTS at all! They are legumes and even more surprising, the ONLY plant that flowers above the soil but fruits below!

 2.     Runner peanuts make my favorite thing…peanut butter! Runners are grown primarily in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. They are used in peanut butter because of their strong peanut taste and uniformity in size, for even roasting. One acre of these little legumes will make 30,000 PBJ sandwiches!

 3.     Peanuts don’t need to be fertilized because of their natural ability to take nitrogen from the air and ground.  This is also important in crop rotation, peanuts will leave some nitrogen and replenish the nutrients in the ground for other crops.

 4.     Health benefits of these incredible edible legumes are seemingly endless.  Peanuts are used in nutritional sustenance products for developing countries to help prevent starvation and nutritional deficiencies, in products that actually taste good. A great source of Biotin, full of heart healthy monounsaturated fats associated with reduced cardiovascular risk, antioxidants similar to those found in red wine (resveratrol) that neutralize free radicals and lower risk of cancer, while increasing blood flow in the brain reducing risk of stroke, and packed with essential minerals like copper, which can lower harmful LDL cholesterol and Omega-6, not to mention high in protein and fiber, making peanuts the perfect go to snack every day!

 5.    Peanuts are now being used to produce other food products like plant-based milk, ice cream mixes, pancake mix and even pasta! They are not just for snacking, candy and peanut butter anymore!

I have always made peanuts, mostly peanut butter, part of my daily diet routine. I am even more committed to peanuts after learning so much more about their super healthy properties and environmental benefits. Who would have thought that my daily PBJ was so healthy! I have truly Gone Nuts for Peanuts!

But, what I was most taken by on this journey, was the hearts of the people in South Georgia, a wonderful community of giving and caring farmers and their families, who all look out for one another and their environment. Who would have dreamed, that on our final day of Peanut Tour 2018, we would be racing out of South Georgia to get ahead of the storm that was about to slam the coast of Northwest Florida and make its path directly over the farms and homes of those here in South Georgia whom we had just become so fond of. Hurricane Michael was devastating to the coast of NW Florida, and to the farmers of South Georgia, who lost most of their cotton crop, and remaining peanuts that had not as yet been harvested. Thank goodness for their safety, though our hearts are heavy with the loss of their crop during what was to be a bountiful harvest. This community, no doubt, approached the storm, the way we experienced they approach life, by helping each other, giving to their community and their environment and being the gracious and welcoming hosts they were to us during this amazing adventure.

May I add that experiencing this journey with the #peanutgang, Amy Casey, Personal Chef & Food Writer, Elieke Demmer, PhD, Scientific Affairs Manager, RXBAR, Lisa Dorfman, PhD, Nutritionist & Culinary Consultant, Patricia Howard, Acclaimed NYC Private Chef and Caterer, Melinda McIsaac, Chef Instructor, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts, Roberta Pipito, Award Winning Chef & TV Personality, and Rachel Quenzer, Owner & Founder, The Everyday Mom Life and long time food industry professional, was one of the most memorable and best times of my life, including a super great impromptu bridal shower for Elieke, who is preparing for her nuptials in just a couple of weeks. We will be forever bonded as the #peanutgang, #peanuttour2018!

Thank you ladies for the camaraderie and the laughs, it was truly phenomenal! 

The Peanut Gang with Brenda and Armond Morris at their lovely Farm and Cabin

The Peanut Gang with Brenda and Armond Morris at their lovely Farm and Cabin

And to our outstanding hosts, Joy, Whitney, Leslie and Trista, this experience couldn’t have been more perfect, except for the arrival of Hurricane Michael after our departure. You truly outdid yourselves with hospitality and kindness, and I know I can speak for the entire #peanutgang when I say that we are truly grateful for being included in this spectacular event.

Farming is what food is all about, at least that’s where it all begins. Here are some of my favorite peanut recipes, all super delicious and healthy! Give them a try, I know you will enjoy! Don’t forget to send me your photos and share your new knowledge of everything peanuts!

In the meantime…

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It's Pumpkin Month!

Gingered Pumpkin Muffins with Dark Chocolate Glaze

Gingered Pumpkin Muffins with Dark Chocolate Glaze

It's time to transition into fall! I love the flavors of fall, especially pumpkin! This time of year, I use pumpkin in everything, from breakfast muffins to salads, soups, pastas and desserts. Sweet, savory and everything in between, there is nothing better than the taste of pumpkin to get you in the mood for fall weather and flavors. Whether you are serving these delicious muffins for breakfast or dessert, the warm aromatics will have you at first bite! Filled with pumpkin spices and ginger then drizzled with soothing dark chocolate, just one of these little delights will never be enough! Stay tuned for lots of wonderful pumpkin recipes coming up in the next few weeks. Not to worry, when it comes to fun & simple menu planning, you are at the right place. My simple and elegant recipes will save you time in the kitchen so you can enjoy healthy eating with your family and friends. #HealthyLifestyle #FunandSimple This week's feature, Gingered Pumpkin Muffins with dark chocolate glaze. (simply click on the photo for the recipe) Early fall comfort food at its best! You will find many of my favorite recipes in my new lifestyle cookbook!

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Stay tuned for lots more about pumpkin and many more fun and simple pumpkin recipes. I hope you are enjoying your fall flavors and activities. Send me your photos and stories and don’t forget to share my recipes with your friends and family! Until next time…

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A Delicious Late Summer Surprise

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Where did summer go? I don’t know about you, but didn’t this one seem especially fast? The highlight for me was my birthday weekend when Jeff surprised me with a wonderful birthday dinner celebration in a spectacular wine cellar. I knew he was up to something, but would never let on and spoil his surprise, of course.  We spent the night before at the wonderfully chic Perry Lane Hotel in Savannah, Georgia enjoying the day in the city and the rooftop terrace at the hotel.

Then, when I arrived at the venue for dinner, I was be greeted by 20 of our closest friends…surprise right! But that wasn’t even close to being the real surprise. As I was seated at the table and read the beautifully crafted menu for the evening, I noticed something super special, the menu was comprised entirely of dishes from my new book! In honor of the launch this month, Jeff had arranged with the chef to prepare the evening’s event with an appetizer, a choice of 3 entrée’s and dessert all from Fun & Simple Gourmet. Needless to say, I was more than surprised, speechless in fact (which is not easy for me…ha!) and so touched that Jeff arranged such a special evening with our dearest friends.  Chef Nick at the South Carolina Yacht Club was so gracious and prepared the dishes perfectly, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food, incredible wines and beautiful evening in this magical setting.

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I thought it would be fun to share the menu Jeff and Chef Nick selected as well as the recipes, all from Fun & Simple Gourmet. Now available here on the website, Amazon and select independent book stores and kitchen shops. (Click on the photos for these recipes!)    

It’s hard to believe we are already into our normal back to school routines, shorter days and fall flavors. I love cooking in the fall and now ready for the temperatures to become a little cooler, it sure still feels like summer! Enjoy your last days of summer weather and in the meantime…

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With Chef Nick in the Wine Cellar at the beautiful South Carolina Yacht Club. Chef and his staff were amazing with every detail for our very special evening. I was so honored to have Chef Nick prepare my dishes from Fun & Simple Gourmet. Everything was superb! Many thanks Chef!

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Just Peachy Recipes for National Eat A Peach Week!

Peach Amaretto Crisp

Peach Amaretto Crisp

In honor of National Eat A Peach Day this week, I thought I would share some of my favorite sweet and savory peach dishes this week. I have had a wonderful summer in the kitchen creating new fun and simple recipes with all of the wonderful fresh summer fruits and vegetables, especially peaches.  They have been so incredibly delicious this year, and I have had so much fun with my favorite stone fruit. From peach waffles to a rich and hearty Bolognese, fresh salads, appetizers and desserts, so many delicious options for enjoying fresh summer peaches while they last.  I am thrilled to share a few of my favorites with you to enjoy with your family. Don’t forget to share and send me your photos!

I hope you are having a super fun National Eat a Peach Week! Time to pack in lots of summer fun during these last few weeks left before fall is upon us. What are your late summer plans? We have been enjoying the cool Colorado Rockies this month, especially the fabulous local farmers markets and fresh and delicious Palisades peaches while escaping the August heat and humidity on the southeast coast. Summer sure is going by quickly! Hope you enjoy these fun and simple peach recipes while savoring these last days of summer...In the meantime,

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Super fun birthday lunch at Sweet Basil, Vail

Super fun birthday lunch at Sweet Basil, Vail

You will find lots of my favorite recipes in my new lifestyle cookbook. Pre-order yours today!

Celebrating Lobster Season with 5 Fabulous Fun & Simple Lobster Dishes

Warm Water Lobster Tails

Warm Water Lobster Tails

August marks the beginning of warm water lobster season in the waters of south Florida and the Caribbean. I am a bit partial to warm water lobster, which are known for their lighter flavor and tender meat, as compared to cold water lobster.  Also found in the waters of the Mediterranean and Asia, warm water, or “spiny lobster” have a long tail and head similar to that of their cold water distant cousins, but they do not have claws, rather long spiny antennae.  I say distant because although both varieties are crustaceans, they are actually from different species and families.

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The only edible meat of the spiny lobster is in its tail, tender, juicy and very sweet. That being said, there is something very special about the claw meat of a cold water lobster, but my heart belongs to the mild and tender meat of the warm water lobster tail.  Though cold water lobsters are harvested year round off the northern coastline of the United States and Nova Scotia, summer is considered lobster season. Warm water lobster season is August 1 – March 31, giving time in the spring for mating season and reproduction.

We have wintered in Nassau, Bahamas for over 20 years and consume a lot of lobster while we are there! It is fresh, abundant and is so simple to be prepared and in so many ways! I serve lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner, in appetizers and salads, and our continuous flow of house guests are always excited about which dishes they will experience during their visit.  Here are some of my favorites!

Simply click on the photos for the recipes!

There is just something decadent about Lobster, but it is truly so simple to prepare. I hope you will try some of my favorites and don't forget to share! Please send me photos of your favorites! I can't believe we are already in August. Enjoy these last weeks of your summer and...

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My new lifestyle cookbook,    Fun & Simple Gourmet ,   is launching September 1st! Filled with my favorite fun and simple recipes for your healthy gourmet lifestyle! Don't forget to   Pre-Order   your copy today!

My new lifestyle cookbook, Fun & Simple Gourmet, is launching September 1st! Filled with my favorite fun and simple recipes for your healthy gourmet lifestyle! Don't forget to Pre-Order your copy today!

Tasteful Holiday Sides

I love my Le Creuset! It makes holiday cooking easy, fun and colorful!

I love my Le Creuset! It makes holiday cooking easy, fun and colorful!

So, let's make this Thanksgiving thing simple and fun! For me, it's all about the sides and the beauty is that most can be prepared in advance, and then just heated through when its time to serve. Really, once you get the bird in the oven, there is time to get everything else together AND spend time with your family, friends and guests and really ENJOY the day! I love being in the kitchen, and holidays having other people in the kitchen with me, enjoying a beverage, snacking, telling stories, laughing and just having fun! I like having a few appetizer snack plates available as the guests arrive.  Not too much food, in anticipation of a holiday feast, but a few light snacks. I also like to keep the "feast" simple. There is no need for so many dishes on a holiday table, keep it simple, fresh and remember, it's really about the company and the celebration!

My favorite part of a Thanksgiving meal is the sides. I like to go with a theme, and then select sides that compliment each other. This year, there is such an abundance of fresh figs, I put together a rustic Thanksgiving menu for us utilizing these sweet little gems, along with my standard staples, like my Ciabatta Cornbread Stuffing (Jeff's favorite) and Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce

I know I said that the sides were my favorite part of Thanksgiving, but I am a big fan of a bite of something sweet to make a festive meal complete! This year for us, my Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake, Georgia Pecan Tart and a moist and delicious Fig Cake with ginger, walnuts and a lemon scented glaze. Please reach out for more recipes, I'd love to hear from you!

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Now, let's talk about wine pairings. We always begin with champagne, it's just a wonderful way to start a celebration. When it comes to pairing wine with a holiday meal, especially with turkey, I like a nice medium bodied Merlot. With its easy tannins and soft finish, Merlot doesn't overpower food, making a fabulous pairing with a holiday meal that usually has many diverse flavors. One of our favorites is this lovely Duckhorn Merlot, comprised of 90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc, aged in 100% French Oak barrels.   

 

Wishing you and yours a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We have so much to be thankful for! Cheers to good health, much happiness and a simply delicious holiday celebration! 

Can you believe Christmas is literally 5 weeks away! Stay tuned for delicious food and wine pairings to get you through the holiday season! Until then...

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