Sips and Sweets: Garden Party!

We hosted a lovely garden party–Springtime Sips and Sweets–at Sarah’s house in Old Town, Alexandria to celebrate springtime with our girlfriends.

Here is the invitation we created using paperless post.  We loved that it looked letterpressed and highly recommend using Paperless Post for invitations; they have the cutest designs!

Sneak Peek of Our First Event!

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Colleen and Sarah Happy to Host!

 

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Garden Party Spread

The Decor

We enlisted our party planning consultant, Pinterest, to begin collecting ideas for our party. (Side note, are you following us on Pinterest?  Click here!).  We knew we wanted to incorporate a wine theme with the obvious garden theme, and found this adorable inspiration: tulips in wine glasses!  See below for our inspiration and result.  We cut the tulips down to a shorter length than we bought them, and used pipe cleaners to hold the tulips together.  Any twine or string would have worked well.

Pinspiration: Tulips in Wine Glasses!

Result: Tulips in Wine Glasses!

Result: Tulips in Wine Glasses!

We also loved the idea of using corks as place card holders:

Pinspiration: Corks as place cards/food descriptions

Result: Cork Card Holders!

We used corks we had been collecting from previous sipping nights and cut small slits into them with a sharp knife.  We bought inexpensive place cards at Michael’s craft store and voila!

Tip: We found synthetic corks and champagne corks were most durable!

Wine Cork Game

Another fun idea we found on Pinterest was a wine-inspired game.  We wanted a good way for our guests to interact.  We had our guests guess how many wine corks were in a vase.  The winner won a wine bottle topper.

After dessert, we announced the winner of the cork game. Ellen won with a lucky guess of 35! There were 36 corks and we gained even more after the party we can use for future games and decor!

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Sips, Savories, and Sweets Pairings

On to the “good stuff,” literally.  We decided to choose a white wine, Sauvignon Blanc, and a red wine, Merlot, to pair with cheese and desserts, and a sparkling wine to pair with dessert only.  To be honest, we googled around a bit to come up with our selections, choosing wines that pair well with a nice variety of items to please everyone.  Sarah went to Trader Joe’s knowing the types of wines she was looking for, but relied on the descriptions of the wines to guide her selection.

THE SIPS

The Sauvignon Blanc: Bogle, vibrant, lively, exotic flavors (yum!)

The Merlot: Red Diamond, like a diamond, it “goes with everything.”

The Sparkling: Michelle Brut, not too sweet or dry!

THE SAVORIES: Cheese!

We purchased the cheese at Trader Joes as well.

Tip: Trader Joes has incredibly priced, high quality cheeses.  In some cases, the same size package was almost half as expensive as in a regular grocery store!

Smoked Gouda paired well with the Merlot.

Parmesan- Gouda was the crowd favorite and was delicious with the crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Brie was the second favorite.  The creamy and slightly sweet brie paired with the dry Sauvignon Blanc.

Goat Cheese paired well with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Mild Cheddar went great with the Merlot.

 

Cheese platter with pairing on the back of the name card

THE SWEETS:

Strawberries with Merlot Drizzle paired with Merlot or Brut

& DIY Dirt Cake paired with Brut

Ingredients for Strawberry Merlot Drizzle adapted from Yummly.

  • 1/2 cup merlot
  • 2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsps honey
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups strawberries (sliced)

Homemade Whipped Cream

* heavy whipping cream: whip cream with mixer and add a dash of vanilla and sugar until   smooth and creamy. Be careful to not over-whip!         

Instructions:

  1. Bring merlot, lemon juice, and honey to a boil in a sauce pan over high heat.
  2. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Drizzle over sliced berries.
  3. Top with whipped cream

 

 

Strawberries with Merlot Drizzle and Whipped Cream. YUM!

Strawberries with Merlot Drizzle and Whipped Cream. YUM!

DIY Dirt Cake adapted from Lorie’s Mississippi Kitchen.

We traveled back to our childhood when brainstorming garden themed dessert ideas like Dirt Cake! We have to credit Lindsay Christians’ friend with the wine pairing for this dessert, which we found here.  Apparently a dry sparkling wine pairs perfectly with crunchy cookies and creamy filling, and we completely agree.

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups whole milk

2 small packages instant French vanilla pudding

1 stick butter, softened to room temperature

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened to room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1 (16-ounce) container non-dairy whipped topping

2 packages chocolate sandwich cookies

Assorted gummy worms

Instructions: 

Whisk the milk and pudding together in a large bowl until smooth.  Let stand five minutes.  In another large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together with a hand mixer on medium speed until fluffy.  Beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.  Add the pudding and beat until smooth.  Fold in the non-dairy whipped topping.

Crush 1 package of cookies so that there are some fine crumbs, but also some larger pieces.  There needs to be a variety. Crushing cookies is a great stress reliever!

Assemble:

We set up a DIY Station for our girlfriends to make their own dessert. We provided bowls of Oreos, Gluten-free Oreos, Pudding Mixture, and Gummy Worms. Our guests  layered the pudding and oreos to their liking in small garden pots, purchased at Michaels, then topped with gummy worms! Delicious and adorable 🙂

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DIY Dirt Cake! Brings us back to childhood!

 

Dirt Cake in Mini Flower Pot! We send some springtime cookies home with our guests too!

Dirt Cake in Mini Flower Pot!
We sent some springtime cookies home with our guests too!

 

We had a great time planning our first party and catching up with our girlfriends. We can’t wait to host again!

Happy Sipping and Sweet Making!!

xoxo, Colleen and Sarah

 

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Lovely ladies in Sarah’s Garden!

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Sips and Sweets: Pairing Couteaux Du Layon with Lemon Tart

Gorgeous cherry blossoms in DC!

Gorgeous Cherry Blossoms in DC!

The Cherry Blossoms have bloomed in DC and springtime is in the air! We decided to celebrate the first taste of spring by pairing a bottle of Couteaux Du Layon with a  delightful and refreshing lemon tart. Colleen made a trip to the local wine store, Arrowine for to find the perfect dessert wine for our pairing. A wine specialist helped choose the 2010 Domaine du Pas Saint Martin Coteaux Du Layon bottle. She said this semi- dry sweet wine would pair well with the lemon flavors in our dessert. The light lemon flavors in the wine would create a balance with the tart without being too acidic.  She had paired it with cheesecake in the past and said it is a nice wine to simply sip on. SOLD!

Sarah hosted the evening at her house providing a lovely pasta dinner and the baking ingredients.

We used a recipe we found on All Recipes called “The Best Lemon Bars.”  Can’t go wrong with a  name like that!:

INGREDIENTS:
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 lemons, juiced
DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. In a medium bowl, blend together softened butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch pan.
3. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
4. Bake for an additional 20 minutes in the preheated oven. The bars will firm up as they cool. For a festive tray, make another pan using limes instead of lemons and adding a drop of green food coloring to give a very pale green. After both pans have cooled, cut into uniform 2 inch squares and arrange in a checker board fashion.

 

A couple Sips & Sweets tips with this recipe:

Squeezing lemons: Sarah saw this trick at a Mexican restaurant once and has used it in her own kitchen ever since.  Cut the lemon in half, then use a fork to pierce the lemon while squeezing into a bowl or measuring cup.  You get more lemon juice out of the lemon than if you only squeeze.

Colleen demonstrates the lemon squeezing trick!

Colleen demonstrates the lemon squeezing trick!

When life gives you lemons make lemon tarts!

When life gives you lemons make lemon tarts!

 When pressing the crust into the pan, make sure you really press hard!  We didn’t in some places, and the bottom of the bars were crumbly and fell apart.  User error, but something to keep in mind!  They were delicious regardless, and beautiful, as demonstrated below.

Yum!

Yum!

Neither of us had ever tried Couteaux Du Layon, but we feel quite fancy adding it to our list of wines we now like!  We had to Wikipedia learned some interesting things about the wine.  Couteaux Du Layon is a region in France near the Loire Valley and Loire River, where the wine is produced.  It’s made with a Chenin Blanc grape which has a high acidity and is used to make white wine varieties from sparkling to dessert.  Couteaux Du Layon wines are never very dry, and vary in sweetness.  We added the following notes into our Bottlenotes app (sidenote: We are becoming less impressed with the Bottlenotes app as we continue using it.  It’s tough to download on some phones, and it’s difficult to retrieve notes once you’ve entered them.  The website is very helpful, though.  We may go in search of a new app soon):

  The color was bright, rich yellow, and reminded us of lemons!  We tasted honey, lemon, and vanilla.  It was light and sweet, but not too sweet, which we really liked.  It’s a sippable wine and we will definitely have it again!

The Perfect Pairing!

The Perfect Pairing!

 

We had a great time sipping, baking, and brainstorming ideas for our first Sips & Sweets Event! Here is a sneak peek of our invite 🙂

Sneak Peek of Our First Event!

Sneak Peek of Our First Event!

 

Happy Sipping and Sweet Making!!

xoxo, Colleen and Sarah

Sips: Grand Cru Wine Bar & Bistro, Arlington, VA

We both invited a close girlfriend to share in a fun girls night out at a local wine bar. Four seems to be the perfect number for a group wine tasting in an intimate setting. Often wine bars are on the smaller side, making it difficult to accommodate larger groups. It is also nice to be able to catch up with everyone equally and not have many side conversations with friends.

We selected Grand Cru Wine Bar & Bistro.  It is tucked away in a small courtyard in Ballston, a neighborhood in Arlington, VA. The wine bar was cute and inviting- perfect for a girls night or even date night!  One unique aspect of Grand Cru is that it is a wine store and a wine bar combined, so, as our waiter said, the wine list is “all around us!”  In addition to ordering a glass or a wine flight, you can select a bottle from the shelf and pay a small corking fee to drink it there in the bistro area.

Pre-Sipping

We discussed what kind of wines we prefer. Caroline brought up a good point when selecting a wine when out wining and dining. She told us she tends to look for the region of where the grape was produced. Caroline’s go-to is usually an Argentinian Malbec, but if a Malbec isn’t available she will choose another wine from Argentina. Makes sense!

We wanted to have a fun activity during girls night out, so Colleen printed out ‘A Sweet Tasting Shortcut For The Savvy Girl’ guide for the girls to use as a reference when tasting.

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What We Sipped: 

Sarah and Caroline sipped on “The Primavera” flight.

Elena Walch, Pinot Grigio,  Italy $15/bottle

The Elena Walch Pinot Grigio was fruity and light.  Strong notes of stone fruits–peaches–and some vanilla and oak flavors and smells as well.

Conti Speroni, Barbaresco, Piedmont Italy, $15/bottle

This was Caroline and Sarah’s favorite of the three.  The Conti Speroni Barbaresco was a light red wine.  Caroline and Sarah tasted plums, grass, and leather, and could easily taste the tannins.  The texture was smooth and tannic, and much lighter than we thought it would be.  We felt this was a great option for the wine drinker who doesn’t prefer white wines but wants something light in warmer weather.

Cataldi Madonna, Montelpucciano d’Abruzzo, Italy, $17/bottle

Sarah’s favorite wine while studying abroad in Italy was Montelpucciano, and the Cataldi Madonna didn’t disappoint.  It has red berry and vanilla flavors, and was just a bit sweeter than the Barbaresco.

Colleen and Christine sipped on “The World of Reds” flight.

Honestly, both Colleen and Christine found it a bit difficult to figure out what all the third selections smelled like.  We both laughed and said, “Smells like grapes!”

2008 Lomalta Crianza

The Lomalta Crianza wine was creamy and balanced. Flavors included blackberries, plum with hints of oak.

Noble Hill 1674 South Africa 2008- Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot – Petit Verdot

The wine was dry and very full in body. We tasted blackberries with hints of oak and toast.

Troublemaker California 2010 Syrah Blend

   The third selection was the favorite in this flight. The wine was smooth and medium in body. We tasted blackberries, oak, and vanilla. Colleen is a fan of Syrah and would have gladly poured a full glass.

Tips

  • Keep your group on the smaller side.
  • Check if there are any happy hour specials. We missed HH, but there were specials!
  • Check if your local wine bar takes reservations. Grand Cru gets bonus points for being able to making online reservations via their website.
  • If possible, try to have the group try different wines.  We found it worked to have two girls try the same and the other two girls try the same so there was someone to compare thoughts with!
  • Have fun!!!! Don’t take it to seriously when comparing different wines! Everyone has a unique taste.

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Happy Sipping!

xoxo, Colleen and Sarah