The following post has been a long time coming, but finally I’ve had a chance to write up the recap and share with you all!
A couple Saturday nights ago I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous event at a discounted price! The Arthritis Foundation put on the first ever CT Wine & Food Festival at The Hartford Club. Attendees could choose to attend Grand Tasting Session I in the afternoon, or Session II in the evening (that’s the one my fellow foodie friend Jeff and I went with). The venue itself was very classy, complete with a coat check and grand wooden staircases.
I’ve always wanted to go to an event like this and was so pleasantly surprised to find one in my own backyard – at an affordable price! The Arthritis Foundation did a great job in their first year holding the Festival and I can only hope it becomes an annual tradition.
While waiting for Jeff to meet me, I perused the brochure provided to each guest describing the vendors that were present for the evening and the schedule of chef demos. I started feeling very excited and overwhelmed as I turned page after page and realized I was still reading the list of vendors. I was also excited to see some familiar names!
Jeff and I didn’t want to be chaotic in our approach, so we decided to make a circle around each room so we wouldn’t miss anything. I also was hoping to do drinks first, and then food, since I rarely ever want to drink while I’m eating or after the fact. The first stop was at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, a New York winery making sangria out of their sweet Red Cat wines. The recipe was simple: Red Cat wine over ice, with a lime wedge. So delicious and easy!
I also tried a fun little science experiment at their booth. Try putting a few Godiva dark chocolate chips in your mouth, letting them chill there for about 5 seconds, and taking a sip of Hazlitt’s Bramble Berry wine. As the guy at the booth put it, I experienced a “flavor explosion”. Dark chocolate + wine = heaven! The Bramble Berry is the third bottle from the left in the photo below.
The sangria was made with the wine on the right!
I had several other specialty cocktails throughout the evening. Onyx Spirits made a drink of real CT moonshine, apple cider, nutmeg, cinnamon, and whipped cream! It was fall-fabulous. I sipped on it slowly while Jeff tried some beers, and it stayed tasty til the end thanks to the whipped cream dissolving into the beverage. Yum!
Upstairs, Hotel California Tequila made a tequila cocktail that included Godiva chocolate liquer. It was delicious, but I also couldn’t taste any tequila whatsoever. It would have been nice to know what their liquor actually tasted like!
I sipped on the best gin I’ve ever had, Bluecoat American Dry Gin on the rocks. It was unbelievably smooth with no burn whatsoever. Instead of smelling like grass, like most gins I’ve tried straight, it smelled and tasted like citrus! I loved the bottles too.
Believe it or not, I actually found a beer that I can say I liked! I can’t see myself being able to stomach a glass of it, but it was an Olde Burnside Brewing Company ale called Stone of Destiny that was nice to sip on! Low carbonation + chocolate and coffee flavors were the selling points that got me to try it – and enjoy!
I’m not a Stella drinker (my parents are), but I took a shot of this very large bottle of it because I have never seen one before – and I used to promote it at liquor stores!
There were so many wines at this event that I didn’t have room/the tolerance to try them all, but I did sip on my fair share!
I tried the Quixote red wine at this particular booth and really liked it, but there were so many wines that they all seemed the same toward the end. I can also partially attribute that sentiment to my buzz, but I do think this was a situation in which I over-tasted on wine!
Buzzed and blurry?
And what goes best with wine (aside from the dark chocolate I already mentioned)? Cheese! That’s right, bring on the…
Caseus of New Haven was sampling two delectable cheeses that Jeff and I paired with red wine from another booth. The bottom cheese of the photo was chopped too finely for my taste (I could barely pick it up with the toothpick) but it was still delicious. I really liked the top cheese in the photo the most though.
We also tried the cheese in combination with some chewy sourdough bread. And speaking of bread, more was munched on in combination with olive oils and balsamic vinegar from O’Live a Little of Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. I’ve heard so much about their store but haven’t had a chance to check it out, so doing so at this event was very convenient.
Jeff and I were given several shots – of the olive oil and balsamic variety! I was done with the alcohol shots at that point. The center balsamic vinegar in the above photo is a fig balsamic, and the one on the right was filled with flavorful herbs and was our favorite. Like I said before, there was also bread for dipping. O’Live a Little was also selling quaint gift baskets and jarred olive varieties!
Hard to tell, but that’s lasagna!
DaCapo Ristorante Italiano of Avon/Litchfield gave me a HUGE piece of lasagna – the best I’ve ever had! It was so authentic. I love my mom’s whole wheat ground turkey ricotta-less lasagna, don’t get me wrong, but this was the real stuff and it was so good. I can’t believe I drive by this place a couple of times a week whenever I go to the gym near my office, and have never noticed it!
Peppercorn’s Grill of Hartford, which Rachel and I have been meaning to attend for happy hour for a couple of weeks now, provided the above bite-sized gourmet treats. I love little tastes like this! The table provided a nice preview of what I can expect whenever I get to their happy hour. The prosciutto “sushi” was topped with sweet balsamic vinegar, and the lobster tart shells were light, flaky, and had a pleasant crunch. The lobster also tasted beyond fresh, straight out of the ocean. Honestly, it was the freshest lobster I’ve ever tasted!
What, you may wonder, is Matt Damon doing in this post? Well, nothing except not being bid on during the Festival’s silent auction. Jeff and I just thought that this autographed photo was too hilarious and random. It didn’t fit in with the gift baskets and vacation packages being auctioned off at all. Poor, lonely Matt!
I ran into my buddy Phyllis Haynes and her delicious product, Mariah’s Chow Chow Relish. I was so glad to see her, because last time we met she gave me a jar of her Hot & Spicy flavor, so I had a chance to tell her how much I have been enjoying having it on my baked potato skins! I also tried the next flavor up, Hot Hot Hot, and am happy to report that I have officially graduated to that flavor. The relish’s sweetness balances the hotness out perfectly, so that even someone like me who is sensitive to spicy foods can enjoy! Since Phyllis partners with Food Should Taste Good chips when she samples her relishes, I also finally was able to try their Sweet Potato flavor. However, the relish overpowered the chip and I didn’t get a good sense of how the it tasted. No issues with that – the relish is the star after all – but I hope to try the sweet potato chips again soon on their own!
How to-die-for does this dessert look? The Hartford Club Executive Chef Chris Kube‘s sweet, fall-inspired creations were my favorite part of the entire Wine & Food Fest! Jeff and I enjoyed chatting with Chris about his experiences exploring the restaurants of different cities he’s lived in (DC and NYC), and we pretty much lavished him with compliments as we moaned (in a good way) over his desserts.
The above item was my very, very favorite: pumpkin soup with cranberry and goat cheese biscotti. Pure pumpkin, sweet but subtle cranberries, crunchy biscotti, and savory goat cheese were an absolute match made in heaven. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten!
Throughout the evening, demos called Grand Tastings were scheduled in which various celebrity chefs whipped up some of their specialties, and then shared the results with some eager taste testers (AKA us). Jeff and I only caught a couple of these demos, but I enjoyed how they ran throughout the night so that whenever we stopped by the Grand Tasting area, there was almost always something happening or about to happen!
Chef Adam Greenberg of Barcelona – West Hartford!
The angled mirror above the demo cooking area provided every guest with a great view. Adam Greenberg of Barcelona in West Hartford whipped up some tasty scallops for us!
And for (another) dessert, Mike Elder (you may know him from TLC’s “Ultimate Cake-Off – he’s won three times!) demo-ed his cake decorating skills by showing us how he created some mice to put on top of his cheese-wedge cake!
Check out the barrel in the above photo – that’s a cake! The detail was so impressive. It’s hard to see, but in the photo, Mike is “spray-painting” one of the little mice he made to put on the other cake (pictured below).
It wouldn’t be a proper post without a photo of me awkwardly posing with food.
Check out the little mice! The cake itself, beyond the decor, was a “Wal-Mart cake” (Mike’s words, not mine). He jokingly kept telling us not to judge the taste of the cake itself for that reason! I am happy to report that Wal-Mart makes a good cake, and however sad it was to see the creation divvied up, I thoroughly enjoyed my slice.
I saved the most blog-related portion of this post for last, because it features something I’ve seen all over the place in the blog world: the Vita-Mix!
A rep in a headset whipped up several recipes for us, and I was definitely impressed by the Vitamix’s power! It’s way out of my price range, and I don’t really blend anything anyway, but I still enjoyed experiencing first-hand some food made in the blender that’s so loved by so many of my favorite bloggers!
Freshly-made peanut butter, with bananas and celery for dipping!
The PB pictured above was fab. I only got one bit of banana though, because I dropped the rest of my portion on the ground – dammit, wine! Celery was a subpar replacement for dipping, but the PB was wonderful enough that it wouldn’t matter what I was dipping into it. We also tried sorbet, a fruit smoothie, and tortilla soup! Out of everything though, my heart lay with the PB – it always wins in the end!
So there you have it: my trip to the first CT Wine & Food Festival was a great success, and I can only hope that it becomes an annual event. It looks like the Arthritis Foundation had a great turnout and raised money for their cause!
Have you ever been to a wine and food tasting? Which item that I wrote about would you most want to try?