If you’ve ever watched Food Network, you know exactly who Alex Guarnaschelli is. She’s an icon, the executive chef at the NYC institution Butter, a regular judge on Chopped, and an Iron Chef–one of the highest distinctions given in the culinary industry. Talk about being a force to be reckoned with. We had the pleasure of not only hosting Alex at Newsette HQ, but also tasting her and Chef Michael’s (an extremely talented chef in his own right, who has won Chopped and is a chef at Butter) food. And, of course, the special occasion was made infinitely better thanks to some incredible Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi wine. Below, the Iron Chef answers questions about how she achieved huge success, Thanksgiving hacks, tips to cooking with wine, and more. As a bonus, keep scrolling to find all of the recipes Alex and Michael cooked up, each featuring Woodbridge. These delicious dishes are truly the perfect additions to your holiday celebrations (PS: the hot chocolate was the best I’ve ever tasted).

Newsette: You have over a million combined social media followers. How do you use these platforms to connect with your fans?

Alex Guarnaschelli: I use Twitter as a one-on-one platform for dialogue about food and whatever else comes up. Mostly food. People need to know a hotdog is a sandwich, and that you can make a delicious white hot chocolate with red wine caramel. These are the things I share.

Newsette: Where do you find the best produce in NYC?

AG: I generally buy a lot of produce from the Union Square Farmers’ Market. Right now, I’m buying grapes, apples, pears, and berries. I take my daughter.

Newsette: Does your daughter enjoy cooking as well?

AG: Yes. She loves food. I don’t want her to be a chef, so of course she wants to be one.

Newsette: Why don’t you want her to be a chef?

AG: I don’t think you ever want your kid to do what you do. I’ve missed a lot of meals and other moments, because cooking is very time-consuming.

Newsette: We have some delicious Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi here today. What are your tips for cooking with wine? 

AG: I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that you can cook the alcohol out of a dish–you never can, and that’s not a bad thing, but something to know. It also means you’ll never cook the flavor out of it, which is great.

I like to cook the wine by itself first. For example, I would let this Chardonnay gently simmer before adding anything else. You smooth the texture and the edges of the wine a bit by cooking it. If you use Woodbridge in your meals this holiday season, open it up, let it breath. Secretly have a glass when no one’s around. Use it in your dish, then serve the same wine you cooked with to your guests. This way, you lose the anxiety of wine-pairing. Because these are good wines at an affordable price point, so they’re perfect to serve during a gathering, especially since you already spend a lot of money during the holidays. If you’re cooking with it, put a bottle on the table. There’s a comfort that the meal has a 360 feeling to it, since you have the wine both by itself and in the dish.

Newsette: The recipes you and Chef Michael cooked for our team–all featuring Woodbridge–are phenomenal. Why did you chose these dishes, and what are your overall tips to crafting the perfect Thanksgiving menu? 

AG: These recipes are great to make in advance. A big mistake people make for the holidays is not balancing the menu. I always say go 40% oven and 60% stove top with your dishes so you’re not waiting for the oven all day.

To have a successful Thanksgiving menu, you have to have at least one centerpiece vegetarian dish, because there’s already a lot of meat. You also have to have something on the menu that goes into the oven after your turkey comes out, and it’s resting, and you’re making gravy. Something else that’s working for you. For me, that’s this vegetable lasagna recipe. Having lasagna as an appetizer is like a little thread of Italy. The acidity of the wine especially lifts up the cheese flavor and sweet tomato, cutting right through the middle. It’s delicious.

As for the hot chocolate recipe, if I told you I was making you a dish with rum and red wine, you’d probably say “yuck.” But this is not only delicious, it’s very do-able, and beautiful.

Newsette: You’re executive chef at Butter, one of New York’s premier restaurants. What skills are needed on a day-to-day basis in this busy kitchen?

AG: I have a real sense of place and space. I can grab something and catch it. Also, my memory is important–someone will read a list and I’ll spit it back. You’re always repeating, it’s a giant memory game. My memory and my manual dexterity? I’m crushing it. Being a chef sharpens a bunch of peculiar skills.

Newsette: Does a chef of your caliber ever have a bad day in the kitchen?

AG: Of course. Some days I burn everything. Some days I make something, and I’m like this is bad, then I look at it again and I’m like, this is awesome.

Newsette: How did you get fellow chefs to follow you as a leader early in your career? 

AG: I always made sure I was the best cook in the room. And I did that by working diligently and only focusing on the craft. I figured if I could do it better than any of them, that they would listen to me, no matter what. Cooking is manual labor. If you can butcher a fish in the dark and then cook it, who’s going to say anything to you?

Newsette: How did you get through periods of doubt during your journey? 

AG: I had to say to myself, “you chose this.” Yeah, I’ve cried, I’ve struggled. But I really like cooking.

Newsette: What about being a chef made you want to pursue this career path?

AG: I wanted to be athletic in my adult life, I didn’t want a desk. I didn’t want a suit. I picked my field largely based on what I knew I wouldn’t want to do. I’m a Gemini, only half of me is potentially agreeable at any given time. Cooking seemed awfully dangerous. And, when things are risky–fire, knives, grills, hot food, pans–there is a layer of seriousness that is present the minute you start cooking. And I like that. I felt like that would give me order. All this chaos, but the order of the day is hey, we’re all in this boat together, and sometimes we’re going to fight, and sometimes someone is going to get hurt, and sometimes dinner service isn’t going to go well, but we’re a team.

Newsette: What’s the most rewarding part of your career?

AG: When I have a day when a group of people I’ve trained get together and collaboratively succeed at the restaurant…and I’m drinking a white hot chocolate like this one.

Newsette: Finally–words to live by?

AG: Never get away from what you truly are–that’s how I feel about cooking. I didn’t expect to be on TV, or anything. I really never had that in mind. And don’t be boring.

 

Below, find the recipes we were lucky enough to enjoy. And, trust us, they each deserve a spot on your menu this Thanksgiving.

WOODBRIDGE BY ROBERT MONDAVI X ALEX GUARNASCHELLI

FALL / WINTER RECIPES

RECIPE 1: Vegetable Lasagna with Woodbridge Chardonnay White Sauce

Holiday Hack:

Holiday meals center around roast meats, which can be tricky for my non-meat eater friends. I’ve learned to always be prepared with a simple and exciting alternative to the main course just in case I’m entertaining someone who doesn’t eat meat! Growing up lasagna was an Italian-American staple at our Thanksgiving table and now when I make vegetable lasagna for holiday meals, not only does it make my vegetarian friends very happy, but it also makes me feel like I always have enough food for many guests! It’s a great recipe to make at least one or two days in advance so I can spend more time on holidays enjoying good food and great wine with my friends and family and less time cooking.

Strategically, when the turkey or ham comes out of the oven to rest, I pop the premade lasagna in the same oven to heat up while I make the gravy and put together all the side dishes. What is my secret weapon for holding these layers of vegetables together? The classic white sauce made beautifully vibrant and acidic with the addition of Woodbridge Chardonnay. I also pour some wine in the bottom layer to give extra “tang” to the tomato sauce and add moisture for the cooking process.

Notes from Chef Alex:

Turkey is an obvious staple at Thanksgiving, but depending on the size of the crowd I also like to offer vegetarian lasagna for three reasons. 1) It’s easy to assemble and freeze ahead of time, saving prep on the big day, 2) It saves me from having to cook two birds for a big group, and 3) it’s a nice vegetarian option for those so inclined. A common issue with lasagnas is that they can have a lot of cheese and ingredients, but lack a bright note. The Woodbridge Chardonnay white Sauce adds body, acts like a delicious “glue” to hold the layers together, and picks up the acidity of the tomato and the earthiness of the vegetables.

Prep time: About 1 hour

Cook time: About 1 1/2 hours (inactive)

Yield: 10-12 servings

Equipment: 19 × 13 × 2-inch baking dish

Vegetable Ingredients:

  • 1½ lbs. eggplant, unpeeled, sliced lengthwise ¼ inch thick
  • ¾ lb. zucchini, unpeeled, sliced lengthwise ¼ inch thick
  • 6 large cloves garlic (about 2 Tbsp.) minced
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes

Chardonnay White Sauce Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups total Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay
  • ½ stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Cheese Filling Ingredients:

  • 18 ounces fresh whole-milk ricotta
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 ½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Additional Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. dry pasta sheets, cooked and drained
  • 4 ½ – 5 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 ½ lbs. mozzarella, thinly sliced

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. Prepare the vegetables: Arrange the eggplant and zucchini in single layers on 3 baking sheets. Mix the garlic into the olive oil. Brush the vegetables with garlic oil, making sure the garlic coats all of them. Sprinkle them evenly with the oregano, about 1 ½ tablespoons salt and the red pepper flakes. Place the baking sheets in the oven and cook until the vegetables are tender, 20-25 minutes. Cool at room temperature.
  3. Make the Woodbridge Chardonnay White sauce: In a medium saucepan, reduce 2 CUPS of Woodbridge Chardonnay over medium heat until about ½ cup liquid remains, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the butter, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt and flour and cook, stirring constantly, 3-5 minutes to allow the flour to cook. Add the milk and cook, stirring from time to time, until the mixture thickens like a soup, 10-12 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
  4. Make the cheese filling: In a large bowl, gently stir together the ricotta, eggs, basil, ½ cup of the Parmesan and 1-tablespoon salt.
  5. Assemble the lasagna: In the baking dish, pour the remaining wine, 1/3 of the Chardonnay White sauce and about 1 generous cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom. Arrange 1/3 of the eggplant and zucchini on top, then a layer of 1/3 the pasta sheets followed by 1/3 of the cheese mix, and 1/3 of the mozzarella to fill the gaps. Repeat this process twice more. Top with remaining tomato sauce and all of the remaining Parmesan.
  6. Bake the lasagna: Place the dish on a baking sheet and bake for about an hour or so or until bubbly and the top browns. The baking sheet catches all the excess liquid that otherwise overflows and lands on the floor of your oven… Allow the lasagna to rest for at least 1 hour before serving. Cool at room temperature then refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day.

RECIPE 2: Woodbridge Red Blend Onion, Sausage and Apple Stuffing

Holiday Hack:

Perfect stuffing is a bit of a goldilocks situation – some like it fluffy and not overly moist; some like it more like a bread pudding. It can be a tricky dish to nail, and by the time dressing is done no one wants to sit down and enjoy the holiday more than you do! If your stuffing seems dry, pour over some chicken broth flavored with a splash of wine. I like to use Woodbridge Red Blend or Woodbridge Chardonnay, depending on the stuffing recipe. Then stick the stuffing back in the oven until you’ve reached the consistency you like. On the other end of the spectrum, if you end up with an overly moist stuffing, spread it out on a baking sheet in an even layer and bake in the oven to reduce excess moisture.

If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to cook as traditional stuffing, you can make a dressing to serve as a side dish by cooking in a baking pan versus in the turkey itself.

Notes from Chef Alex: This is a variation of my childhood stuffing recipe and it goes hand in hand with holiday meal staples like cranberry sauce and turkey. For the turkey, I generally follow the rule of 12-15 minutes per pound if the bird has stuffing in the cavity. My father always wrapped the excess stuffing in tinfoil and placed it in the bottom of the roasting pan so the turkey drippings would hit it as it cooked. Note, the addition of the reduced Woodbridge Red Blend to flavor the heart of this dressing: the apples and onions. The wine gives it richness and that extra layer of fruit flavor that leaves people going back for seconds.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes – 1 hour

Yield: 12-14 portions

Stuffing Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Red Blend
  • ¾ stick (6 tbsp.) unsalted butter
  • 5 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 8 slices white sandwich bread
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme, stemmed
  • 20 medium fresh sage leaves, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs. loose pork breakfast sausage, broken into small pieces and browned off
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken stock, boiled and cooled
  • 1 lb. mozzarella cheese, cubed

For Turkey:

  • 2 large double-layered sheets cheesecloth
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Reduce the red wine: In a medium pot, reduce the Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Red Blend over medium heat until there is ¾ cup total liquid, 15-20 minutes. Cool.
  3. Cook the onions and apples: In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) of the butter. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add the apples and cook for 3-5 additional minutes until they meld with the onions, stir in the reduced wine and brown sugar and simmer an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.
  4. Toast and butter the bread: Arrange the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light brown. While the bread is still hot, use remaining butter to butter both sides of each piece. Cut into 1-inch squares and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with salt, pepper, thyme and half of the sage. Set aside.
  5. Finish the stuffing: Combine the onion mixture, the cooked breakfast sausage, remaining sage, mozzarella and the toasted bread. Mix to blend and add the cup of chicken stock to moisten.
  6. Stuff the turkey: Place the turkey on a flat surface, season with salt and pepper on the inside and out, and stuff the cavity with the stuffing. Truss turkey or, alternatively, tie the legs closed with a strong piece of kitchen twine to assure the stuffing doesn’t fall out as the turkey roasts. Wrap any remaining stuffing in tinfoil and keep the tinfoil fairly flat, like a large envelope.
  7. Cook the turkey: Transfer the turkey to a roasting pan, fitted with a roasting rack if desired, and soak the cheesecloth in the melted butter. Brush any remaining butter on top of the bird and cover the breasts with the cheesecloth to prevent the top skin from burning before it is cooked. Lower the oven to 350 F and place the roasting pan in the center of the oven. Cook for about 12 minutes per pound.
  8. Finish the turkey: After about 2 hours cooking, remove the roasting pan and place the tinfoil package containing the stuffing in the bottom of the pan. Remove the cheesecloth from the top of the breasts and return the turkey to the oven to brown the top and finish cooking.
  9. How do you know when it’s done? The temperature of the thigh (where the meat is thickest and takes the longest time to cook) meat should register 160 F when tested with a thermometer. When done, remove the bird from the oven, transfer it to a flat surface (or serving platter) and allow it to rest for 20-30 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the meat. Transfer the stuffing to serving platter.

RECIPE 3: Spiked White Hot Chocolate with Woodbridge Cabernet Caramel Sauce

Holiday Hack:

Have you ever had a craving for hot chocolate but realized you’re out of cocoa powder? This constitutes an emergency in my house! Our favorite alternative is a white hot chocolate with a caramel sauce. I like a little Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon caramel drizzle in mine. It’s like the spark plug in the engine of this boozy holiday drink! This recipe is great to enjoy for quiet winter nights at home, but it’s also a crowd pleaser if you’re entertaining and can be easily heated in a slow-cooker to save time and space.

Notes from Chef Alex: This is one of those holiday indulgences that always pleases the crowd. It’s very different than a classic hot chocolate. I made this recipe because I once I was completely out of cocoa powder and happened to have white chocolate. I was searching for a way to provide what the white chocolate doesn’t offer: a pleasant bitter note and brightness. That’s where the Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon caramel comes into play. It’s flavors of chocolate and toasted marshmallow are a perfect complement and I like to balance these rich flavors by topping with unsweetened whipped cream.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 20-25 minutes total (inactive)

Yield: 4 – 6 servings

The Cabernet Caramel Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. water

The White-Hot Chocolate Ingredients:

  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 ½ cups good quality white chocolate chips
  • 6-8 Tbsp. dark rum
  • 1 cup whipped cream, unsweetened

 Directions:

  1. Reduce the red wine: In a medium pot, reduce the Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon over medium heat until there is ¾ cup total liquid, 15-20 minutes. Keep warm.
  2. Make the Cabernet caramel: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until an amber-colored caramel forms. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully stir in the reduced wine. Return to the stove and simmer 3-5 additional minutes to allow the flavors to meld together. Keep warm.
  3. Make the hot chocolate: In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat about 2 cups of the milk and the vanilla over low heat. Place the chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl that fits on top of the pot to create a makeshift double boiler. Gently melt the chocolate in the bowl above the milk, stirring with a rubber spatula. When melted, remove from the heat and heat the remaining milk in the pot until it simmers. Gently whisk the warm, melted chocolate into the milk.  Add the rum to taste, if using…
  4. Serve the drink: Spoon some Cabernet caramel into the bottom of four large mugs or 6 smaller cups. Pour in the hot white chocolate mix. Top with whipped cream and drizzle with additional Cabernet caramel. Have kids at the party? Simply omit the rum and the caramel and dust with a little cinnamon instead!

 

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