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Archive for New Year’s Eve

RECIPE: Sparkling Pear Cocktail

La Poire Sparkling Cocktail

America's Favorite Pear

[1] La Poire sparkling cocktail (photo courtesy Grey Goose). [2] America’s favorite pear, the Bartlett (photo courtesy CookThink). There are also red Bartlett and d’Anjou are available in green and red varieties.


This week we had a bottle of Angry Orchard’s Knotty Pear Cider at lunch, and it reminded us that fall is also a time for all things pear.

For a celebration, toast or other special occasion—or weekend chillaxing—this cocktail from Grey Goose is a star. Easy to make, it combines pear and citrus with sweet Moscato. You can use other slightly sweet sparkling wine such as Asti Spumante.

If it isn’t a special occasion, don’t go out of your way to find the perfect garnish. Or a Champagne flute.


Ingredients For 6 Drinks

  • 6 parts Grey Goose La Poire
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 small pear, ideally Anjou or Bartlett*, red or green
  • 1 bottle sparkling Moscato or other sparkling wine, chilled
  • Garnish options: baby orchid, crystallized ginger, sliced star fruit

    1. PEEL and core the pear and cut into 1/4-inch dice.

    2. PLACE the lemon juice, sugar, pear and Grey Goose La Poire in a bowl. Stir well to combine until the sugar is fully dissolved.

    2. DIVIDE the pear mixture into six Champagne flutes or wine glasses. Fill each chilled glass with Moscato.

    3. GARNISH and serve.
    *A juicier pear variety will accentuate the pear flavors. Here are the different types of pears.




    TIP OF THE DAY: The New Bloody Mary Garnishes

    Aquavit Bloody Mary

    Bloody Mary Crab Claw

    Garnished Bloody Mary

    TOP PHOTO: Aquavit Bloody Mary with beets, a half-sour pickle spear and fresh dill; photo Flavor & The Menu. MIDDLE PHOTO: Mary garnished with crab claw and dilly beans from Ramos House. BOTTOM PHOTO: Surf and Turf Bloody Mary with bacon and shrimp, plus an antipasto skewer and, as a nod to the past, a celery stalk. From The Wayfarer | NYC.


    As if everyone who drinks didn’t have enough on New Year’s Eve, January 1st is National Bloody Mary Day. Each year we feature a different Bloody Mary recipe.

    Some time ago we read about a famed Bloody Mary served at Ramos House in San Juan Capistrano, California.

    It was made with shochu instead of vodka, lower-proof and lower in calories. It was garnished with lots of dilly beans (pickled green beans) and a crab claw.

    So today’s tip is: Move past the celery stalk to more interesting Bloody Mary garnishes.

    Ingredients For 2.25 Quarts

  • 1 liter tomato juice*
  • .5 liter clam juice*
  • 1 bottle (750ml) vodka
  • 1 ounce prepared horseradish (from the refrigerator section
    of your market)
  • 1.5 ounces hot sauce
  • 1/4 tablespoon ground pepper
  • 6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • Zest of 1-1/2 lemons
  • 6 tablespoons minced garlic
  • Garnish: crab claws, lobster claws or shrimp; dilly beans and/or pickled asparagus†
  • Optional garnishes: bacon strips and/or “antipasto skewers” (a cheese cube, grape tomato mozzarella ball, olive, pickled onion, sausage chunk or other antipasto ingredients—see bottom photo above)
  • Optional: ice cubes
  • Optional: cocktail straws‡

    1. COMBINE ingredients (except for garnishes) in a pitcher and chill before serving.

    2. FILL glasses with ice cubes, as desired. We prefer to pre-chill the drink rather than dilute it with ice cubes. Another option: Make the ice cubes from tomato juice.

    3. POUR into tall glasses, 3/4 full. Arrange the garnishes on top.
    *Mott’s Clamato Juice is packed with HFCS—so sweet you could churn it into sorbet (see our review). It’s easy to mix plain tomato juice with plain clam juice.

    †We buy Tillen Farms’ Crispy Dilly Beans and Crispy Asparagus by the case, but you can pickle your own vegetables in just an hour or two. Here’s how to pickle vegetables.

    ‡If you pack the top with garnishes, a straw makes it easy to get to the drink below. How about these red cocktail straws? You can also provide inexpensive bamboo cocktail forks if your guests are too formal to eat the garnish with their fingers.


  • Bloody Mary Drink Bar Or Cart
  • Bloody Mary Ice Pops
  • Bloody Mary History
  • Bloody Mary Variations: Bloody Bull, Bloody Maria, Danish Mary, Highland Mary, Russian Mary
    and numerous others
  • BLT Bloody Mary
  • Deconstructed Bloody Mary
  • Michelada
  • More Bloody Mary Garnishes
    If you have a favorite Bloody Mary creation, please share.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Know Your Eggnog!

    Eggnog or egg nog is a descendant of milk-and-wine punches that had long been part of European celebrations when colonists arrived in the Americas. Rum, a New World distillation, enabled a spirited substitution for the wine.

    Eggnog became a popular wintertime drink throughout Colonial America. Then as now, people loved the rich, spicy, alcoholic brew. President George Washington was quite a fan of eggnog. His own recipe, which included rye whiskey, rum and sherry, was reputed to be so stiff a drink that only the most courageous could down it.

    Brandy joined rum in the basic recipe much later—as part of a book promotion! In the 1820s, Pierce Egan wrote a book called “Life of London: or Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq. and His Elegant Friend Corinthina Tom.” You can pick up a copy on Amazon.

    Just as today’s mixologists and publicists know how to generate buzz with a new cocktail, Egan created a variation of eggnog he called the “Tom and Jerry.” The half ounce of brandy he added to the basic recipe furthered egg nog’s popularity—and fortunately, the original name prevailed.

    The research site notes that “Egg nog, in the 1800s, was nearly always made in large quantities and nearly always used as a social drink. It was commonly served at holiday parties and it was noted by an English visitor in 1866, [that] ‘Christmas is not properly observed unless you brew egg nogg for all comers; everybody calls on everybody else; and each call is celebrated by a solemn egg-nogging…It is made cold and is drunk cold and is to be commended.’”

    Baltimore initiated a tradition where young men made the rounds of their friends on New Year’s Day, enjoying a bracing cup of eggnog at each home. The more homes one visited, the more “braced” one became. It was considered a feat to actually finish one’s rounds. How times change! Aside from today’s attitudes toward moderation, would anyone give up football to continue the tradition?


    Cup Of Eggnog

    Glass Of Eggnog

    TOP PHOTO: Eggnog served old-school, in a fancy punch cup. Photo courtesy BOTTOM PHOTO: No punch bowl? Serve eggnog in a juice glass, rocks glass, Martini glass or whatever you have.


    As with most things in the murky past, there are different stories on the origins of eggnog. The “egg” part is easy: There are eggs in the recipe (along with sugar, rum, milk, whiskey/bourbon/rum/brandy, heavy cream, vanilla and ground nutmeg).

    The two contenders for the “nog” portion:

  • In England and Colonial America, grog* was slang for rum. Thus the description of the beverage, “egg-and-grog,” could be corrupted to egg‘n’grog and then to egg nog and its more modern spelling, eggnog.
  • A nog is a small mug or cup. It was used to serve drinks at table in taverns (while drinks beside the fire were served in tankards). It is much easier to see how an egg-based drink in a noggin would become egg nog.
    Regardless, the unusual charm of the name only enhances the rich charm of the beverage. Now if we only could do something about those calories!

    *The term grog is named after Old Grog, the nickname of Edward Vernon (1684-1757), a British admiral who ordered that diluted rum be served to his sailors. The nickname is derived from grogram, after his habit of wearing a grogram cloak—a coarse fabric made of silk, mohair, wool, or a blend of them. Isn’t etymology fascinating?


    Egg Nog & Cookies

    A glass of eggnog served with eggnog wreath
    . Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk
    Marketing Board.



    Conventional eggnog recipes vary by type of spirits used, or how elaborate they get, from topping with simple whipped cream to ice cream and chocolate shavings. If you don’t have a family eggnog recipe, ask your friends. Or take a look at these:

  • Classic Rum Eggnog Recipe
  • Chocolate Eggnog Recipe
  • Coconut Eggnog Recipe
  • Diet Eggnog Recipe
    If you don’t want classic eggnog, how about an eggnog cocktail? Here are two:

  • Eggnog Martini Recipe
  • Eggnog White Russian Recipe

  • Eggnog French Toast Recipe #1
  • Eggnog French Toast Recipe #2

    For the holidays, serve one or more eggnog desserts. Start with eggnog ice cream from your grocer, and continue on to:

  • Eggnog Crumble Bars Recipe
  • Eggnog Mini Bundts Recipe
  • Eggnog Mini Cheesecakes Recipe
  • Eggnog Panna Cotta Recipe Recipe
  • Eggnog Pound Cake Recipe
  • Eggnog Truffles Recipe
  • Eggnog Whipped Cream Recipe
  • Eggnog Wreath Cookies Recipe
  • White Chocolate Eggnog Fudge Recipe
    If you have a favorite eggnog recipe, please share!




    TIP OF THE DAY: Buying Champagne For New Year’s Eve

    If you’re headed to the store to buy Champagne for New Year’s Eve, there are a lot of choices. Where should you start?

    We’ve written a lot about lower-cost sparkling wines like Asti Spumante, Cava, Crémant and Prosecco. Our Top Pick Of The Week is Yellow Tail from Australia. All are delicious bubblies, worthy of toasting the new year.

    But if you want to toast the New Year with Champagne, here are some money-saving tips.

    You Don’t Need To Purchase A Vintage Champagne

    There are two categories of Champagne: vintage and non-vintage. By law in the Champagne region of France, a vintage year can be declared only when the grapes contain a specific level of sweetness, which varies from year to year. Even in a given year, the sugar levels (called brix) can vary from vineyard to vineyard.

    With a vintage bottling, the year will prominently appear on the label. Otherwise, no year is given, and the Champagne is nonvintage.

  • A vintage year means that all the grapes used to make that wine came from that particular year’s harvest.
  •   Champagne Flute

    For a classic toast: a flute of Champagne. Photo courtesy Champagne flute.

  • Vintage Champagne represents only about 10% of the total production of the region. On average, producers will declare a vintage in three out of every ten years. Each producer declares for its own house; there is no “regional decree.” In great-weather years, almost every house can declare a vintage.
  • When no vintage year is declared, the Champagne is known as nonvintage wine, although a more accurate term would be multivintage, since wines from different years are blended to create the signature house style (le style de la maison, a consistent taste from year to year). Nonvintage Champagnes are not inferior to vintage ones; they’re just different.

    Vintage Champagnes Are More Expensive Than Nonvintage Champagnes

    Of the Champagnes shown below, Pol Roger (puhl roe-ZHAY) nonvintage is about $40 a bottle. The current vintage on store shelves, 2006, sells for more than $100. Big difference!

    This is due to key factors in both marketing and production. The first is supply and demand. There are more than three times as many nonvintage years as vintage years. Vintage bottlings are considered more prestigious, creating greater demand.

    Production factors also justify the higher price for vintage Champagnes. For nonvintage Champagnes, the law requires a minimum aging time of 15 months after the commencement of the second fermentation (where the bubbles are created by added yeast that eat added sugar). For vintage years, a minimum of three years of aging is required.

    However, in vintage years, most Champagne houses will age their wines even longer. Riper grapes have longer aging potential; aging develops more layers of flavor and complexity. The wine still needs to age after it’s bottled (see the next section). It costs more to finance and manage the inventory, and that expense is reflected in higher prices, along with supply and demand.


    Pol Roger Champagne Label

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/pol roger vintage2000 230

    TOP PHOTO: The label of nonvintage Pol Roger Champagne. BOTTOM PHOTO: The
    label of vintage Champagne, in this case the
    2000 vintage, which, due to the need for
    longer aging, should be drinking very well in


    An Important Note About Aging

    Vintage Champagnes typically need to be laid down for at least 10 years, and ideally for 15 or 20 years, to develop their great nuances. The vintner constructs the wine to last for the long run.

    While the vintage wines can be drunk when they’re released for retail sales, knowledgeable buyers don’t plan to drink a current vintage anytime soon.

    For all the celebrities and others who spend big at restaurants and clubs on newly-released vintages of Roderer Cristal or Dom Pérignon, for example: This is wine infanticide. The wine is drinkable to be sure, but much more simplistic than it will be when fully developed. It’s better to enjoy a nonvintage wine than a too-young vintage,

    Nonvintage wine, on the other hand, is ready to drink as soon as it is released. Yes, it will develop more with a few years of bottle aging, but don’t hesitate to pop the cork right now.

    Don’t Be Afraid To Buy Champagnes You’ve Never Heard Of

    Smaller Champagne houses don’t spend money on marketing and cost less than the “name brands.” However, a Champagne you’ve never heard of can be even more delicious to you than the brands you know.

    A number of years ago, on a recommendation from wine expert Robert Parker, we purchased and went crazy for a $35 bottle of Egly-Ouriet, a smaller producer we’d never heard of. Most buyers have still never heard of it, and it remains very well priced.

    You may find that “unknown” Champagne houses—Betrand Devavry, Jacques Selosse, Paul Dethune and Vilmart, for example—are sparkling treasures.

    If you have style preferences—for example, if you prefer a fuller bodied Pinot Noir-based Champagne rather than a lighter “blanc de blancs” made only with Chardonnay grapes—let the wine clerk make a recommendation.

    Only True Connoisseurs Can Tell The Difference Between Vintage And Nonvintage

    Only Champagne connoisseurs—those who drink a lot of it and have the expertise to analyze what they’re drinking—can tell you if a glass of Champagne served blind holds a vintage or a nonvintage.

    We still remember when we were taken to dinner years ago, by a Wall Streeter who ate and drank “the best” almost nightly. He ordered a bottle of vintage Veuve Cliquot, but the waiter returned with a bottle of the nonvintage and apologized that they were sold out of the vintage.

    My friend scoffed and snorted at the thought of nonvintage Champagne, and chose another brand with a year on the label. Net net, a little learning is a dangerous thing. If you like Veuve Cliquot, you like vintage and nonvintage alike.

    So the final word is:

  • If you know what you like and want to save money, buy the nonvintage version.
  • If you don’t know what you like, ask the wine clerk to point out the great values.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Black-Eyed Peas For New Year’s Day

    It’s a Southern tradition to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for prosperity in the new year. It may actually stem from an ancient Sephardic Jewish custom of eating them on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

    This “good luck” tradition is recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, compiled circa 500 CE., and includes other good luck foods such as beets, dates, leeks and spinach. This custom is still followed by Israeli Jews and Sephardic Jews the world over.

    Black-eyed peas are also called black-eyed beans, because they are a subspecies of the cowpea, called a pea but botanical a bean (here’s the difference). The beans are beige with a black “eye” on one side.

    Beans are a nutritional powerhouse as well as a very economical source of protein. Making an effort to have them on New Year’s Day may give you more luck, in the form of adding beans at least once a week to your diet.

    Beans can be enjoyed in a cold bean salad or mixed into a green salad, as a hot bean side or main dish, pureed into a dip and made into soup. There are even bean desserts; you may have encountered red bean ice cream and topping at Japanese restaurants (they’re azuki beans, sometimes mis-translated as adzuki beans).


    Black-eyed peas are actually beans. Photo © ViktorLugovskoy | IST.

    Take a look at the cookbook Bean By Bean: More than 175 Recipes for Fresh Beans, Dried Beans, Cool Beans, Hot Beans, Savory Beans, Even Sweet Beans.

    Peas and beans are both members of the same botanical family, Fabaceae, but belong to different genuses. Here are the details. Here’s the surprise: Peas and beans are actually fruits in botanical taxonomy, since they contain seeds and developed from the ovary of a flower.

    Black-eyed peas and other beans are typically sold dried, and must be soaked a day in advance before cooking. Here’s a tip: rinsing the soaking water every few hours removes the compounds that cause flatulence in some people!

    You can also buy pre-soaked black-eyed peas and even pre-steamed back-eyed peas, ready to heat and eat. But these will cost more than buying dried beans.

    This recipe takes just 15-20 minutes of active prep time, plus several hours of passive soaking time. See the photo below for your finished meal.
    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 12 ounces black-eyed peas
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • Pinch of chile flakes
  • 2 bunches of collard greens or substitute*
  • 24 ounces or more ham†
  • Dijon mustard
  • 1 tube of biscuit dough (or make biscuits from scratch)
  • Lemon half or wedges
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
    For Serving

  • Butter for the biscuits
  • Dijon mustard for the ham
    *Collard greens are a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, Brassicaceae, which includes broccoli, cauliflower and other commonly-enjoyed, anti-carcinogenic vegetables. Collards are most similar to kale, although bok choy and mustard greens are also good substitutes. Food trivia: Collards contain as much calcium as milk!

    †A typical serving is 4 ounces of ham per person. If your group likes larger portions, plan accordingly.


    Ham, Collards, Black-Eyed Peas

    Bean by Bean Cookbook

    TOP PHOTO: Have black-eyed peas with
    collards and ham for brunch, lunch or dinner
    on January 1st. Photo and recipe courtesy
    Good Eggs | San Francisco. BOTTOM PHOTO:
    A cookbook about beans is an asset,
    nutritionally and economically. Photo
    courtesy Workman Publishing.



    You can do the first two steps a day or two before you serve the dish.

    1. PLACE the dried beans in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Soak them overnight; if you forget, you can soak them for at least 4 hours the day of preparation. When done soaking, strain the beans in a colander, rinse the pot, return the beans to the pot and cover them with fresh water.

    2. ADD 2 bay leaves to the pot and set it over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pot with a lid. Cook for 45 to 60 minutes, until the beans are velvety tender but not mushy. Dip a mug into the pot and reserve a bit of the starchy cooking liquid; then strain the beans and set aside.

    3. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the biscuits on the sheet. While the oven is preheating, slice the ham to 1/2″ thickness as desired: full slices, ham fingers, etc. When the oven is ready…

    4. BAKE the biscuits for about 30 minutes or per package directions, until they’re golden brown. Meanwhile…

    5. HEAT 3 tablespoons of olive oil, more as needed, in a heavy-bottom pan. When the oil is hot, add the onions and a pinch of chile flakes and cook for about 5-7 minutes, until they’re softened and translucent.

    6. ADD the collard greens and turn the heat down to medium. Cook the greens and the onions together, occasionally tossing with tongs, for 10-12 minutes, until the greens are soft and tender.

    7. ADD the beans to the pan and cook together for a few minutes, until the beans have warmed through. It it seems too dry, add a tablespoon or two of the reserved cooking water instead of more olive oil. Remove from the heat and season with a squeeze or two of lemon, plus a few pinches of salt and pepper to taste.

    Perhaps the most often-consumed black-eyed pea recipe for the New Year is…


    Hoppin’ John is a traditional Southern dish enjoyed on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to usher in a year of prosperity. It combines several good luck foods: beans, greens, pork and rice.

    Some recipes substitute ham hock, fatback, or country sausage for the conventional bacon; some add green peas, a splash of vinegar and/or favorite spices.

    Make Hoppin’ John as a hearty side with your favorite protein and a green salad. Here’s a Hoppin’ John recipe, plus a list of other “good luck” foods.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Berries In Champagne

    For an easy, light dessert to cap off your New Year’s Eve dinner, we nominate berries marinated in Champagne or other sparkling wine.

    Some sparkling wines are vinified to be sweet (see below). But if you can’t find one, or have dry sparkling wine on hand, you can mix it with a bit of agave (a great low-glycemic sweetener) or honey to sweeten the marinade.

    You can also use simple syrup if you have it on hand. It’s more difficult to dissolve sugar; but if that’s all you have, pulse it to a superfine consistency in a food processor.

    If you sweeten the marinade, note that agave is twice as sweet as honey and sugar, so you need less of it. Agave is like honey in sweetness and viscosity, but without the unique honey flavor.

    Final tip: Champagne is expensive, so for the marinade you can substitute a more affordable sweet wine like Moscato. It can be found for just $8 or $9 a bottle. Splurge on a sweet-style Champagne to serve with the berries; or continue on with the Moscato.

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/berries whipped cream truwhip 230

    Marinate berries for 30 minutes before serving. Photo courtesy TruWhip.



    Ingredients For 8 Servings

  • 1/2 cup sweeter-style Champagne or other sparkling wine
  • Optional: agave or honey to taste
  • 2 pints berries—ideally assorted raspberries, sliced strawberries, and whatever else tastes good
  • 2 cups whipped cream (substitute 8 ounces mascarpone)
  • Optional garnish: 8 amaretti cookies, coarsely crumbled

    1. COMBINE the Champagne and agave in a large bowl. Add the berries; toss gently to combine. Cover and chill for 30 minutes or longer.

    2. PLACE 3/4 cup berry mixture in each of 8 bowls. Top each serving with 1/4 cup whipped cream or a dab of mascarpone. Divide the crushed amaretti cookies among servings.


    Brut Champagne

    Veuve Cliquot Demi Sec Champagne

    TOP PHOTO: Brut Champagne is the most
    commonly-purchased style, but it’s too dry
    and acidic to go well with desserts. BOTTOM
    PHOTO: Instead, look for a demi-sec
    Champagne, which has more residual sugar
    to match the sweetness of the dessert.



    Champagne is made in seven styles, or levels, of sweetness. The sweetness comes from a step in the secondary fermentation of Champagne, when the bubbles are created. The process is called dosage (doe-SAZH): a small amount of sugar is added into the wine bottles before they are corked. The sugar also reduces the tartness/acidity of the wine.

  • Primary fermentation of Champagne: In the classic méthode champenoise used to make Champagne, Cava and American sparkling wines, the primary, or alcoholic, fermentation of the wine transforms the grape must (the pressed juice of the grapes) into wine. Natural yeast consumes the natural grape sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  • Secondary fermentation of Champagne: To create a secondary fermentation, the dosage is added to the wine. The the added yeasts eat the added sugar, again creating alcohol and carbon dioxide.
    Based on the amount of sugar in the dosage, the seven levels of sweetness based on residual sugar (what’s left after the secondary fermentation) are:

  • Brut Nature/Brut Zero: 0-3 g/l* residual sugar
  • Extra Brut: 0-6 g/l residual sugar
  • Brut: 0-12 g/l residual sugar
  • Extra Dry†: 12-17 g/l residual sugar
  • Dry: 17-32 g/l RS residual sugar
  • Demi-Sec: 32-50 g/l residual sugar
  • Doux: 50+ g/l residual sugar
    *Grams per liter.

    †It’s a paradox in the Champagne industry that “dry” indicates a sweeter wine; as do sec (which means dry in French) and demi-sec. Doux, the sweetest style of Champagne, does mean sweet.




    RECIPE: Eggnog Martini

    For Christmas or New Year’s Eve, how about a fun and flavorful Eggnog Martini?

    You can buy eggnog in the supermarket and mix multiple portions in a pitcher.


    Ingredients For 1 Drink

  • 3-1/2 ounces eggnog
  • 1-1/2 ounces vanilla vodka (make it or buy it)
  • Splash of cinnamon liqueur (see below)
  • Garnish: dash of nutmeg or rim of crushed graham crackers
  • Ice cubes

    1. FILL a 5-ounce Martini glass with ice to chill it.

    2. COMBINE the eggnog, vanilla vodka and cinnamon liqueur in a shaker with ice, and shake to blend.

    3. DISCARD the ice in the glass and strain the cocktail into it.

    4. GARNISH as desired and serve.


    Eggnog Martini

    An Eggnog Martini with a rim of crushed graham crackers. Photo courtesy Cedar Mill Liquor.


    Goldschlager Cinnamon Liqueur

    Dramatic and delicious: Goldschläger
    cinnamon schnaps with gold flakes. Photo
    courtesy Global Brands.



    Infusion method: Add a vanilla bean to a bottle of decent vodka. Cap tightly and let the vanilla infuse for 1-2 weeks in a cool, dark place. Gently shake the bottle every other day.

    Quick solution: Add vanilla extract to vodka, 1/4 teaspoon per two ounces. For a 750 ml bottle of vodka, that’s 3 teaspoons. Shake well to blend.


    Cinnamon liqueur can be added to coffee and tea (hot or cold), made into adult hot chocolate, sipped on the rocks, drunk as shooters and mixed into cocktails. If you buy a bottle for this recipe, you’ll find numerous opportunities to use it

    Some brands are meant to burn like Red Hots candy. You want something more elegant. Our favorite is Goldschläger cinnamon schnaps with gold flakes. It looks magical in shots and clear cocktails.

    So what’s the difference between cordial, eau de vie, liqueur and schnapps?

    While many people use these terms interchangeably, and they are all flavored spirits, there are differences in terms of sweetness and color.

  • Liqueur (lih-CUR, the French pronunciation) is made by steeping fruits in alcohol after the fruit has been fermented; the result is then distilled. Liqueurs are typically sweeter and more syrupy than schnapps.
  • Schnapps (SHNOPS) is made by fermenting the fruit, herb or spice along with a base spirit, usually brandy; the product is then distilled. This process creates a stronger, often clear, distilled spirit similar to a lightly flavored vodka. “Schnapps” is German for “snap,” and in this context denotes both a clear brandy distilled from fermented fruits, plus a shot of that spirit. Classic schnapps have no added sugar, and are thus less sweet than liqueur. But note that some manufacturers add sugar to please the palates of American customers.
  • Eau de vie (oh-duh-VEE), French for “water of life,” this is unsweetened fruit brandy—i.e.,schnapps.
  • Cordial has a different meaning in the U.S. than in the U.K., where it is a non-alcoholic, sweet, syrupy drink. In the U.S, a cordial is a sweet, syrupy, alcoholic beverage: liqueur.
    In sum: If you want a less sweet, clear spirit, choose schnapps/eau de vie over liqueur. For something sweet and syrupy, go for liqueur/cordial.
    What about fruit-flavored brandy?

  • Liqueur is sweeter, and made from a grain-based alcohol.
  • Fruit-flavored brandy is made from a grape-based alcohol. Be sure to buy one that is all natural, i.e., made with real fruit instead of flavored syrup. With a quality brand, the fruit is macerated in the alcohol, then filtered out prior to bottling.
    FOOD 101




    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Yellow Tail Sparkling Rosé

    If you’re buying sparkling wine for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, you may be tempted to buy Champagne. But unless your guests are wine connoisseurs, you can have just as pleasant an experience with other sparkling wines, for a third to half of the price of the least expensive bottle of Champagne.

    Champagne is a name-protected sparkling wine that is made only in the Champagne region of northeast France. Every other wine that has bubbles is called sparkling wine.

    You can find sparklers from other regions and nations in the $10 to $12 range that are very satisfying in the glass. When mixed into a cocktail, no one can tell the difference.

    But the difference in price is substantial. The most affordable Champagnes tend to be in the $35 range. If you’re buying several bottles, do the math.

    We do buy Champagne and look for values—both the houses we know, like Pol Roger Brut Reserve, $35, and smaller houses that the wine clerk recommends. Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte and Jacquart are $35, the better-known Mumm is $40.

    A number of years ago, on a recommendation from wine expert Robert Parker, we purchased and went crazy for the $35 Egly-Ouriet, a smaller producer we’d never heard of. Today you can find bottles from $38 to $65, depending on the vintage and the retailer.


    Yellow Tail Bubbles

    We buy Yellow Tail Bubbles Sparkling Rosé by the case! It’s also available in Sparkling White. Photo courtesy Yellow Tail.


    When multiple bottles are required, we turn our sights elsewhere, to sparkling wine varieties that are $8 to $15 a bottle. Prices will vary by retailer, but keep an eye out for:

  • Asti Spumante from Italy: Martini Asti is about $12; the sweeter Cinzano Asti, $13, is great with dessert.
  • Australian Sparklers: Our favorite is Yellow Tail Bubbles in regular and rosé, $10.
  • Cava from Spain: For $8, look for Cristalino Brut and Cristalino Brut Rosé; Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut is $12 and Freixenet Cava Carta Nevada Semi Dry (sweeter) is $9.
  • Crémant from France: Numerous labels of this Loire Valley sparkler sell for $12-$15.
  • Prosecco from Italy: Good sparklers are available for $9-$10.
  • California Sparklers: In the lower ranges, look for Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge Brut, $10 and Moet et Chandon’s Chandon Brut, $17.
  • Other American Sparklers:: Domaine Ste Michelle Brut from Oregon ($10) and others from New York to Texas.

    NOTE: If you’re checking prices online, make sure they’re for standard 750ml bottles, not half bottles or splits.


    Moet et Chandon Champagne

    Yellow Tail sparkling wine from Australia
    (photo at top of page) is $10. Moet et
    Chandon Champagne from France (photo
    above) is $40. Photo via Pinterest |



    It’s a question of supply and demand. The supply is limited because by law, Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of northern France. There’s no more land that can be planted with grapes.

    The demand began around 1715 in Paris, when Philippe II became the Regent of France. He liked sparkling Champagne and served it nightly at dinner. The cachet was taken up by Parisan society. Winemakers in Champagne began to switch their products from still wines—the majority produced at the time—to sparkling.

    Throughout the 18th century, new Champagne houses were established. Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer, Piper-Heidsieck and Taittinger were among the major houses founded during this period.
    Is Champagne Better Than Other Sparkling Wines?

    Champagne has the most complex flavors among sparkling wines, and the greatest aging potential, which deepens the complexity.

    Its unique flavors—toasty and yeasty—are due to the layers of chalk underneath the region’s soil.

    A vast chalk plain was laid down in the Cretaceous period, 145 to 66 million years ago (it’s the same huge expanse that created the White Cliffs of Dover in England). The chalk provides good drainage and reflects the heat from the sun, two factors that influence the flavor of the grapes.

    Champagne makers perfected the méthode champenoise, adding a dosage of sugar that generates a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This creates the bubbles.

    While producers the world over use the méthode champenoise to make sparkling wines, only the vine roots in Champagne grow down into the chalk, creating the prized flavors and body.

    However, not everyone likes yeasty, toasty wines. Other regions produce lighter bodied wines with citrus and other fruity flavors and floral aromas. The only way to discover what you like is to taste, taste, taste.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Antipasto Platter With Cocktails

    Contemplating what to serve during cocktail hour as guests arrive for Christmas or New Year’s Eve? There are dips, chips, crudités, cheese plates, hot and cold hors d’oeuvre and other possibilities to consider.

    But a recent email from Baldor Specialty Foods rang true: Let people pick what they want from an antipasto table. Just set it out and let your guests help themselves.

    An antipasto platter both pleases foodies and can cover every diet: gluten-free, lactose-free, low calorie, vegan, etc.


    Just because antipasto is an Italian word doesn’t mean every item has to be Italian. If you want to serve Greek feta and kalamata olives, French pâte and Gruyère de Comté: Go for it. Select what you think your guests will like, and select an assortment of colors to make the choices look lively. Here’s a list of possibilities to get you thinking:

  • Assorted olive mix (ideally pitted)
  • Cipppolini onions in agrodolce (sweet and sour marinated onions—recipe)
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Marinated artichoke hearts, bell peppers, mushrooms and/or sundried tomatoes
  • Radishes and carrot sticks
  • Red and yellow cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Roasted red peppers

  • Cherry peppers or pickled jalapeños
  • Cornichons
  • Peppadews
  • Sweet gherkins
  • Other pickled vegetables

  • Anchovies
  • Charcuterie (sausage, salame, pâté)
  • Marinated mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
  • Sliced ham and/or turkey
  • Seafood salad (recipe)
  • Semihard cheese (look for one with something extra: peppercorns, chiles, herbs, olives, etc.)
  • Smoked salmon or gravlax
  • Steamed mussels (recipe)
    Breads & Crackers

  • Breadsticks
  • Mary’s Gone Crackers or other gluten-free option
  • 34 Degrees or other fancy crackers
  • Thin-sliced white or whole-grain baguette

    Antipasto Platter

    Antipasto Items

    Antipasto Plate

    Different presentations of antipasto. Top photo by Spin12. Middle photo by Yulia Davidovich. Bottom photo by Terrasprite.


    The number of items you serve depends on the number of guests. For a smaller group, consider four or five options. For a larger group, plan for eight or more items.

  • Arrange the ingredients artistically on a tray, plate or platter, balancing colors and shapes.
  • If you don’t have the right platter, use smaller plates and bowls.
  • Slice sausages and salamis; with ham, roll or fold.
  • You can leave cheeses whole or cut them into chunks. Semi-hard cheese are better than soft or runny ones; the latter get messier as more people slice them.
  • If any of your selections needs condiments—mustard or cocktail sauce, for example—set them out.
  • Don’t forget small plates, cocktail napkins, cocktail picks or toothpicks.
    If there are any leftovers, the good news is that you’ll enjoy antipasto the next day, instead of trying to use up dip and cold pigs in blankets.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Cava Instead Of Champagne

    You may be thinking ahead to purchasing champagne for Mother’s Day. But you can save a lot of money with Cava, instead.

    Cava, the renowned Spanish sparkling wine, is produced in the region of Penedès, in northeast Spain, south of Barcelona.

    In the late 1800s, a Spanish vintner, Josep Raventós Fatjó of the Codorníu estate, decided to experiment with making sparkling wine, using the méthode champenoise of champagne production. His first batch was produced in 1872.

    He then had a cool cellar, or cava, dug to produce more sparkling wine. It turned out to be an instant success, particularly among the wealthy. Soon, his sparkling was being drunk by the Spanish royal family.

    Other local vintners followed, and today, in addition to the two heavyweights Codorníu (cor-doan-YOU) and Freixenet (FRESH-eh-net), there are hundreds of sparkling wine producers in Penedés.



    Cordon Negro in its signature black bottle. Photo courtesy Freixenet.



    As with champagne, cavas are produced with different sugar levels, to please different palates and pair with different types of food. As with champagne, seco, which means dry, actually indicates a sweeter wine. Semi-seco and dulce are excellent dessert wines. Brut is best for apéritif or with food.

  • Extra Brut, the driest (0-6 g sugar per liter)
  • Brut (0-15 g sugar)
  • Extra Seco (12-20 g sugar
  • Seco (17-35 g sugar)
  • Semi-Seco (33-50 g sugar)
  • Dulce (50+ g sugar)


    A rosé cava. Photo courtesy Cordoníu.


    Typically, producers make a rose version; and some also make a reserve wine, aged 30 months.

    U.S. merchants typically carry three major brands, all of which produce varieties with different levels of sweetness:

  • Codorníu, which produces the greatest range of cavas, including a selection of rosés and blancs de blanc.
  • Freixenet, the best-known of which is Cordon Negro, in a dramatic black and gold bottle.
  • Segura Viudas, which also makes a rosé and a Reserva Heredad, aged 3 months in a bottle that looks like it was created for royalty
    As with any sparkling wine, serve cava in chilled flute champagne glasses (place the glasses in the freezer 30 minutes or more before you need them.

    Chilled glasses help to keep the wine cold, and flutes help the bubbles last longer, since they need to travel a longer distance before breaking into the air.




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