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Archive for New Year’s Eve

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 YOU NEED A LOT OF BUBBLY…

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.
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    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 |
    Facebook.

     

    WHY IS CHAMPAGNE SO EXPENSIVE?

    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.

      

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    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.

    OPTIONS FOR YOUR ANTIPASTO

    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:
     
    Vegetables

  • 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
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    Pickles

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

  • 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)
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    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
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    Antipasto Platter

    Antipasto Items

    Antipasto Plate

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

     
    HOW MANY SELECTIONS DO YOU NEED?

    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.
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    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.

      

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    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.

       

    freixenet-cordon-negro-w-glasses-230

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

     

    VARIETIES OF CAVA

    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)
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    cordoniu-cuvee1872-rose-230

    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
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    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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    TIP OF THE DAY: Eggnog French Toast

    Stuffed_French_Toast_SpiceIslands-230

    Eggnog French toast looks like the regular kind, but packs a punch of extra flavor. Photo courtesy Spice Islands.

     

    Save some of tonight’s eggnog for tomorrow’s French Toast. Eggnog is substituted for the milk that’s normally beaten with the eggs.

    With this recipe, from Taste Of Home, prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes.

    For an even eggier flavor, use challah or brioche instead of conventional bread.

    RECIPE: EGGNOG FRENCH TOAST

    Ingredients For 8-10 Servings

  • 8 eggs
  • 2 cups eggnog
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or rum extract
  • 20 to 26 slices of bread, depending on desired portion size
  • Optional garnish: confectioners’ sugar, berries
  • Maple syrup
  • Preparation

    1. BEAT the eggs, eggnog, sugar and extract in a bowl. Soak the bread in the mixture for 2 minutes per side.

    2. COOK on a greased hot griddle until golden brown on both sides and cooked through.

    3. DUST with confectioners’ sugar if desired, and serve with syrup and optional berries.

     
      

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    NEW YEAR: Consider Better-For-You Resolutions

    Before making New Year’s resolutions, plan ahead. Start by reminding yourself that the stats are bleak. Some surveys indicate that only 8% of people who set New Year’s resolutions stick to them.

    In a recent poll conducted by ORC International for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Americans said that some of the more challenging resolutions to keep include:

  • Losing a significant amount of weight, or approximately 30+ pounds (86% of responders)
  • Going to the gym regularly, or approximately 3+ times per week (68%)
  • Giving up dessert completely (66%)
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    Rather than going all-in with high-demand resolutions, set smaller, more realistic goals for yourself, say the experts. Poll respondents indicated that the following resolutions are easier to stick to:

  • Spending more time with family (79%)
  • Eating more healthy foods (72%)
  • Paying off credit cards (52%)
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    skim-plus-half-gallon-230

    A “super” skim milk tastes like 2%, but still has 0A% fat. Photo courtesy Farmland Dairy.

     

    Case in point: We’d resolved to lose weight every year for decades. Like most inveterate dieters, sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t; but it always found its way back.

    Twelve years ago, we switched our strategy to healthier eating. Each year, we resolved to make one better-for-you switch. And it’s easy!

    Our switches to date follow, with the disclaimer: We’d never hold ourself up as a paragon of good eating. Our job is to taste lots of food, including the sugar laden and the fat laden. But we do feel good that we’ve made one of these swaps every year, and have never once felt deprived.

     

    whole-wheat-everything-bagel-230

    Whole wheat instead of refined white flour is another easy switch. We love a Whole Wheat Everything bagel. Photo courtesy Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company.

     
  • Bloody Marys, Martinis or on the rocks drinks for sweet cocktails. After we realized the sugar levels in most cocktails, we’d rather have ice cream and drink alcohol with no sugar added.
  • Brown rice for white rice. We’re big sushi eaters, and try to patronize restaurants that offer the brown rice option.
  • Cheese for cheese less often. We had a daily craving for fine cheese, and we could eat half a pound at a sitting, eight times the recommended portion, eight times the calories and cholesterol. We had no interest in reduced-fat cheeses. Instead, we opted for a “eat all the cheese you want” day once a month.
  • Club soda for diet soda. After reading scientific studies on the impact of artificial sweeteners on the endocrine system, we bought a SodaStream and drink lots of club soda with wedges of citrus.
  • Fish and tofu for red meat. We made this choice not because of cholesterol, but to do our small part to save the environment from the ravages of raising meat.
  • Fresh fruit every day. It really helps cut down on the yen for cookies and other processed sugar. In the winter months, there are plenty of apples, bananas, grapefruit, oranges and strawberries. In the summer months, we revel in the explosion of choices.
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  • Nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream. We had a bad sour cream habit—we could eat it from the container with a big spoon. Now, we eat plain Greek yogurt and use it instead of sour cream—with cottage cheese and other foods. It’s so thick that we even use it as a bread spread, instead of cream cheese.
  • Oatmeal and other whole grain cereals. So long, Corn Flakes and Snap, Crackle and Pop. Our breakfast cereals now focus on whole grain oatmeal and Cheerios. (We discovered that, while corn is a whole grain, the manufacturing process used to make Corn Flakes over-processes the corn to the point where little fiber is left.) A trick for enjoying our favorite oatmeal, steel cut oats, daily: Instead of spending 30 minutes stirring every day, cook a large batch on Sunday and reheat a portion each morning.
  • Olive oil instead of butter. From sautéeing to bread dipper, heart-healthy olive oil is our go-to fat. We did compromise on baking, however. We love the buttery taste of olive oil in brownies, cookies and cakes. On the other hand, an Italian-style olive oil cake works.
  • Salad every day, no matter what. We love a big salad, but some days our food journey doesn’t lead us to one. We now have a Plan B: Snacks of crudités (raw vegetables). It’s easy to carry baby carrots around, and we pay extra for ready-to-eat broccoli and cauliflower florets so we have no excuse.
  • “Super skim milk” for regular skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk. We can drink two glasses of milk a day. We got rid of the whole milk and the half and half for “super” skim milk, a premium variety that removes more of the water so that the 0% fat milk actually resembles 2% (and has more protein as a result). Our local Farmland Dairy makes Skim Plus brand, which became so popular that it is now also made in variations with added Omega 3 or added fiber.
  • Whole wheat for white flour. Whether in bread, bagels or pasta, this was a surprisingly easy switch. We only miss the taste of white flour in pizza crusts, and pizza isn’t something we eat often.
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