Tag Archives: champagne

Enjoy frozen grapes marinated in wine

Frozen grapes marinated in wine

If you love frozen grapes, you’re going to absolutely swoon when you try this idea.

One of my favorite summer treats is frozen grapes. I love them, don’t you? They’re so easy to do – clean them, dry them, place them on a dish or pan, stick them into a freezer and then once frozen just store in a Ziploc! They’re really a great snack on hot days like the ones we’ve been having lately here in Beverly Hills.

Moms all over the world freeze grapes for their families. You can take them on camping trips, to the beach, to a game, or just have them around the house for whenever. My mom experimented with other fruits you can freeze, like watermelons, bananas, and applesauce. Freezing fruits is a fabulous snack for the kids, but how about a frozen treat just for the adults?

I found an answer on JulieBlanner.com, which is a great site to go for fun recipes and gift ideas.

I tried it out on my latest video. It’s very easy, and you can have fun sipping wine and snacking on grapes while you’re preparing them.

  1. Pick your grapes and wash them (common sense, right?).
  2. Damp dry and de-stem the grapes; place the destemmed grapes into a bowl.
  3. Pick a wine that you love and pour it over the grapes. In my video, I used red seedless grapes with Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from the Hess Collection. But you can try this with white grapes and your favorite champagne or Prosecco, which is Italian white sparkling wine (spumante, frizzante, or tranquillo).
  4. Allow the grapes to marinate in the refrigerator for about 12 hours, or longer if you like.
  5. Drain the grapes and roll them in sugar while still damp with wine
  6. Set the sugared grapes out in a single layer on a tray or pan.
  7. Place the prepped grapes into your freezer for at least 2 hours.
  8. Serve them in a beautiful serving bowl for your guests as a snack.

One more cool little tip! You can add your grapes to a glass of wine to keep it cool. I’d serve them with the same wine that you used for the marinade. This idea is lots of fun with white frozen grapes and a glass of champagne!

Have fun!

The Perfect Valentine’s Day Adult Beverage

Happy Valentine's Day - from Russia with Love

Celebrate love and friendships with this favorite cocktail recipe.

There’s more to a mixed drink than a chunk of fruit, a swizzle stick, and a little paper umbrella. Most people think of mixed drinks as “cocktails” and some mixes are so popular that they’ve become cultural standards. Practically everyone knows, for instance, that a Martini (either Gin or Vodka) can be shaken or stirred. What would tacos be without Margaritas? And, I can’t think of many adults who haven’t heard the Eagles song “Tequila Sunrise,” and then tried a glass at least once in their lifetime.

Mixed drinks can be so much fun, sweet or savory, and they have a ton of history behind them. The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word “cocktail” originated in the U.S., but this may have referred to any mixed drink but it didn’t have to be alcoholic. Then there are a few obscure American publications from the early 1800s that actually define cocktails as a “stimulating liquor” mixed with other spirits. But, the word ‘cocktail’ (unless you’re talking about shrimp or crab) is commonly used to refer to any generic mixed beverage that contains at least two ingredients (could be a whole lot more!) with one of those ingredients containing alcohol.

A friend of mine is a career bartender. He has a huge bookshelf dedicated to what seems like every type of mixed drink known to humankind. Some of his books even date back to the 1920s. I mean, it’s really an impressive collection. That bookshelf would be so easy to get lost in – if you’re like me and you like to read recipes!

But, what most people don’t know is that there’s more to “mixology” (the art of creating and mixing alcoholic beverages) than just preparing mixed drinks. It’s also a study of trends and style. I’ve gone to many parties where professional bartenders in black and white uniforms mixed fabulous drinks with tools like jiggers, shot glasses, stirring rods and strainers. I’ve also been to events where the bartenders dressed in t-shirts and swimsuits and poured ingredients into holes at the top of huge ice sculptures where the drinks dribbled out – already mixed – from spigots near the bottom.

Some of the best drinks I’ve had were mixed by friends – or ones that I mixed for them. The drink is always far more memorable when shared with friends for a celebration like a birthday, an anniversary, or in this case, Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day just happens to be one of those “special days” that people tend to focus on love. And, of course, since we’re talking Valentine’s Day, there are so many special cocktail recipes to choose from.
One comes from a favorite website – thekitchn.com – they always have great ideas. I searched their site and this year they have a really fabulous Valentines Champagne Cocktail recipe that caught my eye.  It was simple to create, had only a couple of ingredients (chocolate!) and was so pretty.

It combines Chambord – a raspberry liquor, Dark Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, with one of my favorite champagnes – Veuve Clicquot. Not sure if it ever gets better than raspberries, dark chocolate, and champagne for Valentine’s.  They garnished theirs with coco nibs but I love how raspberries look floating in champagne so I just changed the garnish!

This recipe makes one drink.

  • 1/2 ounce Dark Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounce Chambord
  • Champagne, to fill
  • Fresh Raspberries, for garnish, optional

Drop a couple of raspberries into a champagne flute and pour in the Godiva and the Chambord. Then top with chilled Champagne. This is so easy you can set up a whole tray to be ready at your front door as your guests arrive if you’re having a party – OR – if it’s just you and your ‘SO’, then this special cocktail is perfect for you. When you want that second drink, it’s so fast to make.

Serving Caviar for a Tasting?

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Handy tips for serving caviar at your next event.

 

When you own restaurants, as I did for more than twenty years, you learn quite a bit about serving all kinds of different food. Caviar is a little unusual in its own way. Serving can be tricky, but the effort is well worth the work.

Remember that caviar is basically cured (salted) eggs from sturgeon, a white meat fish. The sturgeon flesh is also very edible, usually found in stores canned or frozen, but the big value are the eggs. For that reason, because fresh caviar is so delicate, you want to keep it unopened for no more than 8 days in the coldest part of your refrigerator – ideally at 28-32 degrees. If the tin is opened, don’t keep it for more than 2 days.

You want to be especially careful with unpasteurized caviar which is the freshest and the best tasting and truly the one you want to spend your money on.  So, buy it close to the date of your party and only what you think will be eaten.  If there’s any leftover use it as a garnish on an omelet the next day!

When serving, you want to keep caviar cold. I place the smaller serving dish into a larger dish that is filled with ice. This will chill the serving dish and keep the contents cold for a few hours. Just a little warning, you do NOT want the caviar to warm up on the table or it will spoil. Also, never use a sterling silver spoon with caviar. You won’t like the taste of the caviar if you do. You want to use wood or glass for the serving dish; mother of pearl, horn or bone for the serving spoon. You can even use plastic as an absolute last resort, but maybe not for the nice party you just laid out!

When it comes to serving, there are a couple of options – it can be served plain if you prefer or as a garnish on other foods. Some people are happy with just a dab of real butter, and some lemon juice on a cracker. But I serve my caviar with blini and pumpernickel or rye cocktail size bread, with sieved egg yolk, sieved egg white, minced red onion, minced chive, and crème fraîche.  A perfect bite!

It’s important to remember that there’s actually all kinds of “caviar.” My favorite Italian restaurant Sfxio in Beverly Hills serves Truffle Caviar Pasta. They import “truffle caviar” (truffle oil in the shape of caviar) from Italy and serve it on house made fresh pasta. It’s delicious and it’s their most popular dish.

Truly the best recommendation is one that I’ve done myself. Not long ago I hosted a tasting party that featured my favorite Champagnes and vodkas with the best osetra caviars from Petrossian.

For the Champagne or sparkling wine, we served Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Gruet Sparkling from New Mexico which is my go-to sparkling for informal gatherings. Don’t forget nice glasses for your beautiful bubbles.  Two favorites are the Reidel Veritas collection for simple wide tulips or the Mulle Nuits crystal flute from Baccarat.

Now let’s say that you want an alternative for Champagne, like a vodka. I like vodka distilled from potato. There are three that catch my eye for flavor and body. My favorite vodka is Luksusowa, a popular brand imported from Poland. You can make a real statement with Chopin from the Podlask Wytwornia distillery also in Poland.  Or you can serve another favorite, Ultimat, which is actually a blend of wheat, rye and potato vodkas!

Serving tip for vodka – keep the bottle in the freezer until you’re ready to serve. Put it in the deepest recesses of the freezer for at least three days. The vodka won’t freeze but will get a little thicker and taste a great deal better than just chilled. Find some fun shot glasses at a resale shop for a vintage look or use these plain ones I found at Crate and Barrel.

I think it’s time to party!

What is Caviar?

A little ‘what’ and ‘where’ about caviar, and how you can enjoy it.

 

In the twenty years that I owned my restaurants you wouldn’t believe how many times I was asked, “What is caviar?” It’s a delicacy, to be sure, but it’s also one way to start a conversation during a champagne tasting party (or maybe vodka?).

The correct definition for caviar is that it is the harvested, cured and salted eggs (roe) of wild sturgeon, a white meat fish. If you want to add some history, you would add that the caviar had to be harvested from wild sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. But the fact is, caviar can also come from sturgeon all over the Northern Hemisphere.  Caviar (or technically caviar substitute) can also come from salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish, whitefish and even carp.

As for purely sturgeon caviar, there are three species: Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga, all of which can be found in BOTH fresh and salt water bodies. The fish themselves can be very large, reportedly over 18 feet long, can weigh more than a ton and can live on average 50-60 years! The sturgeon flesh is very edible, usually found in stores canned or frozen, but the big value are the eggs.

Between the three types of sturgeon caviar, the beluga is the rarest, most well-known, definitely the most expensive. Some say that beluga has the best taste. But not all caviar – even beluga – is equal to the label “the best.” Good caviar can be very expensive. You’ll want to pay close attention to the classification found on the label.

The highest quality class of sturgeon caviar will say “Malassol.” This caviar will have less than 5 percent salt content – often as little as 3.5%. For people who don’t mind the salty taste there’s also “Payusnaya” caviar which is made from too-soft, damaged, broken and overly ripe eggs.  It is highly treated, highly salted (can contain 10%) and pressed to a jam-like consistency, and is less expensive but, for some who like its strong, concentrated flavor it can be a favorite.

If you want a little more history to add to your table talk, you might mention that near the end of the 1800s American caviar production really peaked. So much caviar was produced that it was cheap enough for many American bars to serve it to encourage more beer drinking. Think about how bars use peanuts or other salty snacks today. Imagine, caviar at peanut prices.

By 1915, the Atlantic surgeon on the East coast and the white sturgeon on the West were fished out. Fisheries closed down and the sturgeon didn’t return to sport fishing until the 1950s. When over fishing again became a problem, U.S. importation of caviar was briefly banned in 2005. Fishing for Beluga sturgeon was again banned between 2008 to 2011.

Many countries produce caviar with some producing “farmed” caviar: Iran, Canada, Israel, Italy, Spain, the U.S., and England among others. The bans for caviar from wild Beluga sturgeon are now partially lifted and you can purchase it online or in stores.  Just know it’s the most expensive of all the caviars.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, I recommend Petrossian – and if you don’t live in either New York or Los Angeles where they have actual stores you can always order it from their 15-year-old online store.

Want a little more adventure?

How about caviar at your own Champagne and vodka tasting party? Ready?

 

What kind of Champagne Glasses?

FRAN_Champaign-Detail

Easy hints and tips for the “right” champagne glass for your party.

It’s a little joke between wine drinkers that the best glass for wine is always the one that you’re holding. No matter if it’s one of those little plastic cups hosts might use to serve at a casual backyard gathering or the elegant stemless glasses that they use at your favorite café bar, when you love wine, and you’re drinking a good one, especially Champagne, it almost doesn’t matter how it is served.  But, even if you’re OK at the moment with the plastic cup in your hand, you always want to know how the wine you want to offer should be served.

For example – what if you want to host a caviar and Champagne tasting party like I did a few days ago. What glasses do you set out for something like that?

First, the good news: there is no shortage of places to go to find them and no shortage on selection. Second, there are three glass types for serving Champagne: flute, coupe, or tulip wine glass. If you can’t find a tulip shaped glass, then a white wine glass will do very well.

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The Fluted Glass

The flute glass (with its tall narrow shape) is the traditional shape for champagne. The shape of the bowl helps encourage a lot of bubbles to rise to the surface and show off the fine effervescence of bubbles. But there’s more to Champagne than just bubbles. I may use fluted glasses for young wines, but not for a good vintage.

The ‘problem’ with the flute is that it tends to short-change the experience a little, especially if you want to drink a good vintage Champagne. The small top of the flute doesn’t allow much air space for the aroma to collect and enhance the flavor. Because there is so little of the surface exposed to air, the flute limits your ability to thoroughly appreciate the aromas and flavors that the winemaker worked so hard to put in your glass.

There’s always the novelty of the coupe glass. They are elegant looking, and some of them are even fantastic works of art. I have a set of very simple crystal ones with tall stems from Iittala. This glass style was popular back in the early 20th century – think flapper girls, glossy hair, and the Charleston.  The coupe was originally designed to showcase a Champagne style that was also popular then – a sweet bubbly dessert wine – which is fine if that’s what you want to do. However, it’s not right for the style of Champagne that is produced today.

FRAN_Champagn-Coupe-Glass

The Coupe Glass

I think that the coupe is a little like the flute glass – there are just some things it doesn’t do well. It can’t capture the beauty of the Champagne, especially the ones that are currently being produced. The wide shallow bowl doesn’t let the bubbles develop as they would in a taller glass, so they come to the large surface quickly, burst and are all gone before you’ve finished your glass.  But the worst problem is the large surface area at the top of the bowl means that too much air meets the wine and both bubbles and aroma (and much of the taste) are lost quickly.

That’s why experts – the connoisseurs of wine – have moved away from the flute glass and novelty coupe for enjoying fine aged sparkling. They want to enjoy what the winemakers put into the wine.  By using the proper glass, you get to showcase the artistry of the wine: the aroma, the palate, and the look. That’s why if I’m serving an excellent aged sparkling wine, I want my guests to enjoy it from either a wide tulip shape or a white wine shaped glass.

FRAN_Champagn-white-wine-Glass_mod

The White Wine Glass (alternative for the Tulip Glass).

The tulip glass gives you just enough length and surface area so that bubbles can burst at the same time. When it is filled to no higher than two-thirds full – you’ll have plenty of room to capture those aromas at the top of the glass. The wider bowl allows more room for the aeration of the wine. The flavors develop better when the narrower rim captures and holds those aromas in the glass for you to enjoy.  If you can’t find the tulip shape, then a white wine glass will suffice. Tulip glasses are similar enough in shape to a white wine glass, only wider at the bowl and slightly narrower at the top.

Last, but not least, I have a few suggestions for your party. There are three brands of Champagne/sparkling wine that I love and will always recommend:  Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame (a bold style for a strong statement), Ruinart Blanc de Blancs (for a big impression on your guests) and Gruet Sparkling from New Mexico (my go-to sparkling for those informal gatherings).

For glasses, I recommend three – the Baccarat Crystal flute, the Iittala Crystal coupe, or a simple white wine glass from Crate and Barrel.

Enjoy!

 

Champagne Is NOT Just for Holidays

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Spread the cheer any day – Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec

New Year’s has come and gone. Time to pack up the champagne glasses for another year (or the next wedding)? Are you kidding me? I hope you are!

The party’s only just started!  What better way to celebrate all of those relationships you’ve gathered around the table than with a glass of bubbles.

A Schramsberg wine master explains the process of making sparkling wines during a session of Camp Schramsberg in the wine caves.

The fact is, sparkling wine or champagne can be enjoyed at ANY meal with ANY food even a big steak. You just have to have the right bottle! One that stands out for me is Schramsberg’s Crémant Demi-Sec.

First you need to know that only wines that come from the Champagne region of France can legally be called “champagne.” Schramsberg is from the Calistoga area of Napa Valley and the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard use the Methôde Champenoise (translation: the champagne method used in France) to create all of their sparkling wines.

Schramsberg has been producing their award winning sparkling wines since 1965 and has been honored to serve them in every White House administration since Richard Nixon. One of the really cool things about Schramsberg is that they offer a unique experience to learn all about their wines.

One of the perks of owning a restaurant is that you get invited to participate in some very special events. Camp Schramsberg is one of those that I’ll never forget. I had no clue it even existed. It’s a three-day experience they have twice a year (once in the Spring for “bud” or when the grapes are just beginning to grow and once in the Fall for harvest). Anyone can sign up for camp and attend-it is not restricted to only people in “the trade.”  When I went, almost half of the participants were just people who love wine.

What’s really fun about this experience is that they hold it in their winery caves, out in the vineyards and also at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort.  I learned about Schramsberg’s history, of course, but also about sparkling wines in general and how they are made, was given an opportunity to learn how to properly prune the vines (it’s harder than it looks), how to saber a bottle-cut off the top of the bottle with a saber (easier than you think), eat a lot of great food and drink their amazing wines (even with steak!).  It was at camp that my real love of sparkling wines blossomed and I learned some valuable lessons.

One of them is that you should never hold back for celebrations in your life. So, don’t hold back the champagne (or the sparkling wine) for the “big days.” Every day should be a celebration, and every day is an opportunity to show your appreciation to those people who you gather around your table.

So, don’t be stingy. Pop a cork and enjoy.