Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

proseccoThere is no better way to celebrate a special event than with a glass of sparkling wine. All across the world people turn to sparkling wine in moments of great celebration, be it holidays, birthdays, or any momentous occasion. The French have Champagne, which is named after the region in which it is made. The Spanish have cava, which is named after the natural caves in which the wine ferments. Anywhere else we call wine that bubbles sparkling wine. Italy's version is Prosecco or what I like to call the wine of sheer joy.

Prosecco is a white wine made from grapes of the same name. It is one of the most armoatic wines that you will ever try. And its taste and finish are crisp, clean, and refreshing. This year I'm drinking Prosecco for New Year's Eve and I have many reasons why. It is affordable, extremely flavorful, very elegant, and it's easily a crowd-pleasing drink. Prosecco is a wine that not everyone is familiar with, but it is a wine that is easy to adore.

Prosecco is produced in the Veneto region of Italy, of which Venice is the capital. It originally was produced as a still wine, but somewhere along the way fermentation was introduced into the process, and a sparkling wine was created. Today we would not recognize the original Prosecco as a sparkling wine, because the bubbles were very soft and delicate. Many Prosecco wines produced today have vigorous bubbles. The lightly sparkling version is called frizzante and the fully sparkling version is called spumante. Either is very nice. It's personal preference that dictates which you choose.

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vanillateaI'm a tea drinker and I love experimenting with it as an ingredient. I make hot chocolate with tea and use tea to smoke chicken. But I have to admit, I only heard the term cambric to describe tea made with milk, such as chai, at an event recently at the T-We Tea Shop hosted by the California Milk Processor Board. It's an old fashioned term for a combination of tea, milk and sugar often served to children. But that doesn't mean you can't make it into something enticing for adults.

The certified tea specialist and proprietor Christopher Coccagna made a number of wonderful drinks for Winter with tea and milk. Some of the drinks had alcohol in them and others didn't. Some used herbal teas and some used black teas. Some will definitely perk you up while others are perfect as a relaxing nightcap. There's really something for everyone, even kids and teetotalers. Check out the recipes for all kinds of luscious tea and milk drinks including Vanilla Mint Cambric, Lavender London Fog Latte and White Russian Caravan at GotMilk.

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The-Best-MojitoThe mint growing in my garden is prolific. I'm really bad about getting out there and thinning it so it pretty much takes over. I don't mind though, I love sprinkling it over summer fruit and mixing it into iced tea and water in the summertime. As far as I'm concerned I could never really have enough mint, I find it's uses endless.

Between the prolific mint and a recent trip to Mexico, (where Mojito's were flowing) and a slight suggestion for a mojito party, when we returned to the states...the Best Mojito Recipe was born.

Up until now, I was a mojito drinker, not maker. I'm not sure why, but it's something I left to the bartender. So I did a lot of research and read a lot of comments about certain recipes. Mojito's are a finicky drink and can quickly go from refreshing to medicinal tasting, when the ingredients are not balanced. As a winemaker I'm always concerned with balance in wine, in food and cocktails. I found that specific ingredients make a difference for varying reasons.

I hope you give my version a try.

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buttermeltingLast Sunday evening, in an apartment on the Upper West Side, I turned off the burner, dropped a knob of butter into the pan, and swirled it into the red wine, caramelized shallots, chicken stock, and filet drippings. This is my favorite moment in cooking. It’s called “mounting” (a great technique deserves a great name) and is the final thickening of a sauce by adding butter.

Everything becomes richer at that point. Every taste becomes a million times more delicious. It’s magic. I held my breath as I plated the roasted rosemary potatoes, sugar snap peas/ snow peas/ pea shoots in lemon sauté, beef tenderloin, and spooned the sauce on top. These were new clients I was cooking for and, yes, I still get nervous.

I was suddenly transported back to a client I hadn’t thought of in years. He was some bigwig but not famous producer whose name I don’t recall. It must have been a decade ago in Beverly Hills. I had just made the decision to leave the acting profession and pursue a career in the cooking industry. I had been cooking off and on for years but never really thought of myself as a chef. This was that moment of leaping and hoping a net would appear. I enrolled in a cooking school to make sure I knew what I was talking about and started working professionally about a month after class had begun. Thank you, net.

“He would like for you to come in next Tuesday to cook his dinner. This will be a test run. He’s been through a lot of chefs.” The client’s personal assistant had found my name and number through another chef, Monica, that I worked with in a busy Los Angeles catering company. Monica had tried and failed to satisfy him – a fact which terrified me, as she was much more experienced than I. She had said one thing to me, “He has a very rich appetite. Be prepared for anything.” I didn’t know if that meant he was wealthy or liked fattening things, so I assumed both were true.

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manlydrinkA few months ago I was at a bar where the hip, mustachioed bartenders were touting their selection of superlative old-school cocktails. So I ordered a Manhattan. My husband turned to me and said, “You know a Manhattan is a guy’s drink, right?”

“No, man, that’s fine,” the bartender interrupted. “You’ve got a woman who knows what she wants.”

Yup, I do. Sure, I like a refreshing mint mojito and a champagne sparkler just like the next gal, but there are times when I crave something stronger, more muscular, like scotch or bourbon.

Since that night I've ordered many a manly drink. I've also asked many a manly man what he thinks of women who imbibe traditional men’s drinks. Everyone I spoke with was OK with it, and many thought it was sexy. But most were quick to add this caveat: “Just not on the first date. You might scare us off.”

They also agreed: Don’t go too masculine too quickly. Want to order an Old-Fashioned? Don’t. Too Don Draper. A Rusty Nail? Too Bob Villa. A Godfather? Too Michael Corleone.

If your current drink of choice is a fruity Cosmopolitan, then don't switch to a bitter Negroni. You might not recover from the shock.

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