Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

chaieggnog.jpg I don't know about you but when Christmas is in the air, it's time for my favorite, favorite drink.....

Can you guess what it is?  It's EGGNOG!  I love it, in any shape or form and prefer it sans the alcohol....most of the time.

I even love the cheap stuff right out of the gallon jug at the supermarket (I know, I know, sometimes I'm desperate) or McDonald's Eggnog Shakes.  My obsession runs deep with this one.

However, several years ago I started making my own Chai Eggnog and I've never looked back.  Of course Chai is another obsession, so when you combine the two...oh mercy.

This is the perfect warming drink for a cold Sunday morning, what a way to start the day.

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enotable.jpgI'm obsessed with wine bars. Or I guess I should say, finding the perfect wine bar. Every trip we take usually revolves around this odd quirk. However, it was not a priority on this excursion to Chicago. We only had one day in the city and I initially had other plans. Plus, the places I wanted to go were too far away from our hotel. Or so I thought. Traffic ruined my morning itinerary, so we ended up grabbing a quick snack and then just walking along Michigan Avenue window shopping, trying to overcome the minor hangover from the night before. With no thought of wine on my mind what do we come upon? ENO, a quaint little bar in the InterContinental Hotel, that specializes in wine flights, cheese and charcuterie. Believe me when I tell you I was going to resist, until they mentioned their Blind Tasting challenge. After a decade of serious education and tasting, I felt sure I could come out a winner...and so we sat down.

The challenge is pretty simple: they give you a flight of three reds or three whites and you have to determine grape variety, new vs old world, country, region and the age of the wine (1-3/4-7/7-10/11+). Two Bonus Points if you actually guessed the wine. The more you get right the cheaper the flight becomes. With a total of 21 answers per flight we felt confident we could get at least 8 right, which would knock $8 off the flight. If we got lucky and answered 21 correctly the flight would be only $5.05. We took the challenge very seriously, but were quickly humbled.

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jordan1If I ask you about your favorite wine, you will probably tell me where you enjoyed it and with whom. Perhaps it was at a picnic on a perfectly sunny day, or on a date with the love of your life. Maybe it was at the winery where the wine was made, but probably not. My point is this, wine, like food, is enjoyed in context. It can be very hard for a winery to create a truly memorable experience with wine, but one winery is giving it a shot.

I'm lucky to have gotten to spend some time at the Jordan winery and to enjoy firsthand the food, wine and hospitality that they are about. I've stayed on their property, had lunch and a full tasting, attended one of their famous halloween parties and gotten to know their talented and creative chef and his wife who heads up hospitality and events. Those experiences have been limited to a privileged few, up till now. And while Jordan uses as many means possible to share the winery experience and lifestyle virtually including photography, videos and even a blog, nothing takes the place of being there.

The soon-to-be-launched Jordan Winery Estate Tour & Tasting is best described as a fully immersive affair. You start at the winery for a little continental breakfast with fresh fruit grown on the property plus fresh baked goods.

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pom_illustration.jpgIf you’re like me, the grenadine you grew up adding to cocktails and Shirley Temples is nothing like the real deal. Thinking I was resigned to the artificially colored and flavored brand-that-shall-remain-nameless, I usually skipped over any type of drink that called for grenadine, opting for drinks that weren’t as sweet and syrupy.

This all changed when I actually discovered what grenadine was and how truly simple it is to make.

I could fill up an entire blog about the historial importance of pomegranates, but I wouldn’t know where to start. Suffice it to say that one of the oldest fruits on earth make the absolute best syrup–a taste that lives between tart and sweet, not unlike citrus.

And the recipe? Extract the juice of a pomegranate, add sugar and reduce over heat. That’s it.

(Well, it sounds easy, but wait till you have a case of pomegranates and you’re up to your eyeballs in exploding arils and your forearms are stained hot pink. It takes effort. Now it makes sense why the French and Spanish called it “grenadier” and “Grenada”, and where the world “grenade” came from.)

You can find the juice already bottled, but I swear it just doesn’t taste the same as freshly squeezed/abused/fought-over/pressed/stepped on pomegranate juice. Sure, you’ll save yourself some headache, but you’ll deny yourself pretty pink fingers.

pomegranate_juice.jpgBasic Grenadine Recipe
Because I like the tartness of pomegranates I usually go easy on the sugar, or I omit the sugar completely when making a reduction. This allows me to use my syrup not only in cocktails but as a dressing or marinade for savory recipes. It can also be made with honey.

2 cups pomegranate juice*
1 cup sugar (or less if you prefer it not so sweet)

Bring juice to a simmer over medium heat and cook until reduced by half. Reduce heat and add sugar, stirring constantly until it dissolves, about 2 or 3 minutes. Allow liquid to cool completely and then refrigerate. It should last about 1 week.

 

* This cocktail can be made with freshly squeezed juice from a large pomegranate or by using 100% Pomegranate Juice. To juice the pomegranate, cut it in half (as you would a grapefruit) and juice using a citrus reamer or a juicer. Pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or sieve. One large POM Wonderful Pomegranate will produce about 1/2 cup of juice. 

-- Also published on MattBites.com  

summerdrinks.jpgI haven't met an herb I didn't like. Right now in my garden have more than a dozen varieties of herbs growing. I have different uses for all of them. Some I love to use when roasting meats or vegetables, like rosemary and sage. I put parsley and mint in my salads. I also use mint in my teas. I use cilantro in guacamole, which I make almost every week. And of course I have a bush of basil for when it comes time to make homemade tomato sauce.

This year I've tried growing Greek basil and Thai basil with great success. My stir-frys and Thai curries are so much better with the addition of Thai basil, which has an anise-like flavor. For years I've been growing lovage, a perennial herb that grows four feet tall every year. Its flavor is a lot like parsley and celery combined, and its tall stalks look much like celery except that they are hollow like bamboo. You might have come across lovage used in a Bloody Mary but not have known what it was. The stalks make very nice straws.

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