Food, Wine, Good (and Evil) Spirits

From the Huffington Post

holiday-cocktails.jpgThere are bartenders who make a living mixing cocktails, and baristas whose wages are earned behind espresso machines. There are high-concept tea masters, sommeliers, and soda jerks, too. At home we are never expected to be any of these, but when guests arrive for your holiday parties some simple instruction might be helpful. After all, there's a week's worth of celebrating still to be done.

I tend to restrict drinks at my dinner parties to champagne and wine and perhaps one great cocktail. I suggest you try all the ideas here, or create your own, but choose only one as your "house special." "What you don't need," says wine writer Anthony Dias Blue, "is people sidling up to your bar expecting a Singapore Sling or a mai tai," or both!

I know a thing or two about drinks. At age 16, I was a bartender, illegally, at the Olde London Fishery in Queens, New York. I was tall for my age and looked the part. Next, I had the ultimate pleasure of helping create two of New York's most spectacular bars -- the Rainbow Promenade at the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, where Sleepless in Seattle was shot, and the Greatest Bar on Earth on the 106th floor of the now legendary Windows on the World. A great drink is always remembered.

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ImageMany of us have heard that old adage from the Corinthians: "When I was a child I spoke as a child, thought as a child, and reasoned as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." Well, when I was a child of sixteen I liked to drink beer, smoke pot and listen to Led Zeppelin at top volume.

Admit it – you did too.

Eventually, much to my dismay, I was required to become an adult and to reason as one. I am not saying that I have achieved any great levels of thought; but I did stop listening to Seventies arena rock. I thought I was supposed to. Just like I thought I was supposed to acquire some decent furniture, invest in an IRA, and make sure my hemline never again drifted above my thighs....that kind of crap.

I even brought myself to marry someone who liked “Smooth Jazz.” I found myself spending many evenings at the second-rate jazz clubs on Bleecker Street, trying to look at least mildly entertained as I listened to some tepid trio, while drinking even more tepid wine. There were things about adulthood I found incredibly disappointing.

I know I am not the only person who feels like this. New York City is full of adults who still crave the thrill and energy of the head-banger music of their childhoods, but no longer want to have to resort to banging their heads. In other words: We no longer want to fight for our right to party.

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ImageWhen we think of pairing wine with soup, we often think wine only complements thick, meaty stews or soups...and sometimes that is right on. However, when it comes to making the perfect pairing, it's really what's in the pot that determines the perfect wine match.

With earthy flavors, like spices, herbs and tangy tomatoes, you want a wine with good acidity. When it comes to sweeter veggies like onions, squash or carrots, you'll need a wine that is more rounded and lush with fruity flavors.

Clam Chowder: Not all wines are equal here.  A luxuirious soup like clam chowder, has a briny taste of the sea and it begs for a citrusy zest of a wine like our Pinot Gris. This wine's lemon and lime accents easily cut through the silky, rich broth and starchy potatoes in the chowder.  It's heaven.  Some Rieslings might also work well here.

Chicken Soup:For a soup that blankets us in warmth, it begs for a wine that is as weighty as winter itself. A buttery, oaked Chardonnay works wonderfully with chicken and vegetables, while the hints of vanilla spice from the oak complements the herbs.

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cocktail fznlemonade vodkaI am not a big drinker. It’s rare that I finish a glass a wine at dinner and I rarely order a “cocktail”. With that said, when I do invite friends over for dinner, I like to have a little cocktail on hand for those that simply want one.

Seeing a lot of fruit infused vodka on Pinterest sparked my interest to create a red, white, and blue cocktail for the 4th of July. Seeping the blueberries in the vodka for 36 hours, creates the most amazing scent. For lack of a better word, the smell was intoxicating.

When I do indulge in a cocktail (I much prefer to eat my calories), it’s generally something slushy, fruity, and not overly alcoholic. Grabbing the last of the Meyer lemons from my tree, I made a huge batch of Molly’s raw honey lemonade. Making something slushy was what I was craving. Tossing the lemonade and some ice in the blender, this frozen lemonade and blueberry cocktail was created.

I wanted to use the blueberries as garnish, but didn’t want them simply floating in the glass. Grabbing a handful of small wooden sticks, I skewered them and then put them in the freezer for about an hour. After the fact, I thought how yummy these would have been if I would have sugar coated them.

Freezing fresh, organic, summer berries and fruit from the farmers market is my newest obsession. I see many more fruit and vodka combos in my future.

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mark-peel-at-3-twentyChildhood fantasy: Coming home from school on a cold day and having a grilled American cheese sandwich with a bit of tomato soup. Adulthood fantasy: A prosciutto, manchego and mint pesto pear grilled cheese sandwich paired with a glass of Hirsh Pinot Noir. Who says that childhood fantasies are better?

Last Thursday, Peggy and I went to 3 Twenty Wine Lounge, our favorite wine bar, for the return of Campanile's grilled cheese night. Campanile was one of the great Los Angeles restaurants that for many years set the mark for food and style for dining in L.A. It original owners, Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton, were the foodie "it" couple. Reservations were impossible, food was incredible and the venue, once belonging to Charlie Chaplin, was gorgeous. Sadly, like many great restaurants, it ran its time and recently closed.

Of the many innovations that came from Chefs Peel and Silverton was the elevation of the grilled cheese sandwich to an art form. Many chefs today are making amazing grilled cheese – Celebrity Chef Eric Greenspan having twice won trophies at the international grilled cheese competition – but it was Peel and Silverton who started it all. They introduced a grilled cheese night at Campanile that was packed for years. It was the original. It still is the standard.

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