A Quick Primer on Bubbly and Holiday Entertaining the Bubbly Girl Way

Maria with sparkling Framboise Apricot Punch from The Bubbly Bar.

I know entertaining can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. All you need, really, are a few fool-proof recipes, a relatively clean house and an outfit that makes you feel stunning.

My first rule of entertaining is to plan on opening a bottle of bubbly — either Champagne or sparkling wine — as soon as guests arrive. People get excited when they see that curvy bottle and hear the pop as it opens. It reminds them of good times and it will put them in the party mood. You can serve it straight, pour it into a punch or a sparkling cocktail.

The great thing is that these days there are so many choices when it comes to sparkling wine and Champagne. So why not try something new? You could choose a champagne from a family who grows their own grapes and then makes it into a distinctive champagne that carries the unique taste of their vineyard. These grower champagnes — like the Champagne Saint-Chamant Blanc de Blancs NV — are bursting with flavor and personality. This one is made by Christian Coquillette, a charming 80+ year old man with a proper French moustache, who enjoys aging his wines a looong time — he has a mile’s worth of caves under his house so why not? This 100% chardonnay wine is aged for seven years, giving it the rich flavors of a much more expensive cuvée, yet it sells for just $48 because Msr. Coquillette isn’t a household name.

Or perhaps you’d like to get even more adventurous and try a bottle of fine sparkling wine from somewhere else? There’s a growing number of producers around the world who use the  “Champagne method” to craft delicious sparkling wines that offer an amazing value. One of my favorite international producers is Graham Beck in South Africa, who makes wonderful cap classique – the South African term for méthode Champenoise wine. Beck wines, which use chardonnay and pinot noir, have crisp and clean flavors and usually sell for around $20 a bottle. And according to the Graham Beck website, Presidents Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela as well as super-spy James Bond like his wine, too.

Italy is a fabulous source of sparkling wine, as every prosecco lover knows. My greatest discovery from Italy this past year was Ferrari Metodo Classico. They’ve been quietly making fine bubbly that drinks like Champagne in the high in the hills near Trento not far from the Alps since 1902.

Sweet sparkling wines are always crowd-pleasers, whether it’s wildly popular classic Moscato d’Asti or one of the crop of new pink Moscatos and other sweet pink sparkling wines that are winning fans because of their cotton-candy hue and easy to love flavors of peach and melon. Last year I was surprised to by a well-balanced pink Moscato from Moldova; this year I succumbed and bought some of Torti’s Hello Kitty Sweet Pink. Though few are interested on what’s inside the cute bottle, it’s made with pinot noir from the Oltrepo Pavese region of Lombardy.

Don’t worry about pairing foods with sparkling wine; it’s surprisingly versatile. Anything salty, crispy, fatty or fried will be perfect. That list includes: popcorn, French fries, potato chips, prosciutto ham, Parmesan cheese, fried chicken and shrimp tempura. The Bubbly Girl recipe section has some good party appetizers like Posh Popcorn and Tartelette Flambée, an easy bacon and onion pizza you make with purchased puff pastry.

Shellfish of all sorts is delicious with sparkling wine because the wine’s acidity is like adding a squeeze of lemon to a shrimp or some cracked crab. A tray of nigiri and maki rolls from your favorite sushi spot is perfect with bubbly.

 

 

 

Tartelette Flambé

Tartelette Flambé

This is a simplified version of the Alsatian pizza called Tarte Flambé that Chef Andre Soltner famously served at Lutece in New York City. These savory tartelettes are utterly delicious and impressive, but super-easy using frozen puff-pastry, available near the frozen pie crusts at better grocery stores. If you can’t find the Italian bacon known as pancetta, use thick smoked bacon with most of the fat removed or Canadian bacon. Pair a few of these with a salad and a glass of any bubbly from brut to Moscato and you’ve got yourself a meal.

Makes 12 tartelettes

  • 2 sheets prepared puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/4 cup fromage blanc (or small curd cottage cheese)
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche (or Mexican crema)
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, bacon or Canadian bacon, diced finely
  • 1 small onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt, to taste

Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut 12 circles out of the thawed puff pastry. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with cooking spray or cover with a baking mat and lay the 12 circles of dough on the sheet. Be sure to allow the puff pastry to sit at room temperature for at least 40 minutes before baking.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, cream together the fromage blanc, crème fraîche, cream cheese and flour until very smooth. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Add the pancetta or bacon to a cast iron skillet and cook over medium heat. When the bacon starts to heat up, add the onion and cook until the onion starts to become translucent. Turn off the flame.

Spread a generous teaspoon of the cheese mixture over each circle of dough, covering them completely. Top each with an equal amount of the bacon and onion mixture. Season the tartelettes with pepper and salt. Bake for 12 minutes, until each tartelette is golden on the edges and puffy. Serve immediately.

Variation: These are also quite good with the zesty bite of Gruyere cheese instead of the fresh cheese mixture. Substitute 1/2 cup of shredded Gruyere for the fromage blanc, crème fraîche, cream cheese and flour mixture. Sprinkle an equal amount of Gruyere over each tartelette, and then continue as directed.

By Maria C. Hunt, author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion Published August 2009 by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House

Crab Toasts

Crab Toasts

These retro snacks were a favorite of mine growing up; I thought they were the most delicious and sophisticated thing ever! I’ve updated my mother’s recipe with the addition of wasabi powder, which gives these toasted crab canapés a modern, spicy kick.

Makes 24 toasts

  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) butter
  • 1 can blue crab meat, drained and checked for shells
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dehydrated onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon wasabi powder
  • 1 package cocktail rye bread

In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, butter, crab, lemon juice, garlic powder, onions, paprika, Worcestershire sauce and wasabi powder. Using your hands or a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients together until they are thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let mixture rest in the refrigerator from 2 hours or overnight; this allows the favors to meld and gives the onions a chance to plump up.

Before serving, preheat the broiler to a low heat. Remove the crab mixture from the refrigerator to let it warm up slightly. Spread approximately two tablespoons of the crab mixture on each piece of cocktail rye bread. Place the canapés on a cookie sheet and broil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until bubbly and golden on top. Let cool slightly before serving.

By Maria C. Hunt, author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion Published August 2009 by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House

Posh Popcorn

Posh Popcorn

Hot buttered popcorn becomes sublime when paired with a fizzy glass of sparkling wine. You’ll find the savory popcorn perfect with any dry sparkling wine; the Five-Spice Popcorn variation is a better fit for a sweeter dry or demi sec style wine such as Chandon Riche or your favorite Moscato d’Asti.

Makes 6 cups

  • 1 bag good quality microwave popcorn
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Prepare the popcorn according to the manufacturer’s instructions, being careful not to burn it. Open the bag, avoiding the hot steam, and pour it in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle popcorn with melted butter, cheese and garlic salt. Serve at once.

Variations:

Spicy Popcorn

Omitting the Parmesan cheese and black pepper, sprinkle popcorn instead with 2 teaspoons of togarashi spice mix along with butter and garlic salt. Togarashi is a Japanese seven-spice blend available at Asian markets or in the Asian product aisle of most grocery stores.

Truffled Popcorn

Omitting the garlic salt; add 1/2 teaspoon black truffle oil to the butter before drizzling it over the popcorn. Easy does it; a little truffle oil goes a long way!

5-Spice Popcorn

Omitting the Parmesan cheese, garlic salt and pepper, drizzle popcorn with the melted butter along with 1 teaspoon of Chinese Five-Spice Powder and 1 tablespoon light brown sugar or more to taste.

By Maria C. Hunt, author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion Published August 2009 by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House

Mini Lamb Burgers with Feta and Mint

Mini Lamb Burgers with Feta and Mint

These burgers are quite flavorful and rich, though the addition of mint and feta give them a fresh flavor. They’re wonderful with any dry sparkling wine with a good amount of red grapes, such a blanc de noirs, rose, sparkling shiraz or Lambrusco.

Ingredients

1 pound ground lamb

1/3 cup crumbled feta

12 fresh mint leaves, snipped in ribbons

1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt, like Tony Cachere’s or Lawry’s

4 prepared soft rolls, like pan de sal, split cross wise

Small jar roasted red peppers

In a glass mixing bowl, combine lamb, feta, mint, olive oil, oregano, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Using your hands, mix well to incorporate the spices and cheese into the lamb. Form into 4-ounce patties; Using a 1/2 cup measure as a guide, divide the meat into four 4-ounce patties. Pat until flattened into a nice round patty about 1/3 inch thick.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the water dropped on its surface crackles, add the patties. Cook for 4 minutes on each side until done. (They’re also good cooked over a moderate barbecue.)

Remove burgers from pan and drain on paper towels.

Serve on rolls, garnished with a few pieces of roasted red pepper.

By Maria C. Hunt author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, $16.99) All rights reserved.

Gougeres with Herbs

Gougeres with Herbs

This recipe for gougeres – those warm puffy savory pastries perfect with chamapagne or any wine  – comes originally from the LA Times. I love it because it actually works! Follow the steps and you’ll be rewarded with loads of perfect puffs just like the ones in the picture.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 pound Gruyere cheese
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup cold milk plus
  • 2 tablespoons cold milk
  • 1/2 cup butter plus more for greasing pan
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 egg mixed with 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Trim rind from Gruyere and cut cheese into cubes.
Place chives, thyme and cheese in processor bowl. Process until cheese is coarsely chopped; set aside on foil. Do not wash bowl.

Bring water, 1/3 cup milk, butter, salt, nutmeg and pepper to boil in small saucepan over medium heat. Remove pan from heat. Use wooden spoon to vigorously stir in flour until mixture is well combined and leaves side of pan, about 1 minute. Return to heat and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes.

Transfer dough to processor bowl. Turn on processor and add 4 eggs through feed tube, stopping once to scrape down sides, until mixture is thick and smooth, about 20 seconds. Add remaining milk; process 5 seconds. Add reserved cheese mixture; process 5 seconds more.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 2 baking sheets and sprinkle lightly with water (steam will release puffs from pan after they are baked).
Put dough into pastry bag fitted with 3/4-inch-wide tube; pipe into 1 1/4-inch rounds on pans with 1-inch spacing. Alternately, use tablespoon to place rounds onto pan, pushing dough off with your finger. Use your finger to dab egg wash onto puffs, smoothing any rough edges.

 Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Use spatula to transfer to wire racks to rest 10 minutes. Serve warm. (Can be baked several hours ahead and kept at room temperature; reheat in 300 degree oven 8 minutes and serve warm. Or, arrange puffs in single layer on baking sheets and freeze.

Frozen puffs can then be packed in airtight bags and frozen up to 1 month.
Reheat unthawed puffs, uncovered, in single layer on baking sheet in 300 degree oven 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm.)This recipe yields 40 (1 1/2-inch) puffs or 20 cocktail servings.

Grissini with Smoked Salmon and Prosciutto

Grissini with Smoked Salmon & Prosciutto

The Italian breadsticks called grissini are the star of these elegant nibbles that look like gifts tied up with an edible bow. They take a bit of effort, but your guests will be delighted when they see your handiwork. Be sure to use good quality salmon and prosciutto that aren’t super salty. Makes 16 grissini

  • 4 ounces seasoned goat cheese or Boursin, chilled
  • 8 pieces prosciutto di San Daniele, cut in strips 2 1/2 inches long by 1 inch deep
  • 16 grissini Italian breadsticks
  • 16 chives
  • 8 pieces thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut in strips 2 1/2 inches long by 1 inch deep

Place a ball of cheese the size of a large pea onto one end of a strip of prosciutto. Flatten it slightly with one end of a breadstick. Starting from the end of the prosciutto with the cheese, tightly roll the prosciutto around the middle of the breadstick. Secure the roll by tying it closed with a chive; trim the end of the chives for neatness. Repeat the process with the rest of the prosciutto.

To roll the salmon, bring it to room temperature first. Then repeat the process, replacing the prosciutto with the salmon. Serve immediately.

By Maria C. Hunt, author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion Published August 2009 by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House

Potato Pancakes with Smoked Salmon

Ingredients

  • 2 large baking potatoes, peeled
  • 3 shallots, peeled
  • 1 egg
  • Coarse/kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Clarified butter or olive oil for sautéing
  • several pieces smoked salmon, thinly sliced
  • creme fraiche or sour cream
  • snipped chives

Directions

  1. Combine potatoes, shallots, and egg in a food processor and grate.
  2. Spoon grated-potato mixture into a bowl and add salt and pepper.
  3. Heat clarified butter or olive oil in a large sauté pan, preferably with a nonstick surface.
  4. Spoon 2 or more tablespoons of potato mixture into pan for each pancake. The thickness and diameter of the pancakes will depend on how they are to be used.
  5. Cook pancakes until golden brown, turning frequently.

When you have the desired amount of pancakes, lay them out on a serving plate. Top each one with a thin slice of smoked salmon, a dab of creme fraiche or sour cream and a pinch of snipped chives. 

Eat right away while they’re still warm.

Make about 2 dozen pancakes

Adapted from Chef David Burke

Strawberry Smash

Strawberry Smash

This variation on the mojito lets you mix strawberries with your favorite herb such as mint, basil, lemon verbena, cilantro, rosemary or thyme. Be sure to try the drink out before serving it friends to get the amount of herbs dialed in to your taste buds. It’s tasty with the alcohol or without; for a totally non-alcoholic drink, use sparkling water instead of the prosecco.

  • 3 ripe organic strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 6 leaves of one fresh herb such as mint, basil, verbena, cilantro OR 1-inch section of fresh rosemary or thyme
  • 1 ounce good white rum like 10 Cane or clean white gin like Bombay Sapphire
  • 1 ounce all-natural sour mix (see note) 
  • 2 ounces prosecco

Add the strawberries and your selected herb to a rocks glass. Smash the strawberries and herbs gently with a muddler until the berries are a pulp and the herbs smell strong. Add the rum or gin if using and sour mix to the glass and give it a stir. Fill 3/4 full with ice. Top off with the prosecco. Garnish with a sprig of the herb you used.

Note: To create my all natural sour mix, mix 1 cup lemon and or lime juice with 1 cup sugar in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Heat over a low-medium flame, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When cool, pour syrup into a sterile glass bottle and refrigerate. Keeps for up to 2 weeks.

By Maria Hunt, author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion

Sweet Liberty

Sweet Liberty

Sweet Liberty was inspired by the red lemonade served for Juneteenth, the celebration of the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached slaves in Galveston, Texas. It’s red and blue color scheme also makes it a natural for the Fourth of July.

Makes 1 cocktail

  • 5 raspberries
  • 5 blueberries
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 ounce Sobieski vodka
  • 5 ounces dry sparkling wine
  • 1 whole raspberry, for garnish
  • 1 thin lemon twist, for garnish

Put raspberries, lemon and sugar to the bottom of a tall glass. Using a muddler, smash the fruit to release its juices. Add vodka and stir. Fill glass three-quarters with ice. Top off with sparkling wine. Add sparkling wine. Tuck ends of the lemon twist inside the raspberry and thread onto a cocktail pick.

By Maria C. Hunt, author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion Published August 2009 by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House