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Party Recipes and Pairings

Entertaining, Party Recipes and Pairings

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

December 27, 2012
maria_holiday_Framboise_punch

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 mustache, 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’s 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. Since 1902, they’ve quietly been making fine bubbly that drinks like Champagne high in the hills near Trento not far from the Alps.

Sweet sparkling wines are always crowd-pleasers, whether it’s 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 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.

See how easy that is?

© 2012 Maria Hunt aka The Bubbly Girl.

 

Food + Recipes, Party Recipes and Pairings

Grandma Dorothy’s Deviled Eggs for #LetsLunch

December 9, 2011
deviled_egg_recipe

 

It sounds like a Black family movie cliche, but growing up near Chicago, my relatives got together for big family dinners a la Soul Food. Nearly every weekend, my parents, siblings and I would pile in the car and make the hour drive from the Northwest suburbs to Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.  We couldn’t wait to visit the gorgeous three-story brownstone that my Grandma Dorothy shared with her sister Aunt Fannie and Uncle Willie.

Aunt Fannie always had an amazing dessert ready: a caramel cake, chocolate meringue pie, strawberry cheesecake or maybe a three-layer coconut cake with caramelized pineapple in between. I loved sweets like the fat kid in 21 Questions loves cake (still do) so I was always more partial to Aunt Fannie’s cooking.

To be fair, my Grandma made a stellar banana cake with a baked-on crust and did some pretty good punches too; I loved stealing tastes of the sherbet punch with sweet sparkling wine or the orangey Southern Comfort punch. But Grandma Dorothy was more serious and practical, so she specialized in the savory dishes: pepper steak, pots of collard greens, cornbread stuffing, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and deviled eggs.

It’s been years since I sat down to one of those dinners, and I miss them.

When I heard the theme for #LetsLunch was side dishes, I panicked for a minute. Though I can cook up a pot of mustard greens, melt marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes and mix up some stuffing, I don’t actually have a family recipe for any of these. And this week, I sure haven’t had time to cook anything elaborate.

But a quick call to my mom and Grandma Dorothy — who turned 96 this year — yielded her recipe for Deviled Eggs.

Grandma Dorothy’s Deviled Eggs
eight hard-boiled eggs, thoroughly cooled
1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped pickle relish (without the liquid)
1 or 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
dash salt  (optional)
dash white pepper
dash sweet paprika
Carefully slice the cooled eggs in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and mash them, mixing in the relish, mayonnaise, mustard salt (if using) and white pepper.
The ideal stuffing consistency is about that of mashed potatoes. Add more pickle relish or mayonnaise as desired or needed.
Carefully spoon the seasoned egg yolk into the openings of the egg whites. Sprinkle with sweet paprika. If you like, garnish with lettuce and parsley sprigs or chives.
Note: If I wanted to do a twist on these, I’d mix in a tablespoon of: bacon bits, crumbled blue cheese, caviar, cheddar cheese and sprinkle of cayenne.
Food + Recipes, Party Recipes and Pairings

Savory Blackberry Cheese Tarts: Holiday Cooking with Driscoll’s Berries

December 3, 2011
raspberries and blackberries

A perfect little blackberry tart.

I love blackberries, and I usually think about them as a summer flavor. But since they’re available year-round, and  low-calorie, high-nutrition snack, I make an exception to the eating with the seasons rule. Earlier this week, Rick Rodgers, (with a D) — the entertaining guru, chef and author of a bazillion books — showed us how blackberries can sweeten up winter cooking in an event hosted by Driscoll’s Berries.

We visited the Hands-On Gourmet kitchen, a unique space for parties and culinary corporate team-building in Dogpatch. (It’s around the corner from a cleverly named bar called Retox.) The kitchen had a large demo kitchen set up, beautiful displays of food and drinks and space for everyone to sit at belly tables with tall Chivari chairs. And the staff were very polished and friendly, especially my pal Fausto.

The guests included a bunch of heavyweights in the blogging world like Cooking With Amy, Eat the Love, Punk Domestics and a fun new pastry chef turned San Francisco baking examiner Angela Rosoff.

In between Rodgers’ segments, noted food photographer Caren Alpert talked about ways to take better food shots. I liked her tips about having different background to use in soft focus, using a white sheet or even paper to bounce more light onto the plate and styling your hero plate last.

Driscoll’s also used the event to announce their “Celebrate the Sweeter Moments Contest.” Tell them how berries made an occasion sweeter and you could win a Viking Cookware set valued at $1,350. The contest ends December 15; for more information or to enter, visit Driscoll’s.

Everything was delicious, from the Blackberry Cobbler cocktail with gin, lemon and a splash of bubbly to the bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin in blackberry sauce with sweet potato purèe.

But since I love party food and things that come in small packages, my favorite was Rick’s Savory Cheese Tartlets topped with blackberries and thyme. I adored the cream-cheese crust which was utterly rich but had an airy quality, too. And something about adding the dab of honey on top made it remind me of Greek pastries I enjoyed growing up in Chicago.

Savory Cheese Tartlets with Honey-Thyme Berries

Servings: Makes 24 tartlets, 8 to 12 servings

Number of Ingredients: 10

Cream Cheese Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature,
plus more for the pans, if needed

3 ounces cream cheese, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature

Filling

5 ounces rindless goat cheese, at room temperature

3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. minced fresh thyme

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. honey, preferably full-flavored, such as chestnut or thyme, warmed

About 1 cup mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, and sliced strawberries)

Fresh thyme leaves, removed from their stems, for garnish

1. To make the dough, combine the flour and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade and pulse to combine. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse about 10 times, until the mixture begins to clump together. Gather up the dough and shape into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and easy to handle, about 2 hours.

2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Have ready two 12-cup miniature muffin pans (each cup measuring 1 7/8 inches across the top and 7/8 inches deep), preferably nonstick. If the pans are not nonstick, lightly butter them.

3. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces. One at a time, place a piece of dough in a muffin cup, and use your fingers to press it firmly and evenly up the sides to make a pastry shell. (A wooden tart tamper can help the job go quickly.) Freeze for 5 minutes.

4. To make the filling, mash the goat cheese and cream cheese together until smooth. Add the egg, yolk, minced thyme, salt, and pepper and whisk until combined. Spoon equal amounts of the filling into the chilled pastry shells.

5. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is puffed, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pans. Remove the tartlets from the pans and transfer to a wire cake rack to cool completely. (If you wish, warm the tartlets in a preheated 350°F oven for 5 minutes before serving.)

6. Just before serving, lightly brush the tops of the tartlets with about half of the honey. Arrange the berries on top as desired. Drizzle with the remaining honey. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and serve.

Recipe adapted from Rick Rodgers

© 2011 Maria Hunt aka The Bubbly Girl

Food + Recipes, Party Recipes and Pairings

Tartelette Flambé

January 31, 2011

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

Food + Recipes, Party Recipes and Pairings

Crab Toasts

January 31, 2011

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