Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Posh Popcorn: Easy & Elegant Party Food

Popcorn is one of most heavenly foods to eat with sparkling wine: it's crunchy, buttery and goes down so well with a glass of something bubbly. Skeptical? Then think of it as an upgrade on the movie theater soda-and-popcorn combo.

This recipe, originally created for my book The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, August 2009) is super easy and elegant. And best of all it will be the one thing that everybody likes. Once you master this basic recipe, feel free to create your own variations or sign up for my free entertaining newsletter The Bubbly Girl Chronicles to learn some more of mine.

Posh Popcorn

Pop one bag of freshly microwaved popcorn or 6 cups of popcorn made the old-fashioned way. Season the warm popcorn with:
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon black truffle oil (optional)
Toss popcorn and seasonings to combine well and serve right away or this can be made an hour or so in advance and stored in an airtight container until serving.

© By Maria C. Hunt 2008 All Rights Reserved

The Best New Year's Bubbly Under $20

Champagne may be the most famous and most talked about sparkling wine in the world, but all that sparkles is not champagne.

As I explain in my new book The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion, (Clarkson Potter, August 2009) while true champagne only comes from the region northeast of Paris, oodles of delicious, satisfying and affordable sparkling wines are made all over the world using the same careful methods used in Champagne.

With people seeking ways to economize and still celebrate the start of the New Year, it makes a perfect opportunity to explore other sparkling wines. Some of the best stand-ins for champagne are the creamy French sparkling wines called Cremants which can come from Alsace, Burgundy and Limoux. Italy and Spain also produce some budget sparklers.

The other great place to find loads of good affordable sparkling wine is right here in the United States in diverse places like Northern California and New Mexico. Most of these are widely available at well-stocked liquor or grocery stores; follow the links below to learn where to order a 2009 supply of these great bargain bubbles.
Happy New Year!

10 Great Wines Under $20
Roederer Estate Brut NV ($19)
Taste: crisp green apple
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose ($17)
Taste: rich and fresh
Gruet Brut ($15)
Taste: crisp and citrusy
Piper Sonoma Brut ($15)
Taste: citrusy, fresh and toasty
Domaine Chandon Brut Classic ($14)
Taste: elegant citrus and pear
J. Laurens Cremant de Limoux Brut ($12)
Taste: rich and toasty
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva ($11)
Taste: dried apple and minerals
Veuve Ambal Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rose ($10)
Taste: red currant and plum
Rotari Brut Arte Italiana ($9)
Taste: peaches and toast
Blason de Bourgogne Cremant de Bourgogne Brut ($8 at Trader Joe’s)
Taste: pear and apple

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Orange Pomegranate Holiday Punch Recipe

It's not that I can't cook, but these days, everyone asks me to bring some sparkling beverage to parties. Finalizing plans for Christmas Day libations, I'm considering what kind of bubbly or holiday punch to serve.

A good choice would be one like this Pomegranate Orange Punch that uses seasonal fruit like pomegranates and oranges and is a crowd pleaser (read slightly sweet).


Pomegranate Orange Punch

Makes 10-12 servings

For ice mold:
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

For Punch:
Seeds from one large pomegranate, about 1 cup
2 cups orange juice
1 bottle (375 ml) Quady Essensia Orange Muscat Dessert Wine
1/2 cup Torani Pomegranate Syrup
1 tablespoon candied ginger, minced
1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
2 bottles Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, well chilled
20 mint leaves, torn in pieces (optional)

If making the ice mold, be sure to start it a day before you want to serve the punch so it is nice and cold. Freeze 1 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds in a ring gelatin mold.

To make the punch, in a large heavy pint glass, add half the remaining pomegranate seeds and crush with a muddler to releasethe juice. Add juice to a large punch bowl, throwing away the seeds. Add the orange juice, orange muscat wine, pomegranate syrup, candied ginger and bitters to a punch bowl. Just before serving, add the two bottles of chilled cava. Add the ice ring if using and sprinkle with mint, if desired.

By Maria C. Hunt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Sound of Champagne Bubbles?

If a music could embody the sound of champagne bubbles popping, what would it sound like? Driving around shopping this weekend, I heard a report on National Public Radio's Weekend America about a musical instrument called the celesta (pronounced chel-esta).

It sounded like a cross between a cello and I-don't-know-what, but its an upright instrument created in France that resembles a piano but sounds like a magical xylophone. We hear celesta music this time of year in Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

It's also that sweet tinkly sound in Buddy Holly's Everyday.

I love this sound, but what caught my attention is that a listener from Massachusetts wrote in to say that she imagines the celesta must be what popping champagne bubbles sound like. Listen to the NPR piece and see if you agree.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Best Spots for Bubbly by the Glass

Whenever I get my hands on a wine list, the first place I turn is the list of sparkling wines and champagnes by the glass.

Besides being a great way to get your palate primed for a good meal, bubbly is just plain fun way to get the evening off to a giggly, effervescent start. And ordering by the glass is more affordable than splurging on an entire bottle, natch.

Whisk'n'ladle in La Jolla has an interesting selection of well-priced bubbly by the glass and so do Addison at The Grand Del Mar and Market Restaurant + Bar in Del Mar.

In case you're in NYC and want to know where to go for a sparkling start to your evening, here's a great story and slide show called The Magic Flute from Page Six Magazine.

They hit some of my favorites that would make a good addition to a holiday party including the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and the biodynamic (super-organic) Fleury Brut Vintage Champagne and a Juve y Camps Brut Rose Cava I can't wait to try. Cheers!

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Favorite Things: Bubbly & Missoni

The Bubbly Girl has had a glorious week of bubbles and amazing events in San Diego and Las Vegas this week; it's hard for me to decide what has been most amazing!

First I must tell you about the wonderful Missoni charity fashion show presented this week by Nordstrom's to benefit the Center for Community Solutions. In case you've never heard of it, CCS does life-changing and vital work to help women who are affected by sexual assault and domestic violence. I love the warm spirit of all their events, but this was the best.

A huge tent in Joan Waitt's back yard (yeah it's that big) was the scene of a salon filled with the spring collection of colorful and sexy designs by this iconic Italian fashion house. The delightful Margherita Missoni, the granddaughter of the founders and the fresh young face of the line, was the special guest, along with her uncle Vittorio Missoni and aunt Maurizia.

San Diego's most fashionable women -- many dressed in their favorite Missoni dresses from seasons past (I'm in my Ernesta dress) -- mingled, window-shopped and sipped Zardetto Prosecco while nibbling on creative appetizers by Waters Fine Catering. My favorite quip was when the server offered a petite blue cheese ball covered with walnuts and Missoni - er make that Mission- figs.

Just before 7 p.m. we all entered the dramatically lit runway tent and were treated to the same fashion show that was done in Milan. So many pretty things...I can always dream!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Happy Repeal Day

December 5 is a high holiday for savvy American bartenders called Repeal Day. It's the day in 1933 the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition. It's hard to believe, but from 1920 to 1933, it was illegal to sell, make or transport alcohol in the U.S.

Of course, people found all sorts of ways around Prohibition. They smuggled the stuff from Canada or Mexico, made their own bathtub gin with juniper flavor ordered from Sears & Roebuck or went to speakeasies, wild underground bars where you needed a password to get in. Probably the one good thing about Prohibition is that it's the first time women were allowed to go out and have a cocktail; bars previously had been a male-only affair.

After Prohibition ended, drinkers told each other to stay wet and made an umbrella with rain falling underneath it a symbol of Repeal Day. The best way to honor an American holiday like Repeal Day is with a classic cocktail, like a Gin & Tonic or a Long Island Iced Tea - both created during Prohibition - or a pre-Prohibition cocktail like a Rob Roy.

Few San Diego bars appreciate the romance, history and clean flavors found in classic cocktails, but Oceanaire Seafood Room downtown does. The swank restaurant run by my Top Chef pal Brian Malarkey offers a retro 1930s atmosphere extends to the bar, which serves drinks like the tangy Sidecars and fruity Singapore Slings. I'll be ordering a classic Champagne Cocktail made with a sugar cube doused in a dash of bitters.
Have fun and stay wet!