Monday, December 31, 2007

Uncorked: It's not too late to buy your bubbly

If you have not acquired your bubbly for New Year’s Eve celebrating, it is not too late. Local wine outlets have an amazing array of the bubbly stuff in all price ranges.
Sparkling wine is made all over the world from about every grape imaginable. The epitome of bubbly is Champagne. True Champagne comes only from the clearly defined region in France also known as Champagne.
The thing setting Champagne apart other than its region of origin is the labor-intensive production methods used in making this sparkling wine. It is one of the world’s most complex wines and involves multiple steps in the production process.
Sparkling wines from other regions of the world are sometimes made using the same labor-intensive methods. These wines carry the phrase Méthode Champenoise meaning the wine was made using the same labor-intensive methods used in making champagne. Less expensive sparkling wines are generally less labor-intensive. Where Champagne always goes through a secondary fermentation in the individual bottle, less expensive sparkling wines go through their secondary fermentation in huge vats and the cheapest of the cheap go through no secondary fermentation at all but are made to sparkle by pumping carbon dioxide into industrial size vats containing still wine.
Sparkling wines run the entire gamut of pricing. You don’t have to opt for $3.00 Andre this year. There are great sparklers to be had without breaking the bank. Try these:
Champagne Drappier (drap-pee-yay) Rose Brut. $44 from The Wine Closet at Tyson Art and Frame in Golden Springs. A dry, brut, intensely fruit flavored pink Champagne from a small reliable French Champagne house. Great as an aperitif. Bold enough to hold up to an array of holiday foods especially ham.
Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc Brut Vintage 2004 Sparkling Wine. $35.25 at Tyson’s. Schramsberg is American’s equivalent to a French Champagne house. Schramsberg uses Méthode Champenoise in the production of their sparking wines.
A white wine from white grapes, blanc de blancs, this stunning wine has a yeasty nose with citrus characteristics on the palate and a vibrant finish. Dry and crisp.
Veuve du Vernay Brut NV (non vintage) sparkling wine from the Loire Valley in France. $10.75 from Tyson’s. A great value wine for weddings. Drinks and behaves like true Champagne. Dry with a slight sweetness. Great for making Champagne type cocktails.
Dom Pérignon 1999. $165 at the
Wine Cellar in the 300 block of Quintard Ave. Sealed in a presentation box, this wine is arguably the world’s most famous Champagne named for the monk who is erroneously credited with inventing Champagne.
A 1999 vintage. Vintages in Champagne are declared only when there is an outstanding harvest year otherwise wines are non-vintage and blends of several years. It should be tried at least once.
Brut Gruet Méthode Champenoise NV Sparkling Wine from New Mexico. $16.99 at the Wine Cellar. Made by the French family who in addition to owning Gruet in New Mexico also owns Gruet et Fils and Champagne Paul Laurent in France. This stunner should be a good conversation starter at any New Year’s Eve party.
Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut Cuvee from Australia. $9.99 at the Wine Cellar. This inexpensive blend of chardonnay and pinot noir goes through secondary fermentation in the bottle like true Champagne. Refreshing and pleasant.
Mumm Napa Blanc de Noirs. $21.89 at Midtown Chevron on 13th and Wilmer in Anniston. From French Champagne house Mumm’s Napa operation. A white wine from a dark red grape, pinot noir. This sparkling white wine exhibits red berry fruit aromas and has a smooth creamy finish.
Perrier Jouet Grand Brut. (pair-ree-yah zhoo-way). $37.79 at Midtown. True Champagne. Yeasty nose with crisp, clean fruit flavors on the palate.
Veuve Clicquot Brut. (vurv klee-koh). In the $53 range at both Midtown and the Wine Cellar. One of the most popular Champagnes in America. A traditional blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier.
Moet &Chandon White Star. $40.99 at Greenbrier Winn Dixie. Excellent entry-level champagne from the house whose prestige cuvee is Dom Pérignon.
Champagne Pommery Brut Royal. $46.99 at Winn Dixie. A great mid priced Champagne from an old Champagne house known for light, elegant easily drinkable wines.

-- Pat Kettles

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Would you eat moose nose or fish heads?

I must admit, I'm a huge fan of this guy.

Andrew Zimmern, the Bizarre Foods guy on the Travel Channel, has an awesome job and an even more awesome TV show. I'm hooked.

Last night, Andrew flew to Alaska to eat -- you got it -- bizarre foods of that state. And he did.

Jellied moose nose.

Fermented fish head. (Yes, he sucked the head.)

Reindeer pizza.

Whitefish ice cream.

You gotta see this show to believe it.

His Web site is pretty cool, with links to blogs and TV schedules and all kinds of fun stuff. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Simple appetizers that even a dummy can handle

This headline -- 101 simple appetizers in 20 minutes or less -- says it all.

It's a good read from the NY Times on easy stuff for the holiday season, even if the holiday season is about over. It's worth reading. Trust me.

Boudoin, anyone?

Ever had Crawfish Boudoin?

I did over the weekend at a spot in Jackson Square in New Orleans, and it wasn't bad. PRetty good, actually -- though in hindsight I would have preferred it not in a sandwich and instead as part of another meal. I love crawfish, and I like all types of south Louisiana sausage and such, but I had never had it in this combination. Came in a huge portion.

I'll say this, too: When I ordered it, the waitress was kind enough to warn me that it wasn't a crawfish sandwich -- apparently, folks often expect to get fried crawfish like you would with a shrimp po-boy. Instead, they get crawfish boudoin, which is entirely different, of course.

With thanks to, here's how to make it. There's all kinds of cool recipes on that Web site, so check it out.

10 servings

Prep Time:
20 minutes

Cook Time:
45 minutes

Ready In:
1 hour, 5 minutes

Boudin, one of the more popular Cajun delicasies which can be purchased from just about every supermarket, convenience store and restaurants, is basically a rice dressing stuffed in casing. Take your favorite meat, most popular are pork, crawfish and shrimp, add seasonings and rice, stuff it all in a sasuage, add a soda or beer and you have a great Cajun lunch or supper.

2 pounds crawfish tails
cooking oil for sautéing
4 large onions chopped
1/8 cup flour
1/2 small can tomato sauce
salt, black pepper, red pepper to taste
8 cups cooked rice
1/2 bunch fresh parsley chopped fine
1/2 bunch fresh green onions tops and all chopped fine
2 -3 shallots chopped fine
garlic powder optional

Sauté crawfish tails in oil, stirring occasionally. Add onions and garlic powder and shallots; let fry 5 minutes when cooking the onions. These items add extra zest and great taste to the boudin. Add flour and mix well. Pour in tomato sauce, salt, both red and black pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add water and cook about 25 minutes. (You will need to add enough liquid that when you add the rice, your mixture will still be moist.) Add cooked rice and stuff into hog casing or make boudoin balls. (The casing should be soaked in water to regain the elasticity and to remove the excess preservative salt prior to stuffing.) Hog casings are purchased by the hank. A hank will stuff 100 pounds of sausage. The smallest quantity sold at a butcher or specialty meat shop is half of a hank.) Drop in boiling water and simmer 10 minutes. Ready to eat!Add onion tops and parsley to the rice and crawfish mixture before stuffing. Shrimp could be substituted for the crawfish.) May be frozen before cooking. (To cook, thaw out completely. Pour water in a pan, bring to boiling, add boudoin and cook 10 minutes.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

World's Easiest Meatballs

This is one of those recipes that's always a favorite, and when folks find out what's in it, they're amazed at how low-maintenance (and, frankly, low-brow) it is.

The meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork (run some boneless porkchops, trimmed of all fat, through the "pulse" setting on your food processor)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 eggs
1 cup freshly, super-finely grated Romano cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons minced Italian flat leaf parsley (food process it)
salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 cups (or so) Italian seasoned bread crumbs
a cup or so of warm water
Butter for frying

I usually do this part the night before:
Mix everything except the bread crumbs, water and butter. Mix this meat blend extremely well. You don't want to detect any difference between the pork and the beef. I put the dough hook on my big mixer and just let it work for several minutes.

Then gradually add enough bread crumbs to make a mixture that will be soft, but still firm enough to hold the shape of a ball. If it's too dry, add some water. You may not need all the bread crumbs, depending on how much fat is in your meat and how big the eggs are.

The result you're looking for is a ball no more than 1 inch across. It needs to be soft, but it must be firm enough and round enough to brown in the butter. The biggest mistake folks make is creating meatballs that are too big. Don't. They take too long to cook, which means they're burned on the outside before they're done in the center. They also give you less mileage for your ingredient costs at your party.

Heat the butter in a large skillet. Brown the meatballs evenly, turning frequently. Don't crowd the pan. The browning helps them hold their shape when you slow-cook them in the sauce. Put them on a cooling rack. When they're cool enough to handle, pack 'em away and let them chill overnight in the freezer. They hold their shape better when they slow-cook the next day. They won't be frozen solid, but they'll be firm enough to stir. The next day, pop them in your big Crock-pot and pour over the secret, sophisticated sauce.

The sauce: equal parts chili sauce (next to the ketchup in the grocery) and grape jelly (not JAM). However much sauce you want is however much of this chili-grape concoction you make. Do not spend any more on these ingredients than you have to. I've bought the cheap. I've bought the name brand. There's no difference in the end result.

Let the meatballs cook on low for several hours. Stirring occasionally to distribute the sauce, but very gently. (No one wants to eat a mangled meatball.) Then watch them disappear.

The spicier the better

The family's going to the Big Easy later this week -- if I can get all my work done in time, which is a big if -- so all I'm thinking about, or at least most of what I'm thinking about, is what we're gonna eat.

Here's the lineup, which consists of our favorite places that we must go to when we go:

Dinner Thursday: Old Coffee Pot on St. Peter .. Red beans and rice that I'll share with my daughter (she likes spicy food, too).

Breakfast Friday: Mother's on Poydras, where I may break down and have a debris sandwich, with Tabasco and a Bloody Mary.

Lunch Friday: ACME Oyster House on Iberville, where we'll have -- you got it -- oysters with my special sauce ... black pepper, ketchup, Tabasco, worcestershire sauce and horseradish. I'll take at least a dozen.

Dinner somewhere else on Friday, haven't decided yet. I'm taking suggestions.

Late-night snack both nights at Cafe du Monde, strong coffee and lots of powdered sugar.

Bus leaves early Thursday. Call if you wanna tag along. Our van holds 8.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fancy napkins, anyone?

If you need some dash for your holiday table, the folks from The Old Farmer's Almanac have offered this illustration for folding napkins.

Click here.

Coming to Your Table this week

We're in the home stretch for 2008, which brings up the last run of Christmas recipes. We've got some new twists on traditional side dishes, as well as quick, sweet treats that can be made easily.

For your last-minute Christmas gifts, we've got a review of The Hot Item for 2007, the panini press. (Editorial comment: I've got a Cuisinart one, and I'll get on a tear and use it three times a week, minimum, for everything from sandwiches to fish and chicken.)

Finally, we've got an ode to Emeril Lagasse's departure from prime time on Food Network.