Move over Mimosa

Party Tray! Front row: Sparkling Lemonade. Second row: Veuve and Bourb & Tangerine and Ginger Champs. Third row: Pop my Cherry, Violets are Indigo, & Cranberry Star Anise Champs.

10, 9, 8… the countdown is on! It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2010 and welcome in 2011. Unless you have a bottle of Veuve Clicquot or Dom Pérignon lying around waiting for a celebratory splurge, your sparkling wine options may seem mediocre – nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. And since most of us are still pinching pennies, we recommend you sidestep the big splurge this year in favor of a modestly priced and under appreciated Spanish, Italian or California sparkler. But we also appreciate the need for something delicious on the big annual page turner, and we want to offer up a few of our recommendations to change the drab to fab. So go ahead and pick up that inexpensive bottle of sparkling wine, or case if your having a party, and doctor it up with a few of these suggestions.

Fruit Reductions

If you’re looking for something a bit more colorful and interesting than just a splash of O.J. in your glass, try a fruit reduction with a little spice added. Over medium heat reduce 1 cup of any fruit juice along with an herb or spice, until there’s about 1/4 cup left in the pan. Be creative in your thinking but don’t overwhelm your palette. A good rule of thumb is one fruit juice with one spice. Some examples: tangerine juice and fresh ginger, cranberry and star anise, pomegranate and clove, apple and cinnamon. The combinations are endless. If you’re having a party, prepare a few different reductions and let your guests choose their own combinations.

Pucker up! Sugar never tasted so sweet.

Jams and Jellies

If you don’t want to reduce the fruit juice you can also try a little fruit preserves. Just add a small spoonful to the bottom of your flute, pour a little sparkling wine over the top, stir to combine and finishing by topping it off with more sparkling wine.

Sorbets

A little scoop of your favorite fruit sorbet in the bottom of a glass slowly topped with sparkling wine. Did we say, YUM?!

Veuve and Bourb

Any fan of Absolutely Fabulous will remember the season that Eddie’s kitchen sported a huge, clear glass fridge full of Veuve Clicquot. The ladies mixed a little bourbon with their Champagne to create one of our all-time favorite Champagne cocktails – “Veuve and Bourb.” For all those bourbon fans out there, this is a must try. Just a splash of bourbon (we prefer Bulleit) is all you need, topped off with your favorite bubbly. But be careful! These drinks have a way of sneaking up on you and before you know it, you might be passed out on the floor just like our best British gal pals Patsy and Eddie.

New Champagne Cocktails

Sparkling Lemonade: A little limoncello with a sugar rimmed champagne flute gives a bubbly elegant twist to the classic Lemon Drop cocktail.

Violets are Indigo: Crème de violet added to Champagne is a wonderful floral treat. Garnish with edible flowers to make it truly special.

Pop goes the cherry: Can you tie a cherry stem into a knot with your tongue? Maraschino liquor added to Champagne along with a maraschino cherry. If you’re a virgin, you won’t be for long after this drink!

Tried and True

After a sip of this cocktail, Elvis on Velvet will look like the Mona Lisa.

If you’re not up to being adventurous with your sparkling this year you can always stick to these classic Champagne cocktails.

Kir Royale: Crème de Cassis and a lemon twist with Champagne

Champagne Cocktail: a cube of sugar, a dash of bitters, Champagne and a lemon twist.

Bellini: peach puree added to champagne.

Black Velvet: For all those with a mixture of Irish and French heritage you might want to try a Black Velvet – half Guinness and half Champagne. After all, in our opinion, Guinness is the Champagne of beers.

Whatever your tipple, we hope your year-end celebrations bring you much joy and revelry as we all look forward to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

Cheers to 2011!

Godmé and Gougères

In April, we spent a quiet morning in the Champagne vineyards just outside of Reims before venturing into the village of Verzenay where we were introduced to the Godmé matriarchs and sipped their stunning Godmé Père et Fils wines. After touring the family’s caves, our O’Chateau guide, Trong,  schooled us on the mechanics of Champagne production before returning us to the surface where we were seated at a guest table and served generous pours of the house’s flight of grand cru and premier cru bottlings. We were transfixed by the complexity and finesse of each bottle we tasted so we brought back three bottles for celebrations throughout 2010 and 2011. Never, in all our years of sparkling indulgence had we tasted anything quite so exquisite!

A collage of photos taken at maison Godme.

A collage of photos taken at maison Godmé.

Our 18th anniversary was Friday, but we ended up celebrating it at home on Saturday. We wanted some sort of French themed menu to go with the special bottle of Champagne and ended up at Tartine Bakery, in San Francisco, for their wonderful walnut bread, to be used in a Zuni Cafeinspired roast chicken and bread salad, and a couple gougères, which are the tastiest, and biggest, gougères we’ve eaten. The air-filled puff of savory pâte à choux is peppery and cheesy and … you get the idea. Tartine’s gougères are giant specimens – crisp and golden brown on the outside, airy and tender on the inside. But these round puffs of pastry goodness make great hors d’oeuvres when baked up in smaller, bite-sized portions. We’ve made gougères at home before with great success but we find it much easier to stand in line to get our hands on Tartine’s version. It also gives us a chance to order many other baked goodies that they make so well.

The gougères paired perfectly with the crisp Godmé Père et Fils Premier Cru Brut Rose. As we ate the gougères and drank the wine we talked about how spoiled we are when so many of us aren’t doing as well as we all should be doing. We have great lives and we are thankful everyday for them. That we were able to bring together two of our favorite food/wine producers in our celebratory meal speaks to the kind of year we’ve had.

We finished the Godmé just as we were ready to eat our roast chicken and bread salad. With that we drank a very modest bottle of Freixenet Carta Nevada Cava. We’ve been drinking Freixenet for years because we like its classic cava finish, but the taste of the Freixenet brought us back to reality with its bold flavor and unmemorable finish, and because it’s one of the least expensive good tasting wines on the market. But for those few moments with the Godmé earlier in the evening we felt like we were back in France. It may not be every day we get to sip Godmé Champagne and eat Tartine gougères, but we do know that we’ll have at least two more experiences with the Godmé before it’s gone. As for the gougères, we’re lucky enough to enjoy them so long as Tartine produces them.

Cheers!

Gougères from Tartine

310g (1-1/4 cups) nonfat milk (or water, or half whole milk and half water)
140g (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
140g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
115g (4oz or 3/4 cup grated) Gruyère cheese, grated
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced

Topping:
1 large egg
pinch of salt
grated Gruyère cheese for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Line a sheet pan with parchment.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, butter, and 1-teaspoon salt and place over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a rolling boil. Dump all the flour in and stir madly with a wooden spoon until it forms a smooth mass that pulls away from the sides of the pan, leaving a thin film of dried dough on the bottom, about 3 minutes.

Place the dough in a large mixing bowl and beat for about a minute, then add each of the 5 eggs, one at a time, beating at medium speed until smooth. Stir in the cheese, pepper, and thyme. Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe 3-inch rounds about 1 inch high onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart (if making hors d’oeuvres, make 1-inch mounds 1-1/2 inches apart).

In a small bowl, whisk the egg and salt together and brush the tops of the mounds with the egg wash. Lightly sprinkle each with a little grated Gruyère. Bake them for 35 to 45 minutes (25 minutes for the small versions), or until golden brown. Puncture the bottom of each with a knife and cool in the turned-off oven until serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Zuni-inspired Roasted Chicken and Bread Salad

1 small whole roasted chicken, approximately 3 lbs, boned and cut into 2 inch pieces, skin on
8 ounces crusty country bread (not sourdough), cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
4 – 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 – 3 garlic cloves, slivered
¼ cup slivered scallions, including a little bit of the green part
2 tablespoons slightly salted water
1 tablespoon dried currents or raisins
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon warm water
2 handfuls mixed lettuce greens
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bread Salad

Preheat oven to 450. Place currents in a small bowl and cover with red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside. Heat 1-tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet and sauté garlic and green onions until fragrant and slightly soft but before they color. Remove to a small prep bowl and set aside. Toss bread cubes in two tablespoons oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake until just slightly toasted, approximately 3 – 4 minutes. Remove from oven and pour in to large mixing bowl. Pour pine nuts and currents with their vinegar and water over the toasted bread cubes. Add sautéed garlic and scallions and toss to coat. Pour the bread cube mixture into a baking dish and tent with foil. Set in oven and bake approximately 15 – 20 minutes or until the bread starts to dry out and darken. Remove from oven and set aside.

Assembling

In a large salad bowl, add Champagne vinegar, 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk to combine and taste, adjusting for balance. Add lettuce, chicken and bread salad and toss until thoroughly coated with the vinaigrette.