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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Check It Out: Helpful Hints from Freixenet for NYE

I'm in the middle of a house purge which means tackling the piles of accumulated wealth that have stacked themselves in every corner of my house. While engaging in a bout of "Dire, Must Keep This!" and "Where Did This Come From?" I rediscovered a little gem that seems holiday appropriate for this evening.

Apparently during the many years in which I made a bottle of Freixenet central to my New Year's celebrations, I acquired a copy of their The Freixenet Social Survival Guide. Great little book and a fun read. It covers all your Party Guest/Host Do's and Dont's plus so much more.

They also had a section which seemed perfect for this evening so I thought I would end this year by sharing some helpful passages brought to you by the makers of this fine bubbly beverage with many wishes from me for a Happy New Year and Bon Appetit for 2015!

Selections from "Chapter 4 -- Cheers" (p. 39-48)


By the stem. Always by the stem. If you hold it by the bowl, cold white wines, champagnes, and martinis will lose their chill, while cellar-temperature reds will become too warm.


Never drink to your own toast -- that is, when you're the one being toasted. It's equivalent to giving yourself a pat on the back.


Whether it's a prestige selection from an ancient winery or a young, punky blend from a place you've never heard of, you should give every bottle of opening that even a seasoned sommelier would approve of.


Make sure the champagne bottle has been stored on its side and hasn't been jostled recently. Check the temperature: it should feel like it just came out of the refrigerator (about 45° F.). If it's a bit tepid, put it on ice in a champagne bucket for 20 minutes.

1. Keep the bottle pointed away from every living creature, including yourself.

2. Prop the bottle on a table or counter top.

3. Remove the foil wrapper from the top part of the neck area.

4. Cover the top of the bottle with a cloth (a linen napkin or hand towel will do just fine).

5. While keeping the cork stabilized with one hand, loosen but don't remove the metal cage that holds the cork in place. This is done by untwisting the protruding wire loop. Never leave the cork unattended with the wire cage off.

6. Grasp the cork firmly. Hold the bottle from the base with your thumb inside the well and slowly twist it out from under the cork. Though you may hear a muffled pop, the bottle will likely let out a gentle sigh when the deed is done. 

7. Use a slow hand when decanting the bubbly into champagne flutes. Tilting the glass while pouring will help keep it from foaming up, but a slow, steady, trickle-like pour is the best strategy.


Use narrow flutes or slightly flared tulip glasses when serving champagne. And don't chill the stemware. Sparkling wine is at its friskiest when served in cool, dry glasses.


The Freixenet Social Survival Guide by Todd Lyon
Random House, Inc. (2000) / ISBN 0-609-50344-8

Freixenet comes from a Spanish winery who produces sparkling wine using the m├ęthode champenoise (champagne method).  Because as you may know, only sparkling wines from the French province of Champagne can be called such.

My favorite is the Cordon Negro Brut (all black bottle), but Freixenet has a variety of cavas that you can try out, depending on what your taste runs to. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Pecan Fudge

I am discovering that my favorite treats to experiment with are ice cream and fudge.  When you can establish a good base recipe, it makes an excellent platform for experimentation.  I like to explore new taste options or try variations on things I've tasted elsewhere. As salted chocolates are still pretty trendy, I thought I'd give it a whirl myself.

If you are looking for an easy-to-make hostess gift for New Year's, I think you should try this.


2 cups dark chocolate chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup caramel bits
1 to 1-1/2 tbsp. grinder salt

In a deep saucepan over low heat, melt together the chips and condensed milk until smooth and well blended.

Fold in the pecans and caramel bits and pour into an 8" x 8" (or 9" x 9") baking pan lined with wax paper, and spread out evenly and smoothly.

Sprinkle the salt on top.

Put in the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes before removing and cutting into bite-sized pieces.

Ready to package or to nibble at your leisure.


I found some caramel bits at Southern Season in Charleston which I used for this recipe, but Kraft makes caramel bits too.  If you can't find those, you can small dice the wrapped caramels to add to the mix.

I also used Celtic Sea Salt (a Christmas gift from my good friend CJ) as my salty sprinkle, but you can use whatever kind you'd like.  You want a nice rough grain salt to stand out on top of your treat. 

Treat boxes are pretty easy to find these days, I get mine from Not Just Paper in Durham, NC (red ones), but you can also find them in Michael's or AC Moore's (usually white ones).  I use 1/2 pound boxes lined with wax paper.

Then I either pre-cut the fudge into bite-sized pieces (will fit 8-10 depending on what you call bite-sized) or cut out a piece that just fits in the box and include a little plastic knife in the box so your recipient can cut their own pieces.  Tie up with a decorative ribbon and you're all set.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Dad's Favorite Congo Bars

For the pater's birthday this year, I had a request for the Congo Bars like his grandmother used to make.  Wasn't sure what to expect, but the best way to describe them is chocolate chip nut bar on steroids. Chewy and crunchy-crusted and big and delicious.  You'll find out why Dad is such a fan.


2-3/4 cups sifted flour
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
2-1/4 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
1 (12 oz.) pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a deep saucepan, melt shortening.

Once liquid, mix in brown sugar and mix to a paste.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each egg.

Add in dry ingredients, a bit at a time until all is well blended.

Stir in vanilla then fold in nuts and chocolate chips.

"Pour" mixture into a greased 8"x 12" pan (can use 9" x 13") and spread out evenly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until center is cooked through (use a toothpick to test).

Remove from oven, slice, scarf down, enter Congo Bar coma.


Do NOT melt shortening and brown sugar together. Someone may have learned the hard way that if you do them together they form a crumbly mixture (versus a smooth paste) and thus can't be mixed well with other ingredients. 

Congo Bars ARE supposed to be "cakey and moist" in the center, not "raw and doughy."  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Check It Out: Spiced Cranberry Prosecco Punch

With New Year's right around the corner, if you are looking for a festive beverage, you need to check this out. It's not a recipe of mine, but one I want to point you in the direction of. I've had this concoction a couple of times at holiday fiestas hosted by my friends Dana and Mike. It is ridiculously addictive and usually requires them re-batching several times during the evening.

When I finally got around to asking Dana for the recipe, it turns out that she got it online from "Heather Christo: Eat Well, Live Free. Deliciously Allergy Free Recipes," a great website you should check out. She has really sexy food photos. I've paraphrased the original recipe here for your convenience, but for how-to photos go check it out on her webpage.

Spiced Cranberry Prosecco Punch (paraphrased from Heather Christo)
makes 20 servings

cranberry ice cubes
2 ice cube trays
fresh or frozen cranberries

Place the cranberries in the ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze until hard, at least 4 hours to overnight.

spiced punch
bag of party ice
4 cinnamon sticks
zest of 2 oranges
5 cups cranberry juice
3 cups orange juice*
2 bottles Prosecco
2 oranges (regular or blood), sliced
1 cup dark rum or bourbon (optional)

Put bag ice and cranberry ice cubes in a large punch bowl or punch dispenser. See photo above.

Add in cinnamon sticks, orange zest and orange slices, then pour in the cranberry and orange juices.

Next stir in the prosecco and mix well.

Voila! Delicious, delicious, tantalizingly addictive punch.


*You can do orange juice with no pulp or some pulp.  If you are using a regular open punch bowl, it doesn't really matter, if you are using a punch dispenser as shown above, you may have some spigot blockage if you get an orange juice with too much pulp in it so heads up on that.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rustic Cranberry Pear Tart

Hello and happy holiday season!  I've been a slacker, no excuses, but have been stockpiling ideas so trying to get back into my groove before the end of the year rolls around.

Here is another rustic tart I think you are going to like.  Since both pears and cranberries are in season, I thought I might let them hang out together in a quick to make dessert.  Great for gifting or just tearing into with your loved ones (if you so inclined to share).

Rustic Cranberry Pear Tart

tart dough
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
6 oz. (1-1/2 sticks) cold butter, cubed
1/3 cup cold water

4 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. flour

2 pear, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup whole cranberries
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

To make the crust:

Mix together 1-1/2 cups of flour with the cinnamon and salt.

Cut in the cold butter cubes with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture forms pea-sized crumbs.  You can also put ingredients in a food processor and pulse on low until it crumbs.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water.  Using your hands, knead the ingredients together until they form a ball.

Roll out onto a floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes.  Roll out with a rolling pin to a thickness of approximately 3/8".

Cover a large cookie sheet or pizza pan with parchment paper.  Use the rolling pin to roll up your flattened dough and transfer to the papered surface.

Mix together the remaining 2 tsp. flour with the sugar and sprinkle across the surface of the dough.

For photos of the how-to process, click here.

For the filling:

Mix together pear slices, cranberries, brown sugar and cinnamon, then pour into the middle of the rolled out crust, spreading it out evenly.

Fold the edges of the crust over the edges of the filling.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour until edges are browned. Remove from oven and allow to set for a minute before serving.


The tart is not overly sweet, the cranberries provide a nice tart flavor to offset the milder pears.

You can serve hot, cold, or at room temp.  With a bit of French vanilla ice cream on the side, you cannot go wrong.