Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Dreams

It’s funny how things work out. A nasty cold creeps up on you the week before Christmas and doesn’t let up entirely until after the holiday, a date yet to come... Your wife ends up feeling the effects of that cold over the holiday weekend itself. My cold killed some of my late week motivation for Christmas food & drink that I had hoped to share here at Ancient Fire. Such is life. My steady recovery and Margot chilling quietly on the couch this weekend gave me time to spend time in the kitchen on Christmas having fun.

I made the Figgy Pudding and Christmas Cake prior to leaving to visit family for the first part of the weekend, but just didn’t get to sharing them. I enjoyed the experience making these two recipes for the first time. There was plenty to be learned about where they come from and what they mean to us at Christmas time. I’ve got the leftovers soaking in rum or cognac right now. New Year Day treats! Some lore, recipes (at the bottom) and photos are below.

Figgy pudding comes from 16th century England and is largely considered a version of Christmas Pudding. The diversity of its ingredients and cooking methods speak to it being a very local, or house to house specialty. The Christmas connection is from the carol “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and the lines "Now bring us some figgy pudding" and “we won’t go until we get some” indicating that figgy pudding might have been given to carolers at Christmastime. In the larger realm of Christmas Pudding you find even more diversity, gift giving, prizes baked into them and many traditions in vast locales where it was made. Steaming the pudding is a very popular method, although not the clear majority winner amongst methods.

I also made a Christmas Cake using figs and a similar spice complement to the figgy pudding. Both cakes are dense and very flavorful, something a bit of citrus, sugar syrup or spirits can add life to. Why not all three? Like a cocktail in your dessert! House style Christmas cakes are as old as baking and Christmas, so everyone has their own type of recipe they like. I trend toward the big flavors and baking spices this time of year, but that isn’t certainly the only route. Light colored cakes with whispy frosting and mint or vanilla flavors certainly bring visions of the winter-time Christmases of New England where I live.

We started Christmas Day with Squash Laced Cinnamon Buns from page 220 of the November 2011 Cooking Light issue. I got up early to make the dough, went back to bed, and then rose to cook them for the obligatory watching of A Christmas Story. We’ve watched this movie in Jamaica on Christmas, and it never fails to make us laugh about Christmases past. Back to the buns. These were my finest bread baking experience ever. Repeating it will be an epic struggle with luck I fear. Baking good bread takes a lot of time, and even with that success is not assured.

The Starbucks hot cocoa mixes that I snagged last month made mochas that wound up the day pretty good. We’ve enjoyed them again several times since. Merry Christmas indeed!

I also made one of my favorites, mulled wine, on Christmas Day. This turned out to be the right treat for the bands of flurries and snow showers we had all day. It was beautiful at times and I hope I caught some of it in photos. We took walks with Pete (our dog) several times to enjoy the beautiful day.

The recipe for the wine is a simple one, but mulled wine is special that way. You can make a little or a lot, but you have to make sure you drink what you make when it’s warm and first ready to drink. Letting it cook for too long isn’t a recipe for success. Too much acid, citrus pith, cooked flavors, etc. Some batches do better than others, but avoid it if you can.

Ancient Fire Mulled Wine

1 bottle of rich, red wine. Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot or similar
1 orange, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 allspice berries
15 sugar cubes, more to taste

Heat a crock pot on high. Add spices and orange slices to the bottom of the cooker. Allow aromatics to build. Pour over the wine and add the sugar. Mix until the sugar is dissolved and the wine is hot. Do not
allow to get to a simmer or boil. Ladle into punch cups or mugs. Multiply the recipe as needed.

While I was making ginger syrup earlier in the week I ended up with the “spent” ginger in the fridge. I immediately thought of candied fruits, and from there candied ginger and orange slices were made. I wasn’t dreaming of sugar plums, I made them!

Other than the mulled wine I drank a few additional beverages over the weekend, including a bottle of Rose Regale with family on Friday and wines from Virginia (Barren Ridge and Tarara) on Saturday over Chinese food and snacks. After Christmas I went back to the open wines from the holiday open house and enjoyed the white blends from the Finger Lakes (Lamoreaux Landing and Hunt Country Vineyards) that we opened at that event.

I received a great gift in the form of a bottle of Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey. I haven’t cracked it open yet, but that time is not far off. I had bottle of their 10 year old Bourbon open earlier in the week and I can’t say I would let it stray too far if it was mine…

I can’t complain about how my holiday weekend worked out, I had lots of fun. I would have had different fun perhaps without the cold, but more fun? That might not be a slam dunk. With New Years coming Margot and I are looking forward to going out and having a bit of a party before we ring in a new year and have to get back to the rat race!



{ Recipes }

Ancient Fire Figgy Pudding

6 large dried figs, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup dark rum
3 Tbsp cup cognac or brandy
1/4 cup raisins
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 (packed) cup brown sugar
1 cup fresh white bread cubes (made from about 8 inches of baguette)
1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Optional: 1/3 cup brandy, cognac or rum, to flame the pudding

Equipment Note

You will need a 8+ cup Bundt pan and a stock pot large enough to contain it and water for steaming.


Bring the figs and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer until the water is almost gone.
Add the rum, cognac raisins and bring the pan back to a boil.

To flambé the figs:
Remove the pan from the heat, make sure it’s in an open space, have a pot cover at hand and,
standing back, set the liquid aflame. Let the flames burn for 2 minutes, then extinguish them by closing
the pan with the pot cover. For a milder taste, burn the rum and brandy until the flames die out on their
own. Set the pan aside uncovered.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and salt.

In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs and brown sugar together with a whisk. Stir in the bread cubes, the melted butter and the fig mixture.

Add the dry ingredients and mix to make a thick batter. A final mix with the cherries and cranberries and you are ready to steam it!

Spray the Bundt pan with cooking spray, then butter it liberally. Give the center a good coating.

Spread the batter into the pan and seal the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Lower the pan into the
stock pot and fill the pot with enough hot water to come one-half to two-thirds of the way up the sides
of the pan. Bring the water to a boil. Cover the pan and lower the heat so that the water simmer gently.
Steam for 1-2 hours. Add water if necessary.

The finished pudding will have lots of steam trapped inside the pan. Caution should be exercised opening the pan.

When a knife emerges clean from the pudding it is finished cooking.

Removing the Bundt pan from the pot can be tricky. Where the oven mitts and use tongs if you can. Dump out onto a rack and allow to cool a bit before serving.

Use the optional spirits to douse the cake for a tableside flambé before serving. Be careful, this can go wrong too easily. Be prepared with a cover, water and quick wits.

You can serve it with whipped cream, marshmallow fluff, ice cream or just eat it as is!

Christmas Fig Cake

1 stick of butter, softened
2 eggs
1 cup molasses
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup dark rum
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups dried figs, finely sliced
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 and liberally grease a Bundt (tube style) pan.

I liked the preparation of the figs for the Figgy Pudding, so I am going to repeat that here with the figs & water, then adding the rum over a light simmer for 5-10 minutes. No flambé to finish this time.

In a work bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl cream the butter with a hand mixer. Add the eggs and molasses and mix well.

Add the orange zest, buttermilk, and rehydrated figs. Mix until evenly distributed.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and blend until smooth.

Fold in the walnuts, if using.

Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes. A toothpick or skewer into the center should emerge clean to test if it is done.

Cool on a wire rack.

The recipe I riffed off here of has the setup for a glaze or sauce. I would have opted for whipped cream, but ran out of steam before I got there.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gift of Sparking Cocktails

What gift can I give to the readers who have everything? Sparkling cocktails, of course!

There’s always room for new spins on sparkling cocktails, and this time of year bubbles are a fun addition to Christmas and New Year’s gatherings. Last year we had fun mixing them up with friends at our New Year’s Day brunch. I’m bringing some Champagne with me for a Christmas visit to family in CT, who knows how we might finish the bottle!. I even remember mixing up a New Year’s classic with sugar cubes, Korbel and Angostoura bitters over 10 years ago at Kori & Monica’s place. Even if you don’t like bubbly you it's hard resist a sparkling cocktail.

I picked a bottle of Gloria Ferrar Blanc de Noirs California sparkling wine for my cocktail mixology. White wines from Gloria Ferrar are always consistent, offering solid performance and value. My thanks go out to my friend Marie for sharing this bottle from samples she received.

The pictures I ended up with are pretty bad. I used whatever lighting I could throw together and it didn't work as well as I had hoped. Blame my cold, or the fact that I'm not known for my photos.. I did get shots of some of the effervescing in the glass, which is interesting in itself. I hope the drinks live on well beyond their photos here.

The first cocktail I’m calling Special Punch, and is a riff on the punch The Fatal Bowl from the open house over the weekend. It is very reminiscent of the punch and the added bubbles only take it to better places.

Special Punch

2 oz cognac
1oz spiced simple syrup
3 dashes citrus bitters
Sparkling wine
Lemon peel

Mix the cognac and spice syrup. Add the bitters and pour into a flute. Top with the sparkling wine and garnish with a lemon peel.

“I will call him Mini Me”. This drink is a lighter version of the punch from the weekend and exactly what it would taste like if the sparkles were added to the punch bowl. The spices come out in force and tartness from the lemon and the wine help keep the sweetness in balance. I would make this again, frequently.

The second cocktail is the Sparkling Fruit Salad using Pimms #1, ginger syrup and fruit to make a flavored spirit a day ahead.

Sparkling Fruit Salad

10 grapes
5 strawberries
1 apple
Peel of 1 lemon
1 cup Pimms #1
1/3 cup ginger simple syrup
Sparkling wine

Slice the grapes, berries and apple, adding them to a sealable jar. Pour over the Pimms and the syrup. Cover tightly. Gently shake to mix. Allow to macerate overnight in the refrigerator. Use 2 ounces of the base in a flute to make 1 drink. Top off with the sparkling wine. Slices of the fruit and lemon peel can be used as garnish.

This was the winner for me on complexity. The sweetened up Pimms is full of dehydrated fruits, nuts, roots, etc and it really did taste like a day old fruit salad that has begun to mix together. And it's bubbly!

I finish my gift with the Sour Apple Sparkler. I still need to work on this drink. The flavors were not quite right.

Sour Apple Sparkler

1.5 oz Calvados
1 oz sweet cider
½ tsp Meyer lemon tincture
½ oz honey
1 cinnamon stick
Sparkling wine

Mix the Calvados, cider, lemon tincture and honey well. Pour into a flute. Top off with sparkling wine. Add the cinnamon stick for garnish.

Very tart and sour apple, and something not quite in balance. I haven’t decided quite what I am going to do next with this drink, but with the other two around I’m not uniquely motivated to get right on it!

I hope you enjoy your gift. And even better is it one you can re-gift without any regret!



Monday, December 19, 2011

A Very Merry Ancient Fire Christmas!

This time of year is exciting for so many people. Family, friends old and new, parties, food, drinks, presents, decorations and music are everywhere you go. 

Margot and I always look forward to our open house before Christmas. That event gives us one more chance to spend time with our extended family (that’s all who come) and spread some joy before a busy week of travelling, hosting and who knows what else for the holidays!

Another year, and another fun party. There was lots of laughter and mingling. Everyone had a good time and for that we are grateful. That’s why we do it.

The house decorations this year were some of our best. Margot was especially proud of the tree, and rightfully so. Taking some cues from our friends Ed & Jim, the tree sports ribbons and a simple color palette of blue, silver and white.

Every year we pick a beverage theme, it’s what we do if you will, and this year was punch. Last week I shared “I’m Going to PunchYou For the Holidays” and “Here We Come A-wassailing” and the experiments making several new beverages to serve at the party.

( Ready for action! )

Those who left later in the day went home with punch, a token to keep the good cheer rolling with.

The food worked out well as it usually does, and the table looked festive when it was setup. We really didn’t fuss over it this year, and we didn’t make anything special except Margot’s cookies, an orange glazed sugar cookie and a spicy chocolate cookie containing cayenne, black pepper and cinnamon. I did land a new recipe in the bean dip I prepared, taken directly from Giada andthe Food Network.

( Just before guests arrived. Ready to go! )

By the end of the party we noticed that between the wassail and general interest we put back quite a few beers. Most of the wine was opened, but not too much went. The Lamoreaux Landing Estate White Blend resonated with several guests after I gave it taste and shared my positive feedback. The Tarara BossaNoVA was the solid performer that I expected it to be. I finished the night with it, the bold flavors can be savored like port. It’s gonna be a tough week tasting my way through the rest of the bottles…

The Christmas theme continues this week with sparkling cocktails tomorrow and mulled wine on Wednesday. I finish the week with figgy pudding, something I’ve never had or made and is sure to get me in the Christmas spirit! I won’t let you go without some. And then Margot and I will go visit family taking it with us to spread that cheer even farther.

How are you gearing up from Christmas? Shopping, spending time in the kitchen or have you figured out how to get away from it all? Merry Christmas!



Friday, December 16, 2011

Here We Come A-wassailing!

What are wassail and wassailing? I had to look them up because I don’t ever remember being told of a specific definitions. I recall from Christmas carols, the aptly named “Here We Come A-wassailing” is of course the most famous, that wassailing was some form of social custom designed to spread good cheer. I also inferred that the presence of wassailers at your door commanded a gift of wassail. Hmmmm. Enjoy the carol for a minute while I figure out what’s going on here.

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Here We Come A-wassailing (audio clip from Wikimedia)

It turns out both of the things I thought about wassail and wassailing are true. But how did that come to be? First the name, and then the custom. The word wassail comes from the phrase Waes Hail, the greeting “good health”, that originated from Middle English as waes hael. Singing that message amounts to caroling to good health. I can dig that.

It seems the custom of singing this refrain was adopted by farmers and their surrounding communities as a toast to the apple trees and a bountiful harvest the next year. Whether it was for eating or making some form of fermented beverage, both things we love here at Ancient Fire, I really see the imagery created here. I love the apple trees I see in my town, the ones on my street are soon to developed over sadly, and look forward to harvest every year and making apple treats with the apples that they bear.

Since then, and likely it was implied originally, the act of wassailing door to door to people’s homes wishing them the same good health was adopted. This brings us back to the mythology we find in our contemporary Christmas traditions. Very few people I know have ever wassailed, but I do know a few who have, which is likely unusual. Maybe it’s something about New England and traditions from the English homes of many of our families here. I honestly don’t know how common it even is in England where it began.

So it is no surprise then that apples show up in one form or another in wassail beverage recipes. There is no recipe that I can find that has widespread support as a classic or the original, and the plethora of them I did find prompted me to make my own. Many had brown ale in them and the prospect of using my homemade maple brown ale locked it in as the first ingredient. Incidentally, many holiday themed beers will express at least the spices present in wassail. I can’t tell which was the chicken and which the egg in this situation. Old school wassail is purported to have been made with ale or mead, but whether either also contained spices or were spiced in the construction of this drink is not clear.

Into the holiday laboratory!

Ancient Fire Wassail

1 pint plus 1/4 cup Ancient Fire Maple Brown Ale
1 cup sweet apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cloves
Zest from 1 lemon
2 apples
1/2 cups brown sugar
¼ cup demerara sugar
1/2 cup dry sherry
¼ cup Madeira wine
1/4 cup sweet red wine
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground all spice
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
super fine sugar, to sweeten to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large sauce pan, pour in the pint of ale and the cider. Add the cinnamon sticks, lemon zest and cloves and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Core and cut the apples in half. Place in a baking dish. Cover with 1/2 cup of brown sugar, remaining 1/4 cup of ale, sherry, Maderira and the red wine.

Cover baking dish and place in oven, cooking for 30 minutes.

Add the demerara sugar and spices into the sauce pan, ensuring it's well mixed.

When the apples are done baking, place entire contents of baking dish into sauce pan. Allow to cook over a low heat for another 30-40 minutes. Serve hot.

Margot and I both felt this was very reminiscent of mulled cider. It has complexity beyond that, but the other liquors don’t leave enough of their own influence to pick them out. It came out balanced a bit too much to the spice side, but that is something that can be handled with some more beer or cider right before serving.

It was drinkable almost immediately, but a short time to cool was necessary. No need to injure those who come to wish you good health!

I stored the leftover wassail in a jar in the fridge. In the photo to the right you can see the apples and lemon zest floating in the brown, spicy punch. It is likely to be even more spicy by the time I drink it again. More beer!

I’ve brought forth another festive and traditional drink today. Yesterday was a more general treatment of punch, with the possibility of producing similar tipples to wassail quite likely. I’d still say wassail is a punch of a different sort, if only because of its own specific story. The vessel it was served from has its own lore as well. Check the lyrics at the link to the carol at the top if you don’t believe me. There are people who specialize in making wassail bowls, something I don’t believe I’ve ever seen. Find one person’s adventure in Making a Wassail Bowl. I broke out the punch cups to ladle Margot and I’s first tastes into, but serving it from a saucepan on the stove wasn’t quite the image you all had here. No picture.

Margot and I wish all of you and your families good health as we hurtle towards the end of one year and beginning of another.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

I’m Going to Punch You for the Holidays

You were naughty this year and I’m going to punch you right in the mouth! Not literally of course, but you might just choose to put some punch in your mouth this holiday season after reading this post.

Punch is an age-old tradition and one my experience tells me we’ve nearly lost with our contemporary desire for designer cocktails. And when I say punch I don’t mean that stuff we used to mix up in the big trash can in the basement of my fraternity house with every skanky bottle of liquor laying around, fruit punch mix and ice. Yuck! I mean real punch based on five simple ingredients that harkens back to 17th century and Navy-men sailing the seas with cargo holds full of rum.

The five basic ingredients of punch:
  • Spirits
  • Sugar
  • Citrus
  • Spice
  • Water

Starting with those ingredients as a guide the directions one can go in are vast, and trust me people have gone in all of them!

There is no way I can run down the variations of each of those ingredients in historical detail, but I know somebody who can. David Wondrich, a very well known cocktail historian and imbibing expert. His book Punch: The Delights (And Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl has all the historical details, a breakdown of the ingredients, finishing with recipes for a great many variations of punch. You can also find Wondrich’s imbibing wisdom in Esquire Magazine and several other books on both music and drinking.

Punch is also social tipple by nature. Have you ever wondered why the cups that come with punch bowl sets are so small? That’s because the small servings were meant to bring people back to the punch bowl for another pour and some good conversation. What better time of the year to channel that sensibility than during the Christmas and New Year holidays?

What I am going to do is take a couple different recipes for a test drive to experience them for myself and pick one to serve at my upcoming holiday open house.

The first one I selected is The Fatal Bowl which was published in Esquire Magazine in December 2007 just into time for Christmas that year.
This take on punch uses brewed black tea which was quite common during the heyday of punch.

The Fatal Bowl

4 lemons
1 cup demerara sugar
4 tea bags
1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained
2 1/2 cups cognac
1 1/2 cups dark rum
Fresh nutmeg

The instructions for this recipe start off with direction to prepare your ice for your punch bowl, by freezing a large bowl of water, ahead of time. This step shouldn’t be skipped and assuming you can substitute ice cubes instead will produce an undesirable result, watered down punch. I plan to use several large plastic bowls to prepare blocks of ice a day ahead of time.

Using a vegetable peeler thinly peel the lemons avoiding as much of the pith as possible. Reserve the lemons. Place the peels in a large heat-proof bowl. Add the sugar and muddle the sugar and lemons together to release the lemon oils and blend them with the sugar.

Boil one quart of water and use it to steep the tea bags for five minutes. Remove the tea bags and pour the tea over the lemon peels and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

Add lemon juice, cognac and rum. Stir well to mix. Place in the refrigerator to cool for a couple of hours.

( That's what it looked like before putting it in the fridge. )

To serve your punch, assemble your block ice in your punch bowl, pour over the punch and grate the nutmeg on the top. Allow guests to dish their punch into small glasses with a punch ladle. Hang out near the punch bowl for all the holiday gossip.

To take this recipe for a test drive I cut all the ingredients down to ¼ of the full recipe. This will net somewhere around twenty ounces of finished punch, enough to sample and share before we commit to the whole hog.

The tea makes this drink for me. The complexity of each sip goes way beyond many modern day cocktails and the sweetness is firmly in check with the sour. The more I go back in time and try drinks of the days past the more I realize how much knowledge is rolled into the simplicity of many of them.

In cocktail terms I would liken this drink to a less sweet mashup of a Manhattan and a Side Car.

“Is there alcohol in this?” was Margot’s initial response. She also said that this is what she always thought scotch should taste like. The naked edge of a spirit like scotch is no match for the smooth, sweetness of this drink.

My second pilot punch comes from the Wondrich’s book Punch and is simply called Canadian Punch.

Canadian Punch

4 750ml bottles rye whiskey (19th century Canadian whiskey was rye based)
1 pint Jamaican rum
8 lemons, sliced
1 pineapple, sliced
3 ½ quarts of water
1 ½ cups white sugar, additional to taste

Don’t forget to prepare your ice. See above.

In a large container place the sliced lemon & pineapple with the whiskey and rum. Allow to infuse for six hours. Don’t squeeze the lemons or pineapple.

Dissolve the sugar in three quarts of the water. You can heat the water slightly to ease this process, but allow it to cool if you do.

Combine the spirits & fruit with the sugar water, remaining water and refrigerate for several hours.

Serve in a punch bowl, fruit and all, with block ice.

You’ll notice there is no added spice in this recipe. The spice compliment should come from the rye whiskey, a key difference between rye and some other forms of whiskey. I also altered the recipe presented here to incorporate the information in a note from the book about additional citrus and increasing the amount of rye when using standard proof alcohol. If you have cask strength rye you will want to decrease by one bottle of whiskey and substitute three cups of water in its place.

This is a pretty big recipe so I cut it down by 1/8th for a pilot batch. That still makes about one quart of punch to test drive. This is very difficult work!

This drink can’t hide the alcohol and that makes it less universal to me. It tastes pretty good, but is unbalanced and comes on too strong. Margot took one sip and passed it back to me.  I don’t feel the influence of the citrus and fruit comes across well at all. Squeezing the lemons into the punch liquid and chopping up the pineapple right before serving might be a worthy procedural change here.

I’m also going to try an add some spiced simple syrup to what I have left over and see if that takes the edge of it and brings it back to a more enjoyable place. (Post publishing note: pineapple juice and the spiced syrup to taste after a good mix. It taste tropical!)

The winner was the The Fatal Bowl, and that was even before we tasted the Canadian Punch. It really is that good. I was worried that these drinks would both channel the spirits too much, like the Canadian Punch, and that Margot’s perception of them would worry me about serving them to a wide range of drinkers. With that fear set aside I sure hope a little history and some socializing around the punch bowl resonates with my friends on Saturday. If not, there will be plenty of punch for Margot and me to drink while we clean up from the holiday whirlwind!



Friday, December 9, 2011

Godiva Coffee Livens Up Your Holidays

Godiva coffee was a new product for me this year. I’ve had the chance to try it several times both through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program and at the Foodbuzz Festival. Thank you to Godiva and Foodbuzz!

My first tastes came during my Godiva Coffee Cocktail experiments with the limited edition flavors Pumpkin Spice and Caramel Pecan Bark. Living in New England I come across pumpkin flavored coffee quite a bit and my experience is that it can be a really tough flavor to channel well into coffee. Godiva has done a nice job of balancing the pumpkin and spice flavors with the underlying coffee elements, making it smooth and drinkable without being overpowering. The Caramel Pecan Bark wins this race on aroma. The kitchen smelled so good, like we were baking cookies and making chocolates, when I first brewed it and I saw the bottom of the empty bag of this flavor first!

While I write this I’m enjoying a cup of Godiva Hazelnut Crème Coffee, one of the samples I picked up at the tasting pavilion during the Foodbuzz Festival. The hazelnut flavor is very accessible and the underlying coffee is again rich and flavorful. I’ve already taken down about half the mug and am feeling pretty perky for a morning I was moving a bit slow to start with. I wonder how jacked up the folks in the Godiva Coffee test kitchens got while testing out the flavoring to get them just right!

The farewell brunch at the Foodbuzz Festival was sponsored by Godiva Coffee and they served the unflavored Breakfast Blend. Again I was struck by the richness of the coffee. Without any added flavor I was really able to experience the roasted flavors and didn’t detect and harsh or sharp elements that might otherwise be masked in its flavored siblings. It was clearly brewed well, the secret to making sure any coffee has a chance to please, and when prepared with my typical amount of cream and sugar it remained bold and flavorful. Bravo! As I and other festival-goers assembled at the table I mentioned the coffee and how happy it was making me. Everyone else who chimed in was equally complimentary to the coffee, also mentioning the rich, bold flavors and that the coffee was a noticeable and happy departure from everyday restaurant coffee.

Now that I’ve got you all jonesing for a cup of coffee I guess I should try to rescue you. Two lucky blog readers are going to win a Godiva swag pack that includes:
  • A full sized bag of Godiva coffee
  • Sampler pack of flavored coffees 
  • Godiva apron

The apron will come in especially handy to keep your holiday cooking messes off your favorite holiday sweater! Sorry, I had to. For the record I don’t wear a holiday sweater, but I do don an apron to keep myself presentable when entertaining and cooking at the same time.

So how do you get a chance to win? Visit the Godiva Coffee website to take a look their collection. Then come back here and leave a comment with how you would incorporate Godiva Coffee into your holidays. Would the Peppermint Mocha make your special holiday traditions even more special or will you put on your mad scientist lab coat and use a different flavor in the recipe for a new holiday treat? Any way you spin it, you and everyone you share the coffee with will be smiling.

  • You must leave a comment on this post to be entered to win
  • You must be a US resident to win
  • The drawing ends on Friday December 16th at 8 PM EST
  • The winner will picked randomly using

If you just can’t wait to try Godiva Coffee click here todownload a coupon and use the Store Locator to find a retail location near you. Everybody wins!



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stovetop Paella with Tapena Tempranillo

Making Paella is a time and labor intensive endeavor. A labor of love if you will. Lacking a desire to expend either in pursuit of a dish of paella means you should find the nearest Spanish or Latin restaurant and have them take care of it for you. I wanted to try making it for myself. The recipe and cooking instructions for my paella can be found at the bottom of this post.

What I’ve done here is an approximation of paella in a classic sense for several reasons. I don’t own a paella pan, I cooked it entirely on the stove top versus finishing it in the oven and I’m not Spanish. Such trivial things never stop me, but after looking at lots of different recipes and the background on the dish, and there’s lots to be found by the way, it seems like a fair disclaimer to make.

I also wanted to try the pairing of paella with the Tapena Tempranillo a wine that is included in the Tapena Wines Party Pack I am giving away this week. Read a bit further for details on how you can enter to win wine, a recipe book, corkscrew and wine charms from Tapena Wines.

As my paella cooked I uncorked the wine and gave it a taste. The wine pours a garnet color with purple hues. It is fruit forward projecting raspberries and cherries with no overt funk or earth in the nose. I did pick up some vanilla aromas and light oak influence as well. To me the wine comes off juicy up front shifting to moderate tannins that dry out the mouth a bit and noticeable acidity through the finish. On its own the wine is smooth and drinkable without any aggressive elements requiring close inspection. Tapena positions its wines as what I typically call lifestyle wines, evidenced by the many references to Spanish culture, food pairing and the social aspects of wine drinking on their web site. With that in mind I think this wine fits that mold very well. Margot’s take on the wine was this it was a youthful, drinkable wine without some of the overpowering characteristics (tannins, earthy notes) she generally avoids drinking red wine because of.

Back to the paella. As you will note from the recipes below I had to cook before I could cook. From start to finish I spent at least two hours in the kitchen. One of the key ingredients to paella, and many other Spanish dishes as I understand it, is sofrito. Sofrito is a slow cooked mixture of garlic, onion, green pepper, tomato and paprika. The big takeaway from cooking the sofrito was the aromas. I am sure I have smelled them before, but I have no recollection of specifically where.

Would you like to win some Spanish wine from Tapena Wines? You must be 21 or older to enter. Leave a comment here with a Spanish wine & food pairing question for a chance to win. If you missed your first chance to enter click over to Win a Spanish Wine Pack from Tapena Wines and comment on how you would entertain with the party pack if you win.

Having never made paella before I can’t really say how well it came out. It was tasty though. The rice was cooked to the right texture and the meats & seafood were flavorful meaning they had had enough time to soak up the spices from the dish. And my wife and I scarfed down our helpings.

How did the wine pair with the paella? The wine didn’t overwhelm the food. While that might seem like a veiled concern, balance is key in wine & food pairing so when the wine plays nice overall it’s a good start. I don’t feel like the wine accentuated the dish in any specific way, but its attributes were in balance with the paella and a measure of earthiness did come out with the bites of chicken, sausage paired with the wine. Nice.

What I am sure of after this experience is that I need to make paella several more times trying different recipes and styles. I saw recipes with all meat, all fish, the combination similar to what I did here, big vegetable presentations and an array of spice levels. With a better sense of what is possible and improved technique I am sure I could take this dish to the right place. I also need to try different wine pairings with Spanish wine. Wine clearly has a special place in Spanish culture and learning more about how it works with different foods is an exciting opportunity.

Leave a comment with a Spanish wine pairing question for a chance to win the Spanish Wine Party Pack from Tapena Wines. The drawing ends at noon on Wednesday December 7th , and the winner will be chosen randomly, so don’t miss your chance! Follow Tapena Wines on Twitter and Likethem on Facebook for updates on Spanish wine & , information on their Rewards Program and lots of food pairing ideas for their wines!



{ Recipes }


1 can crushed tomatoes (28-29 oz)
1 large Cubanelle pepper
1  onion
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 tsp paprika (not smoked)
salt and pepper to taste

Finely chop the onion and garlic. Chop the pepper into 1/4" (or smaller) pieces. Heat a large frying pan with a heavy bottom over medium heat. Pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Put the onions into the pan and sauté them until they are transparent, reducing the heat if necessary so as not to burn them. Add the green pepper and continue to cook for 5 minutes, adding olive oil if necessary. Be sure to stir often, to vegetables do not burn. Add the minced garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Pour the crushed tomatoes and paprika into the pan and mix well. Continue to cook for about 10-15 minutes.


2 cups Basmati rice
4 tablespoons Sofrito
1/4 + 1 Tbsp cup olive oil
5 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
2 lbs boneless chicken thighs
¾ lb ground pork sausage
20 large shrimp, tail on
16 Steamer clams
1 sweet red pepper, cut to strips;
1 cup frozen green beans
Lemon wedges
Salt and pepper to taste

Take 1 Tbsp parsely, 2 cloves garlic, 1 Tbsp oil & salt mash into paste.
Use a wok to steam the mussel and keep ready for use; Clean the wok

Warm the vegetable stock over medium heat, add the saffron, stir well, keep warm

Using a large fry pan reheat the Sofrito over medium high heat, stirring constantly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. Add parsley, garlic, oil emulsion, mix well. Add the chicken thigh and cook until slightly browned. Add the rice, stir thoroughly to make sure that the dry rice are sauteed well in the Sofrito;

In the wok heat the olive oil and sautee the pork sausage (chunks) and chicken thigh on medium-high heat until no pink is visible. Add the green beans & red pepper, stir.

Add the Sofrito, chicken and rice mixture to the wok. Continue to stir.

Meanwhile, bring the stock back to the boil, pour over the mixture and distribute over the mixture in the wok. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer 8-10 minutes, mixing occasionally.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the prawns on top of the mix; Stick the mussels halfway into the mix. Cover and simmer another 8-10 minutes

Garnish with parsely and serve with the lemon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ten Imbibing Ideas for the Holiday Season

Looking for some inspiration for your holiday imbibing? Whoops, how did you end up here? I kid.

This is the season when nostalgia grabs everyone and the occasions to get together with family and friends fill the calendar. Entertaining family and friends can be a challenge any time of year, but with the expectations heaped on gatherings during the holidays it’s no wonder there are so many search hits for “holiday horror stories”! We all have them.

A few years ago Margot and I vacationed to Orlando with friends early in the month of November. The Disney Parks were already decorated for Christmas and after a bit of exposure to the music and decorations our conversations inevitably turned to the upcoming holidays and stories of celebrations past. Many laughs ensued! On one of the car rides to Universal Studios, also decked out for Christmas, we spotted a sign hanging above the door of a liquor store that read “Family gatherings go quicker with liquor!” The wisdom of the person who posted those words can’t be understated. Don’t believe me? Another example comes late in the move National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Clark’s father tells him that he got through the holidays with a lot of help from his friend Jack Daniels. Raise your hand if you can relate.

So get your family & friends together and drink up!

You are going to do it anyway and bringing fresh imbibing ideas to this year’s gatherings is a sure way to guarantee at least some of the conversation won’t be about whose back hurts worse or who gets the best parking spot in front of the house.

Ten Ideas for Holiday Imbibing
  1. Serve punch. And I mean a classic punch from the era that birthed it. Recipes in David Wondrich’s book Punch and in his column at Esquire Magazine are the place to go. This cognac-based holiday punch recipe, The Fatal Bowl, from 2007 is a great example of what I mean. Classic punch is not a contemporary cocktail in a bowl, something many of us know all too well…
  2. Make simple syrup for simplified cocktail construction. Straight up simple syrup is used in lots of drinks and flavored or spiced versions can help take your mixology in many exciting directions. Check out this NY Times article for cocktail ideas and a recipe for simple syrup.
  3. Use sugar and spices to create fun flavors to rim glasses with. Crush up candy canes to rim hot chocolate and spiked coffee mugs. A brown sugar and spiced rim on a Sazerac or a Manhattan takes those drinks for a holiday spin.
  4. For cocktail occasions use drink recipes that can be made ahead of time and served out of a pitcher. As the host you can end up spending so much time serving guests that you don’t have fun. Easy drinks mean more conversation! Food & Wine magazine has a slideshow and recipes for several different pitcher drinks, including several with holiday flavors.
  5. Take a trip around the world. Assemble a collection of wines and beers from different places around the world. Curiosity about new products and where they come from always creates interesting conversation.
  6. Make everything sparkle. Host a sparkling only party. Serve Champagne, sparkling wine, hard cider and beers known for considerable carbonation for an all sparkling affair. Some examples of the beers that would work in this way include Saisons, Sam Adams Infinium or the Weiss beers from Weihenstephaner.
  7. Host a blind tasting. Entertainment experts often recommend having an activity at parties to help provide a little bit of structure. Hosting a blind tasting of wines can get everyone talking about what they are smelling and tasting, and the type and origin of the drinks. Wines, beers, meads and ciders can all be tasted blind to add even more fun
  8. Drink local. The local small batch production of wines, beers, ciders, meads and spirits is increasing within communities in every region. Stock your holiday bar with products made nearby to celebrate the season. Better yet, make some of your own to share!
  9. Give a toast. Pick a drink that you are particularly excited about this season and put a short pour into all the willing glasses. Assemble your guests and thank them for joining you to celebrate the shared traditions for yet another year. This is a moment everyone will remember after the rest of the holiday crush fades.
  10. Play a holiday drinking game. This idea is for those less formal parties. Many holiday movies, especially the cartoons, are parables of good and evil. Split the assembled group up into two teams and the each team drinks when their side is mentioned by the narrator of the holiday classic you select. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an excellent example. Are you rooting for the Whos or the Grinch?

( The holiday beer lineup from 2010. )

A few other thoughts must be stated as a public service. Don’t say I never gave you anything! 

These tips will enhance everyone’s holiday imbibing.
  1. Drink more water. Citrus infused waters taste good and hydrate well.
  2. Don’t drink and drive. It’s bad for you, bad for me and it sticks with you. Don’t do it.
  3. Drink freely, and for whatever reason, but watch the words that come out of your mouth. That’s where the real trouble is.
  4. Store leftover wine in rinsed out beer bottles with reusable stoppers. Keeping the air out will ensure you can serve the leftovers within a couple of days without a loss of drinkability.
  5. Give wine & beer as gifts. Nothing says “I completely understand” better to a host than something to drink when you’ve annoyed the shit out of them!

With the season in full gear I hope I’ve helped stir some creativity for your holiday imbibing, hosting or whatever it is you plan to do to celebrate for another year. Try something new this year and watch how it makes your holiday gatherings much more than the usual.



Last year's holiday entertaining series

Holiday Wine Advice
Holiday Pies
Holiday Beer Talk
Holiday Entertaining