A joke goes around periodically in an email called something like “Household tips.” One of the bullet points in its list of ways you can make your life easier, faster, smoother reads: “Store leftover wine in ice cube trays so you can chill your wine without diluting it.” The parenthetical response is always: “(Leftover wine?)” To many people, the phrase is a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.
Yet for the true wine aficionado, the very essence of loving wine means you may want to savor a sip or a glass of some fine wine but not want to drink the whole bottle. Maybe you don’t have any friends over at that time – or maybe you just don’t want to share this particular bottle, although most winemakers say any wine tastes better when shared with friends. Hey, it’s your decision. And with Coravin’s Wine Preservation Opener, you can freely taste even the finest wines without pulling the cork – and know that your treasure will still be good days, weeks, months, even years from now just as if you’d never opened it.
The company’s been perfecting this system for corked wines for a long time. And recently they’ve introduced a unique specialized cap mechanism for tapping screwtop wines for just a taste or a glass. You use Coravin’s specially designed tappable screw top with the system to preserve the freshness of the wine for up to three months. The system includes small canisters of their special gas that replaces the space in the bottle created by your sample so that oxygen – which ages wine rapidly and then deteriorates it – never gets inside the bottle.
Lots of wine experts swear by this device. It looks a bit intimidating to use, but the company website has a nice video showing you step-by-step how to use the Coravin system. They also have a helpful list of FAQs. Now you can feel confident that you can purchase bottles of really nice wine and know you can keep them much longer after tasting than you’ve ever been able to. Brilliant invention for wine lovers everywhere. Get it online at Amazon or in stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, Williams Sonoma and others. Prices start at $199 and go up as you add supplies and accessories.
One of our favorite things to do is to taste-test new and interesting food products for this blog. We were recently invited to try out products from Just Spices, Peter & Pat’s Pierogies and molly&drew®. Now we’ve got a couple of new ideas for cooking at home and for gifts for other cooks. Below are some thoughts.
Just Spices is a German company that makes a series of flavorful seasoning powders, some spicy, some sweeter (like the new berry flavoring for yogurt) that are USDA organic and “sourced with love.”
The one for barbecue popcorn is a surprise – it gives your evening popcorn a barbecue flavor that doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, like many BBQ seasonings do. Especially if you pop your popcorn in coconut oil – so delicious – you don’t want to overwhelm it with spice. This BBQ seasoning is delicate yet definite enough to make your mouth pay attention.
The Just Spices Mexican seasoning is transformative. Now an avocado-studded taco salad – minus the beans and the meat – can be pretty delicious with just romaine, cilantro, red onion and salsa, topped with thickened 2% Greek yogurt (lower fat and calories than sour cream) and lots of fresh lime juice. Add a few drops of Habanero sauce and you’re good to go. But then, if you add a quarter teaspoon of the Just Spices Mexican seasoning, that same dish puts you on the sun-soaked hacienda of an elegant Mexican resort. And you immediately want to order a margarita with your salad. Even if it’s 8:30 AM. We also added it to our turkey meatballs and to the tomatoes we cooked ’em in and really enjoyed the whole thing.
Go try some of these. They just introduced 20 new flavors, too. You won’t go wrong buying one of their boxed sets as a gift for a hostess or friend who enjoys cooking but isn’t fanatical about making their own seasoning. These provide a shortcut that any non-professional cook – and maybe some professionals, too – will appreciate. Each individual package is 100 milliliters and priced from $5.99 to $7.99. Available online only at www.justspices.com/
Peter & Pat Pierogies. And how about some low-fat, low-cholesteraol all-natural pierogies to back up – or be – your dinner entree? Peter & Pat love traditional Eastern European food so much they built it into a thriving catering business over the past 20 years. The most popular dish on their menu is the pierogies. In fact, theirs has become one of the top-selling pierogie brands in the United States. It’s been so successful they’ve now officially launched in Costco locations across the Midwest.
We can personally vouch for the flavor and filling ability of the 4-cheese-and-potato version they sent to test – delicious mix of creamy mashed potatoes with Cheddar, farmers, Parmesan and Swiss cheeses. Yet only 240 calories for four pierogies – not bad for so much creamy, cheesy goodness. Frozen bags of 4 pounds – that’s a lotta pierogies (65 per bag – 12 servings) – for $9.99 at Costco.
molly&drew® Single Serve Mug Cake Kits come in four flavors include, Ooey Gooey Chocolate, Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, and Chocolate Candy Cane. Just add water, microwave for 90 seconds and ditch the need to mess up the kitchen. Fast, easy dessert for one or two. Top with whipped cream to make it more decadent. molly&drew® also craft their own beer breads and beer cakes that let you blend your favorite beer into ready-to-go mixes. Try the beer bread for appetizers, main dishes, sides and desserts. There’s a cake mix, too, which we sampled – fun to make a cake with beer. We did, however, find the sizable dose of almond extract in the Amore Amoretto flavor somewhat overpowering. We left the cakes sit out for a day and the almond flavor diminished a bit. Still, what a fun – and EASY – idea for sharing with family and friends for brunches, barbeques, dinners, parties, sporting events and more.
When you think of churrasco, what comes to mind is a vision of huge slabs of skewered meat dripping fat and juice. And the technique of grilling that produces those slabs is, indeed, the very definition of churrasco. In this new cookbook, called simply Churrasco by Evandro Caregnato, the culinary director of the Texas de Brazil restaurant chain. In it he tells you how he got started as a kid in Brazil and shares lots of stories about being a gaucho there and then his journey to Texas to join the cowboys as master churrasco chef and consultant to the then-new Texas de Brazil restaurant.
You will definitely learn all about how to cut, skewer and cook the way meat-loving Brazilians do to coax the most flavor out of every cut of meat with their special methods. And how they get maximum results out of so many different sections of the various animals, be it pork, beef, lamb or chicken. Recently experienced for the first time this meat-lover’s parade of grilled muscle and flesh at Fogo de Chao (review here).
In this book you may also be pleasantly surprised at the richness and variety of other dishes from Brazil. Imagine a book about grilled meats giving you a recipe for a Cold Savory Torte made of white bread layered with chicken, cheese, and tuna and seasoned with mustard, cornichons, carrots, smoked paprika, lemon and parsley. Mmm.
Think about this one: Spinach Cannelloni, made with homemade crepes and a filling of sauteed spinach and garlic mixed with heavy cream, parmesan and cream cheese. Oh, my! And you’ll find that Squash Ravioli is no longer strictly in the hands of Italy – this Brazilian version is served with a brandy-sage-cream sauce with shallots and porcini mushrooms. How about caramelized cinnamon-and-clove-scented squash served with a spoonful of sour cream? The recipe for beef-bone stock sounds great – like chicken soup with steak instead of chicken. Nutritious, comforting and a great way to use up bones after you’ve grilled some meat.
The recipes don’t stop there but include desserts, sides and potatoes. The book is an inspiration, meat lover or not. Nice gift for both aspiring and experienced cooks.
Okay. You didn’t finish shopping. Many stores are open today, but what if you can’t think of anything good to get? Serving special drinks is a great way to celebrate end-of-year holidays – and giving the spirits themselves is a fabulous solution for quick and easy gifts that tend to be much appreciated. Below are a few ideas for your giftees – or for yourself:
Captain Morgan, another well-respected maker of rums, put out a commemorative version of spiced rum this year that’s just delicious – neat or in creamy or other cocktails. Called Captain Morgan 1671, its unique blend of spices makes it festive (all year!) with notes of dried fruit, vanilla, caramel and oak. Finished with Spanish oak to deliver a smooth and refined drinking experience. Around 20 bucks a bottle – they made only limited quantities, so get one soon.
Domaine Lucien Albrecht, Rose, Brut – Strawberry and wild cherry fruit, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. Well-balanced with dry, crisp acidity and complimented with a creamy texture and long finish.
Valdo, Prosecco DOC, Brut – Well-balanced structure, matched with its flavorful and aromatic fruity fragrance make it the perfect pairing with starters and particularly with delicately flavored dishes and especially seafood. Excellent as aperitif due to its distinctive characteristic of being “easy to drink.”
Valdo, Rose, Brut – The bouquet has fine and elegant blossoms, with a consistent presence of raspberry. The palate has a tickling fine perlage of minute bubbles; pleasant round warm flavor with a charming fruity aroma.
Lady of Spain, Brut – Fine, delicate and very clean, with lightly toasted pastry notes and syrupy fruits. Fresh and fruity, well structured, crispy, balanced carbonic and good persistence. Light recall to pastry and fresh fruits
Another nice, light bubbly is Ruffino Prosecco – Intense sensations of apples and peaches drive a pleasant aftertaste with fruity and floral aromas. Ideal as an aperitif and a versatile food companion. Around $11, 11% alc.
Vodka for every occasion
I have always been a Smirnoff vodka fan, even as fancier brands have taken the cocktail scene by storm. I found out not long ago that Smirnoff regular won big in a blind taste test. That made me happy. Then recently I found out that Smirnoff has a huge line of flavored vodkas – I mean an amazing array. I haven’t tried them all yet but did like some a bit more than others. Some of the flavors tasted a little artificial when drunk neat. The aromas are strong, but I think that’s intentional because these flavored guys turn out to be wonderful for mixing with other ingredients.
The first broad category of flavors is the trademarked Smirnoff Sorbet® collection – a series of reduced-calorie, fruit-flavored vodkas (all triple distilled as is the original Smirnoff) like Light Mango-Passion Fruit, Light Pineapple-Coconut, Light White Peach, Light Summer Strawberry, Light Lemon and more. I thought the White Peach had a strong aroma and was a little artificial tasting when I tried it neat, but this was cured easily by mixing with club soda. Then later I tried some of the flavors with ginger ale and with half-and-half, and they were lovely.
Then there’s the Smirnoff® Confections series. Kissed Caramel® – nice aroma, sweet taste, delicious mixed with half-and-half or poured over vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Cinnamon Churros – great aroma, excellent taste – like many other of these flavors, great with something bubbly or creamy. Whipped cream – I wanted to love this one, but it was a little too chemical-tasting for me. But again, this improves dramatically when you mix it with something creamy. This series includes Fluffed Marshmallow, Root Beer Float, Vanilla and more. Don’t you want to go out and get some of these flavors right now? I’m taking a bottle of Smirnoff® Kissed Caramel to my family Christmas eve gathering tonight. You can’t go wrong.
And in case you or your companions overdo things in this department, there’s a quick help for the day after called “Hangover Naturals.” These lozenges are drug-free and fortified with Vitamin B and C. They come in a box of six in a variety of good-tasting flavors: ginger, raspberry, or lime. They were created by a registered nurse named Noni who focuses on helping people with healthy lifestyles.
For your edification, here’s the list of ingredients: dried cane syrup, corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors (made with essential oils) and natural colors. They taste – you guessed it – sweet, and low blood sugar is one of the effects of drinking alcohol. When I checked their store finder, I didn’t see any retail locations in the Chicago area, but you can get these bad boys in the online store, so you should be able to get some in stock for possible upcoming New Year’s needs.
In case you want to try curing a hangover with stuff you’re likely to have around the house, check out these 7 natural hangover cures.
As Baby Boomers, we mostly feel like we don’t need any more “stuff,” yet we still might like to buy presents for friends or relatives who are in the same boat. What to do if you simply must buy something?
For people who have everything, or simply don’t want or need anything else, giving a food-related gift is just the ticket to express your gratitude, appreciation or love. Truly, you can’t go wrong with food. It’s dear to the hearts of every one of us – especially at this time of year… “ ) Here are a few ideas to consider.
No, you don’t eat it, but this instant-gratification gift gets your giftee into a place she’d will want to eat. OpenTable Gift cards let you or the recipient personalize the gift precisely to taste – you pick her favorite restaurant or let her make the choice. Ideal for foodie friends and relatives who love new dining experiences. When you purchase an OpenTable gift card (available in denominations starting at $10), pick from the list of 180 restaurants in and around Chicago – or if she lives elsewhere, pick from more than 2,000 restaurants in 30-plus cities. The gift arrives via e-mail, and your giftee can either print it out and redeem it at the restaurant (good any hours the place is open), Or she can just show it to the server on her mobile device. The full amount of the gift is deducted from her final bill (remember to tip on the original amount!). Talk about convenience, and no fees – every penny of your gift counts.
Choose from several nice designs and put in a short or long personalized message. Then either send it right away – I love that it comes instantly into her inbox – or set the specific date you want it to arrive. And the fact that you can just carry it on your cell phone or tablet makes it super convenient – no coupons to forget or misplace. Every year OpenTable is becoming a bigger and better player in the food/restaurant space; this gift card idea beats the generic gift card all to heck.
If you love caramel apples, try one of these beauties. Mrs. Prindable’s uses deliciously crisp fresh apples and coats them with thick, softly chewy caramel and nuts, or stripes them with caramel and dark and milk chocolate, and decorates them to fit the season – e.g., beautiful Christmas or Hannukah trimmings. Their Chicago-style nut-and-chocolate-covered toffee makes a timeless, seasonless gift. You can order basketsful of Mrs. Prindable’s chocolate and caramel goodies of any size, starting at $29.99. Even if you’re watching the budget this year, you can still surprise your giftee with a box of four chocolate-covered caramels for $5.99 or a pack of three chocolate-and-caramel-covered pretzels for $7.99 – though if you don’t want to pay shipping [$10.99 for that $5.99 item), you can pick up your order in Mrs. Prindable’s Factory Store, 7425 Croname Rd in Niles. While you’re there, check out the dark or milk chocolate Nut Clusters, the Truffles and the endless combinations of boxed delights. These goodies are beautifully packaged in beribboned packets and boxes. The apples I tried arrive still cold from refrigeration, so don’t worry they won’t hold up with shipping.
Just in time for the holidays, Hyde Park welcomes a pop-up Amy’s Candy Bar store, 1546 E. 55th St., to go with the original Lincoln Square location, 4704 N. Damen Ave. Hand-crafted confections at the new store include Orangettes (dark-chocolate dipped orange peel), almond toffee covered in dark chocolate and sea salt, meringues, and signature caramels dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with a new variety of gourmet salts.
Storeowner Amy Hansen graduated from the French Pastry School and trained under renowned chocolatiers Regis Bouet and Lionel Clement. Her handmade treats are made with premium ingredients including European-style butter, organic cream, Madagascar vanilla, Belgium chocolate, and fresh fruit purees. The OMG Bar – hazelnut praline sandwiched between salted caramel and milk chocolate ganache – had Food & Wine Magazine hailing Hansen as a “candy making genius,” and named hers one of the five best candy stores in the country.
Amy’s Candy Bar in the Hyde Park Shopping Center (612.269.0970) is open Tuesday-Sunday from 11-7. Lincoln Square is open Monday, 3-7, Tuesday-Saturday, 11-8 and Sunday, 11-6. For more info, visit amyscandybar.com.