Pop the Cork

With the holidays being here, the champagne will be flowing freely, so I thought it would be fun to give a little history of our favorite festive bubbly.

Champagne is a type of sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wines can be champagne.  In order for a wine to be classified as champagne, it has to be produced from the Champagne region of France and has to be made according to the rules of appellation.  The Champagne winemaking community, under the auspices of the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC), has developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for all wine produced in the region to protect its economic interests. They include codification of the most suitable growing places; the most suitable grape types (most Champagne is a blend of up to three grape varieties, though other varieties are allowed); and a lengthy set of requirements specifying most aspects of viticulture. This includes pruning, vineyard yield, the degree of pressing, and the time that wine must remain on its lees before bottling. It can also limit the release of Champagne to market to maintain prices. Only when a wine meets these requirements may it be labelled Champagne. The rules agreed upon by the CIVC are submitted for the final approval of the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (formerly the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, INAO).

The champagne region of France is about 90 miles northeast of Paris.  The conditions are perfect in the Champagne region of France to make our favorite effervescent drink.  It is a cold climate and the soil is rich with limestone.  This combination is exactly what is needed for magically turning regular wines into champagne.   Only certain types of grapes, from specific vineyards can be used to produce champagne as well, using only the specified vineyard practices and methods to produce it, including a secondary fermentation process of the wine in the bottle.  This secondary fermentation process is what causes the carbonation and the bubbles.  Pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay are the primary grapes used to make all champagnes, but there can also be small amounts of pinot blanc, pinot gris, Arbane and Petit Meslier grapes used as well.  No other types of grapes can be used if you want to produce a real, authentic champagne.

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The name Dom Perignon is probably one of the most famous brands of champagne, but Dom Perginon himself did not actually create champagne, although he did make important contributions to the production and quality of both still and sparkling Champagne wines.  Sparkling wines were created by accident when the pressure in the bottles made the bottles explode and blew the corks out.   The oldest recording of a sparkling wine dates back to 1531, and was the Blanquette de Limoux, which was invented by the Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Saint-Hilare, near Carcassonne.  Dom Pierre Perignon was one of these French Benedictine monks. They first made their sparkling wines by bottling the wines before the initial fermentation process had finished.  This method became known as the methode rurale.  One century later, in 1662, the English scientist Christopher Merrit, added sugar to the finished wine, which produced a secondary fermentation.  This secondary fermentation process became known as the methode champenoise.  However, Champagne did not use this methode champenoise to produce champagne until 200 years later.  This new method for producing sparkling wines also created a lot of pressure in the wines and the glass used for the bottles was not able to withstand this additional pressure.  At the time, the French bottle makers and glass makers did not have the technology to produce bottles that were strong enough to withstand the added pressures of these sparkling wines, so the task was given to the English glassmakers who were able to produce bottles that were strong enough to withstand the secondary fermentation process of the wines.  In 1844, Adolphe Jaquesson invented the muselet that prevented the corks from blowing out, and sparkling wines were then intentionally made.  But it was not until the 19th century when all the pieces for champagne making were put together and champagne production saw exponential growth from the initial 300,000 bottles produced per year to over 338.7 million bottles produced in 2007.

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In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, champagne was the favorite drink of royalty and nobility, most probably because of the limited production and expensive prices.  During the 19th century, champagne makers started selling off name brands of champagne, so it could be sold for less which increased its consumer base.  It was becoming more and more available and affordable and thus more and more popular among the middle class as well as the royalty and noble classes.   Champagne for anyone other than royalty and nobility was associated as a special drink for special occasions, and still is today.  For most people, it is not an everyday wine, but is reserved for days of celebration.

Another legendary use for champagne is when it is smashed over the hull of a ship during its launching.  If the bottle fails to break, it is considered to be bad luck.

Champagne is usually served in a champagne flute, whose characteristics include a long stem with a tall, narrow bowl, thin sides and an etched bottom. The intended purpose of the shape of the flute is to reduce surface area, therefore preserving carbonation, as well as maximizing nucleation (the visible bubbles and lines of bubbles).   Champagne is always served cold.  Its ideal drinking temperature is between 7 to 9 °C or 45 to 48 °F. Often the bottle is chilled in a bucket of ice and water, half an hour before opening, which also ensures the Champagne is less gassy and can be opened without spillage. Champagne buckets are made specifically for this purpose and often have a larger volume than standard wine-cooling buckets to accommodate the larger bottle, and more water and ice.

To reduce the risk of spilling or spraying any champagne, open the champagne bottle by holding the cork and rotating the bottle at an angle in order to ease out the stopper. This method, as opposed to pulling the cork out, prevents the cork from flying out of the bottle at speed. (The expanding gases are supersonic). Also, holding the bottle at an angle allows air in and helps prevent the champagne from geysering or spraying out of the bottle.

So now you know all about champagne …

Tis the season.  Pop the cork and celebrate.   Cheers Everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Birthday Day – Part 2 – Lucie and Larry

Larry and our big girl, Lucie, share the same birthday, or at least we celebrate them on the same day.   When we rescued Lucie from the Colorado Saint Bernard Rescue @ gotdrool.org 7 years ago, all we knew was that her birthday was in December, but we did not have an exact day.   So to make things easier, we just decided to celebrate her special day on Larry’s special day, December 10th.

As I mentioned in my previous post It’s Birthday Day – Part 1 – Breakfast Burritos Larry made breakfast burritos for his co-workers.   I made his favorite meal for dinner after I got home.   Larry’s favorite meal is Steak Oscar.   Steak Oscar  Other than that, Larry’s birthday was pretty low-key.  It wasn’t a big number and it did not end with either a zero or a five, plus it was a “school day”.   Both of us had to get up early for work today, so going out and painting the town red was not an option (not that we do that anyway).  He will be celebrating more tonight when he goes to the Av’s game.  Larry is a big hockey fan, and the Avalanche is our team.  Go Av’s!!!!!!

Lucie got a new “baby” for her birthday.  She was very happy with it.  She has been carrying it around with her all day.  Lambchops seems to be a favorite of both Lucie and Vinnie.  This one is their 3rd.  Lucie is very gentle with her babies whereas Vinnie likes to destroy them.   Hopefully Vinnie will let Lucie enjoy her Lambchops for awhile before he decapitates it and rips out the squeaker.  🙂  Lucie is now 8, which is up there for a big dog.  She is showing her age, but then again, aren’t we all.  She knows she is well loved, and that is really all that matters. Larry is slightly older than 8.  He’ll tell you he feels pretty old too though.  🙂

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Happy Birthday to both Larry and Lucie.  Love you lots.

It’s Birthday Day – Part 1 – Breakfast Burritos

Larry’s birthday was yesterday.  He has made it for yet another turn around the sun.  Larry decided to be the giver rather than the receiver on his special day, so he got up early and made breakfast burritos for his co-workers.  They were all a little surprised that he made them breakfast on his birthday, but they all helped “celebrate” his day and ate the burritos.  They were very good.  he did a great job on them.

First, Larry scrambled the eggs, then he fried the bacon.

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Once the bacon was ready, he fried up some hash browns and cooked the chorizo.

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After everything was cooked it was time to start the burrito assembly line.  Larry lined the island with aluminum foil and placed a tortilla on each piece of foil.  He then started layering all the ingredients, then wrapped the burritos up and then rolled them all individually in the foil.  Some of the burritos had bacon and some had chorizo, but they all had scrambled eggs, hash browns, green chili (left over green chili I made a while ago) and cheddar cheese.

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Happy Birthday and burrito day Larry.

It’s Cookie Time

My friends Janet and Bob have a great tradition they share with their kids and their grandkids.  Every year at Christmas, they bake a ton of cookies to give to their teachers, girl scout/boy scout leaders, and everyone else who is a part of their community.  For the past few years, Larry and I have been a part of this tradition as well.  It is always so much fun.  Janet and Bob have an exchange student from Israel who is staying with them this year.  This was Nadeen’s first time experiencing this fun Townley Family holiday tradition too.

Everyone is buried behind a wall of cookies.  We did not decorate these cookies.  They were baked and ready to be boxed up for their lucky recipients.

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Brian is proudly displaying his favorite cookies, the peanut butter cookies with Reese’s peanut butter cups.

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Nadeen is sampling the chocolate covered pretzels.  I think she likes them.

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Janet calls these her “6-hour” cookies.  They are chocolate shortbread cookies dipped in both white and dark chocolate.  They are so good.

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Let’s let the decorating begin.  Part of the tradition is to have all the generations help make the frosting for the cookies.  This year, Nadeen is part of the whole process too.

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Once the frosting is made, it needs to be colored.  This year our colors were, red (dark pink), light pink, green, blue, yellow, orange and a dark purple.

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Emily and Nadeen are the mix masters of color.

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So many different decorations from which to choose.  Oh, but what fun it is to play with all these cool and different goodies.  Every year, Janet’s inventory grows by leaps and bounds.

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At last, the cookie decorating begins.  All these cookies will soon be decorated.  We all followed our wild imaginations, and came up with some pretty amazing decorative cookies.

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Nadeen is proudly displaying her first cookie of the season.

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The cookie masters are hard at work.

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Here is a small sampling of our cookie creativity.

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Every year, we all get one ugly sweater to decorate.  The goal is to make it as ugly as you can, using the decorative leftovers from previous cookies.  Somehow Emily did two cookies this year.  Are either of these sweaters the “ugliest”?  Stay tuned.

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This year’s nominees for ugliest sweater.  And the winner is …..

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Me.  My sweater was the ugliest this year.  That’s what purple and yellow stripes mixed with 2 red hot cinnamon drops will do for you.  🙂

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The cookies are all baked and decorated and are now ready to be boxed up and delivered to their lucky recipients.  Brian, Shelly, Peter and Emily are all taking a cookie break before the cookie boxing begins.

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Thank you Janet, Bob, Brian, Shelly, Peter, Emily and Nadeen for always letting us join in on the fun and the family tradition.  It is an event we look forward to every year.  All hail the cookie!

 

More Festive Celebrations

I love Christmas and love to decorate and get into the spirit of the season, but my brothers-in-law, Randy and Roger, are the best when it come to Holiday celebrations and decorations.  They always make their house so beautiful and festive.  According to them, this year they scaled back considerably, but no one would ever guess that.  One year, they had over 20 Christmas trees decorating their house.  This year I think they were down to only a dozen or so.  Whether it is 20 or 12, their house is always a sight to behold though.

This is the bar.  Larry was bartender for the night.  Randy is very, very creative and a few years ago, he made this lighted wine bottle hanging.  Yes, many of those bottles were contributed by me and my “sister” Jaala.

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This is one of Randy & Roger’s fun and festive trees.

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The trees around the piano area.

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As beautiful as all these trees and decorations are, the main focal point is always their upside down Christmas tree.  It is so unusual and different.  It always gets people talking.

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This is Larry’s mom, Ollie, along with one of our sisters-in-law, Sheri and Larry’s brother Randy, the host with the most.

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Usually Randy & Roger prepare all the food for their festivities, but this year, they had a potluck.  As with any potluck, you always get a wide range of delicious foods, and this party was no exception.  I was visited by the Queen once again, and once more, she was in the holiday spirit.  You know how the Queen and I love to visit.  🙂

I promise you, this will be the last reincarnation of my artichoke and olive mixture for this season.  More Holiday Cheer  I didn’t think I had made that much, and I really didn’t think there was that much left over, however, when I added the orzo,  I more than doubled what I had leftover.  From Appetizer to Dinner  Larry has always said I have a knack for making my leftovers grow, and well …. I certainly did that this time around.  So for this last recreation, I turned the artichoke, olive, and now orzo, mixture into Mediterranean chorizo artichoke and olive cups.  They were yet again a big hit, and one of the guests at the party said they were the best appetizers he had ever had.  Thank you for the compliment Sir, but I think you are being way to nice.  🙂

You already have the main recipe(s), and the only things I added where the chorizo and a little goat cheese.  I mixed the cooked chorizo in with the artichoke and orzo mixture, then filled my pastry cups and added a tiny bit of goat cheese on the top.  Once my cups were filled,  I covered everything with another layer of the pastry dough, brushed them with an egg wash and baked them.  To make them small bite-sized appetizers, I baked them in my mini muffin pans at 350* F for about 20 minutes, or until they were golden brown.

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And here they are, ready to eat …

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Happy Holidays Everyone!  

 

 

From Appetizer to Dinner

One of the dishes I made for pour recent holiday party was the artichoke and olive bruschetta.   More Holiday Cheer  After the party, I still had some leftover, mainly because I think I ran out of the crostini and people weren’t sure how to eat it with no crostini.  Well, I hate to throw food away if I don’t absolutely have to, which as you know, doesn’t happen all that often.  I recreate into something completely different for later.  This is just how I cook, and have done so my whole life.  I was always raised with the waste not want not frame of mind.  Well, this dish was way to good to waste, so … of course I recreated into something different.  🙂

I started with this ….

 

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Then I tweaked it a bit and finished with this …  I call it Mediterranean Chicken with Orzo.

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I did not have a lot of the artichoke and olive mix left, but I had enough to make it into something new and different.  I combined the remainder of the mix in with some cooked orzo.  I pan fried some chicken that I stuffed with some of my leftover goat cheese, then topped it all with a yellow heirloom tomato sauce.   I know it seems like we had chicken twice in a row for dinner, but not so.  That is just how the timing of my posts worked out.

Mediterranean Chicken with Orzo

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For the Chicken

2-3 TBSP flour

salt & pepper to taste

1 1/2-2 lbs chicken breast

2-3 TBSP olive oil

2-3 TBSP butter

3-5 TBSP goat cheese

 

Mix the flour and salt & pepper together and completely coat the chicken.  Add the olive oil and the butter to a skillet and when the skillet and the oil are hot, add the chicken.  Brown it on all sides, about 6-7 minutes per side.  Then remove the chicken from the oil and let cool.

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While the chicken is cooking, prepare the orzo according the directions on the package and make your tomato sauce.  You can use any kind of tomatoes you like, but I had some yellow heirloom tomatoes that I wanted to use, plus, they are a little different.  With all this cold and snowy weather we’ve been having, I thought we needed a little sunshine, even if only for dinner.

The Sauce

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2 large yellow heirloom tomatoes, or tomatoes of your choice, cut in large dice

1/2 yellow onion, diced fine

1 TBSP garlic

2 tsp each fresh sage, basil oregano and thyme or 1 tsp dried

1 cup dry white wine

3 TBSP olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

1-2 TBSP heavy whipping cream

 

Mix everything together except the wine and the cream and saute in the hot oil for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  If you are using dried herbs, you can cook them with the tomatoes and onions.  If you are using fresh herbs, add them when everything is cooked, at the end.

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Once the tomatoes start to break down and the onions are translucent, add the wine.  Continue to cook for about 2-3 minutes or until most of the liquid from the wine has evaporated.  Then add the cream and mix everything together thoroughly.

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Preheat the oven to 350* F or 180* C.

Spray a baking dish with cooking spray.

While everything is cooking, and the chicken has cooled, slice a pocket in the middle of the chicken and stuff the cheese into it.  Put the stuffed chicken in the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked and the juices from the chicken are clear.

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When the chicken is cooked, and everything else is ready, it is now time to assemble everything together.  Toss the artichoke and olive mixture into the orzo and combine well.  Plate the orzo mixture fist, then slice the chicken into thin slices and place on top of the orzo.  Add the sauce on top of the chicken and … Voila!  Yet another tasty, healthy Mediterranean meal is created.

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I served the meal with warm ciabiatta and the same dry white wine I used for the sauce.  I created a great meal AND used up some leftovers.  This is my favorite way to cook.

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An Indian Curry

As you all know, we are NOT picky eaters in my house.  We eat everything and love all kinds of ethnic foods as well.  Even though we do not eat it as much as we would like, Indian foods are some of our favorites.  The other day, I made an Indian red curry and chicken dish that just hit the spot.  It was a perfect warm dish for a cold and chilly night.

Curries are dishes made with a variety of spices, often times as many as 20 different spices per dish, that originated in India and then spread to the other parts of Asia.  The word “curry” however, is actually a British term that was first used in the mid 18th century to denote dishes, usually meat dishes although curries can be made with anything, that were made in a Western type sauce using Indian spices.  The Indians themselves rarely use the word “curry” unless they are speaking in English and are referring to a dish made with either a gravy or a sauce rather than just a mixture of spices.  The two main branches of curry dishes are Indian and Thai.  The Indian curried dishes are usually thicker and are are more stew-like, where Thai curries are usually thinner and can often be more soup-like.  There is an infinite number of curried dishes around the world, but traditionally, they were based around the spices that were local to a specific area or region.  They were often enjoyed at various religious or cultural ceremonies or family celebrations.

Originally, the “curried” dishes from either India or Thailand were dishes that were made by mixing a wide variety of different spices into the cooking process of the dish.  Though there are many different varieties of curried dishes, the main ingredients of any curry are almost always a combination of tumeric, ginger, coriander, cumin and either fresh or dried chilies.  Curry powder is a combination already mixed and was invented in Britain in the mid 18th century.  A dish can either be a wet curry or a dry curry.  A wet curry dish is one that is made with a sauce or a gravy, whereas a dry curry is more of a rub, with very little liquid added to the dish.  My favorites are the wet curries.  But then you already know I am a “saucy” kind of girl.

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Indian Red Curried Chicken

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1 1/2 lb chicken cut into strips

1 small yellow onion, peeled and sliced thin

2 cups fresh spinach, stemmed and chopped rough

1/2 small pumpkin, peeled and cubed

1 large tomato, cut into a medium dice

1 potato, peeled and diced in a medium dice

3 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSP butter

1 1/2 TBSP garlic

1 1/2 TBSP ginger

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp tumeric

1 tsp garam masala

1-2 tsp red chili powder

salt & pepper to taste

2 cups yogurt

1 cup chicken broth

cilantro for topping

 

Cook the potatoes in a combination of butter and olive oil until they are browned and slightly crispy.

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Add the onions, pumpkin, garlic, tomato, ginger and spices and thoroughly mix everything together, then continue to cook until the onions are translucent.

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Add the chicken broth and yogurt and combine everything together well.  In a separate pan, cook the chicken in olive oil and cook until it is thoroughly cooked.  Add the spinach when the sauce is done and mix in thoroughly with the sauce, then add the chicken and combine everything together well.

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Serve the curry over rice or noodles, along with some naan bread.  For something a little different, I served my curry over couscous.  It was good, but I prefer it over rice.  I also served it with a light Pinot Grigio, which is a good choice with anything spicy.  I topped it with chopped cilantro.  With all the aromatic spices I used, the house smelled as good as the dish tasted.  Delicious!

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