Pop! goes the New Year

December 31, 2008


    champagne bubbles
    Ready to ring in 2009 with a glass of bubbly?  Good for you!   I love champagne and will definitely be raising a glass myself when the clock strikes twelve. Not only is it a tradition for Martin and I to split a bottle of champagne on New Year’s Eve, but I feel it’s my obligation to the global economy in general and the champagne industry specifically to make sure this year is no exception.    

    Generally the noise and hub-bub of New Years Eve makes conversation starting unnecessary; but, if you find yourself with some silence to fill it might be handy to have some appropriate conversations starters. So, here are 5 facts about champagne you might find useful:

  1. Of the 270 villages in the Champagne region of France, only 17 have achieved the Grand Cru status of 100%.
  2. Dom Peringnon was the 17th Century cellar master of the Abbey of Hautvillers; he’s famous because he developed the art of blending wines to create great tasting champagne.
  3. Some modern champagne bottlers combine as many as 40 different base wines to create their champagne. One reason for all this blending is to create consistent flavour from year to year. 
  4. Vintage champagnes must legally be aged for at least 3 years before being released and are only created in exceptional years.
  5. Rose champagne (one of my favourites, in case you wondered) can be made by adding a bit of red still wine to the cuvee or by macerating red skinned grapes.

Cheers! I hope you enjoy a wonderful start to 2009!

Gangsta trap?

December 30, 2008


What costs $2.99 a bottle, is as sweet as a lollipop and makes me shake my head with wonder? Yup, Sopranos branded soda.

Sure it’s pretty when it catches the light but what marketer thought that anyone would want to drink soft drinks with a TV show logo on them? And, who told them chianti tastes like cream soda?

I’m the first to admit that I’m a pop culture vulture but I don’t need TV and pop singers to clutter up my grocery cart. From Scoobie Doo fruit snacks and Batman Dark Knight lunch boxes, grocery stores are rife with Hollywood influenced branded products.

Cross over branding extends to all facets of retail: P. Diddy has a clothing line, the creator of the Pussy Cat Dolls is hawking Lingerie at La Senza and Paul Newman built a philanthropic empire on salad dressing.

Personally, I’m torn. I own flannel sponge bob pajamas that I love for their cushy comfort and who can fault the Newman family for making the world a better place while selling appealing food products? Still, this nasty tasting soda has annoyed me. What do you think? Is the crossover from pop culture to product branding running amok? Or is it a good thing?

Ham it up for 2009

December 29, 2008


My mom often makes a glazed, bone-in ham for New Year’s Day dinner and I think she’s very smart since ham is easy to make (even if you have a hangover), it tastes good hot, cold or at room temperature, and the leftovers offer almost limitless next day dinner and lunch possibilities.

For the uninitiated, buying and preparing a ham can be a little daunting so here’s a bit of intel to help you make your choice:

  • Most bone-in hams are sold with the outer skin trimmed away. If the one you buy has not had the tough skin removed, use a sharp knife to trim this outer skin from the surface of ham before cooking. After removing the skin, cut off most of the fat, leaving about a 1/4 inch (5 mm) layer. Lastly, using a sharp knife, score a criss-cross pattern over the surface of the remaining fat to create diamond shapes. Place the ham with this fat side up in the roasting pan.
  • Spiral cut hams (like the one pictured above) don’t need to be skinned or scored and they are very easy to serve since they are pretty much pre-sliced.
  • Boneless hams, available year-round, are sold whole, as rolled roasts (recognized by their football shape), or as halved or quartered dinner hams. These boneless cuts are easy to carve and provide about four servings per pound.
  • Most hams, bone-in, boneless or spiral cut, have been cooked during processing and are labeled ready-to-serve or fully cooked as a result, glazing and re-heating the ham is all that is necessary. If you buy a fresh ham, treat it like a pork roast.

Here’s one of my favourite ways to make this McCauley family classic:

Teriyaki Glazed Ham

1/2 cup (125 mL) thick teriyaki sauce
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated lime zest
2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh lime juice
1 spiral cut smoked ham, about 5 lb (2.5 kg)
1/2 cup (125 mL) honey garlic barbecue sauce
2 tbsp (30 mL) liquid honey
1 tbsp (15 mL) minced fresh ginger
Fresh coriander (optional)

Stir the teriyaki sauce with the lime zest and juice. Reserve 1/4 cup (50 mL) of the mixture. Pour the remaining mixture over the ham, turning to coat evenly. Cover and marinate, turning occasionally, for at least 1 hour but preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 332 F (160 C). Place the ham on a rack in a roasting pan and spoon marinating juices over top. Cover and roast for 30 minutes.

Stir the reserved marinade with the barbecue sauce, honey and ginger. Uncover the ham and brush with some of the glaze mixture. Cook, basting every 15 minutes with glaze, for about 1 to hour or until instant read thermometer registers 140 F (60 C) when inserted into the centre of the ham. Garnish with coriander (if using). Makes 10 servings.

What’s on your New Year’s Day menu?

Easiest gourmet appetizer ever

December 26, 2008


Photo courtesy of Patchwork Pate.


Tired of turkey?  Fatigued by cooking for family?  Still inundated with social obligations but sadly out of savvy ideas for impressing?  No worriesCharcuterie platters are all the rage this holiday season and the good news is that you don’t have to be a great cook to get in on this hot entertaining trend.

Like a cheese board, the success of a charcuterie platter depends on making good choices at the grocery store. Sure you can be like my husband Martin and make your own lamb sausage, but you can just as easily buy fabulous cooked sausages, pates and cured meats from a store.

When creating a charcuterie platter, be sure to choose a range of flavours, textures and types of meat. Ideally you’ll want smoky, spicy and aromatic (i.e. herbs, truffles) flavoured options as well as a range of textures from chewy dry cured chorizo to velvety smooth pates.

Likewise, opt for artisan and natural products versus mass produced cured meats to avoid cloying artificial flavours, unnecessary fillers and other nasty stuff.

What’s your favourite charcuterie platter option? Do you pine for pate de foie gras, or go bonkers over balotta ham?

My regift to you

December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas!

I hope you’re having a peaceful, delicious day. If you find yourself with a few minutes for yourself between tearing wrapping paper from boxes and breaking bread with family, why not spend them browsing these posts that were reader favourites over the last year?

(What, you expected a fresh, brand new post on a statutory holiday? You’ve heard of regifting right? Just think of this post as my regift to you!)

As the list below reveals, my readers often have sweet thoughts!

Gorgeous gourmet cupcakes
Divorce cake
Gourmet cupcakes in a jar
Butterscotch pudding
150-calorie breakfast