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Friday, November 16, 2018

A Unique Thanksgiving Cocktail

How about a little something different other than a glass of wine to begin your festive Thanksgiving celebration?   I have a great option.  This recipe combines two of my favorite cocktails:  Aperol Spritz and a Pimms Cup.  I’m assuming you’ll have a crowd for your holiday dinner, so I’ve made the recipe for 8 persons and adjusted the process to make it easy-peasy.


10 paper thin slices of cucumber (sliced on a madeline, or other such instrument)
Hand full of fresh mint leaves
¼ Cup Pimms No. 1
½ Cup Aperol
1 cup Apricot Liqueur
½ Cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ Cup simple syrup
½ Cup Tonic Water


Muddle the cucumber and mint.  Add all the ingredients and ice, then stir.  Strain out into martini glasses.  Optional:  top with a mint leaf or thin circle of cucumber.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Autumn Cocktail

                                 The Sazerac cocktail, like jazz, was birthed in New Orleans

It was a cold autumn night in San Francisco when I first had a Sazerac cocktail.  I was at the marvelous Zuni Café with a group of my closest women friends.   Another woman, who was a solo patron, saw us having so much fun that she sent this cocktail to us in the spirit of the X chromosome.  It was fifteen years ago and I have never forgotten the gesture, or the cocktail.

The Sazerac cocktail was developed over 150 years ago in pre-Civil war New Orleans.  Some say that it is the oldest American cocktail.  Named after its original major ingredient, Sazerac cognac, the drink was first concocted by a liquor importer who mixed cognac with the city’s famous Peychaud Bitters and then added a splash of another French liquor called Absinthe.  When France’s vineyards were by Phylloxera in the late 1800’s the cognac was replaced with American Rye Whiskey.

However, it’s not simply the ingredients that make the Sazerac.  The process in which the drink is made is key.   First, two chilled glasses are used (typically old-fashioned glasses).  Glass number one is swirled with a wash of absinthe…this adds flavor and aroma.  Glass number two is used to combine the remaining ingredients, ice is added, the drink is stirred, and then the contents are strained into the original glass.  Voila!

Below is the recipe for this autumn cocktail.  Serve it on a cool night, with a roaring fire.

1 sugar cube (or one teaspoon)
1.5 ounces of Rye Whiskey
2 teaspoons Absinthe (or an anise flavored liquor)
3 dashes Peychaud Bitters
Lemon peel for garnish

Friday, November 2, 2018

My Fave Autumn Recipe

Caponata is a quintessential recipe for the Fall season.  A Sicilian dish, caponata is somewhat Italy’s version of French ratatouille.   Think autumn’s prime veggies:  eggplant, red and green bell peppers, and onions.  Then add one of Sicily’s most famous culinary items, capers, along with another Sicilian hallmark, olives.  Magic.

Caponata, however, is one of those delicious dishes where the sum exceeds the parts.  Not only is the mélange of ingredients a marriage made in heaven, but the sauce is transformative as well.  Known as an agro-dolce (sour-sweet), it has elements of sweet (from raisins, tomatoes and a little sugar), as well as sour notes (brined capers and olives along with red wine vinegar), to perfectly balance this holy union.

This outrageously divine dish can be used as an entrée for vegetarians, or is often combined in Sicily with swordfish to create a complete meal.  It’s also a magnifico side dish with items such as roasted chicken or grilled lamb.   Leftovers can be easily repurposed as a delectable pasta dish. 

This recipe is from the Weezie Mott Cooking School in the Bay Area from 35 years ago.  Weezie and I taught together at the university and she is still teaching cooking classes in her 90’s from her home in Alameda.   Her rendition is one of my favorites.  A tip?  Make sure to cook the recipe at least one day before serving (actually, I find the flavors are at their prime after two or three days).  

Friday, October 26, 2018

Mourvedre---A Glorious Autumn Wine

I have long been a fan of Mourvedre (more-VEH-drah).  In fact, I spent several weeks this summer in the epicenter of Mourvedre production…the South of France.  Some think that this inky dark varietal may be native to this part of France so it’s no wonder that Mourvedre reaches rock-star status in this Mediterranean-kissed area.

Mourvedre is a meaty, full-bodied red wine.  It is also a grape.  Mourvedre is used in the South of France primarily as a blending varietal with Grenache and Syrah.  The Mourvedre adds tannins and structure, along with flavors of dark red berries, spices like cinnamon and black pepper, and herbs such as thyme.  The grape can also add a floral note, usually in the form of violets.  Moreover, Mourvedre is second only to Syrah as the darkest colored wine.

If you’re a Cabernet lover you’ll probably find Mourvedre quite appealing.  In the seaside Bandol area (not far from St Tropez), Mourvedre is produced as a 100% varietal.  These wines can be killer.  Domaine Tempier and Chateau Pibarnon are the perennial faves although their prices have escalated the last few years as these wines continue to become more popular.

Although Mourvedre is most known for making concentrated reds, there are also wonderful Rosés from the varietal being made in the South of France.  Domaine Lafage Miraflors is a solid bet for less than $20.  Tempier makes at outrageously good rendition but its price is double Lafage’s Miraflors at about $40.

Why not try something new this autumn?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Marinated Olives

                                                        A favorite Sicilian rendition 

A favorite activity on Wine-Knows’ autumn trips is visiting an olive farm or an olive oil producer.  Out of my many olive recipes I especially enjoy this crowd-pleaser, a mélange of all different colors, shapes and sizes.  Yes, one can purchase a pre-made mixture at an upscale deli, but I guarantee you none of them taste anywhere this scrumptious. 

In October 2020 Wine-Knows taken over an olive estate in Sicily for two nights.  But, this isn’t just any olive estate.  This one produces award-winning oil that is used by many of Sicily’s Michelin star chefs.  Participants will have a unique opportunity to pick olives, watch the birthing of an extra virgin oil, and then taste on the very same day.  Here's a recipe we learned at a former visit with Wine-Knows.


3 C mixture of various olives in different shapes & sizes
3 shallots, sliced thin
2 Tbsp. Sambuca
¼ c olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
¾ tsp. salt
Pinch cayenne


Rinse olives thoroughly, drain, pat dry. Toss the olives with the remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before serving.  Decorate with fennel or other herbs.  (Keeps in frig for a couple of weeks.)

Unfortunately, the trip to Sicily for the olive harvest in 2020 is SOLD OUT.  Do let us know if you have an interest in the waiting list.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The World’s Most Expensive Salt

                            Fleur de Sel reaches rock-star status with caramels or chocolate

Fleur de Sel, once used in ancient times as a medicinal salve, is now the priciest salt on earth.  It has a cult following among serious chefs around the world.  In fact, I think it's safe to say there isn't a Michelin star chef on the planet who doesn't have at least one Fleur de Sel at her/his beckon call.  Ironically, none of these gourmands actually cook with this salt.  Instead, once their cooking is completed, they add a small count of Fleur de Sel to the dish as a final finishing element to further flavor the food.

Originally from France, Fleur de Sel translates to "flower of salt."  It is so named because of its flower-like pattern of crystals.  Now made in other parts of the world, the product goes by the name of Flor de Sal in both Portugal and Spain.  Regardless of country of origin, the process is the same.  As seawater dries in special shallow pools called salt "farms," a delicate crust forms on the top.  Once the water completely evaporates the dried salt "flowers" must be harvested by hand due to their fragile nature.  It's a painstaking, labor-intensive process.  Thus the salt's high price ($10 for four ounces in the US).

Although Fleur de Sel has been popular with foodies for some decades, it was its use in the recent sweet-salty craze with items such as chocolate and caramel that really put it on the culinary map.  While it has long been known that sweet and salt are a perfect pairing, Fleur de Sel behaves differently in these combinations than other salts.  Due to this salt's high moisture content, the crystals often stick together.  This means that Fleur de Sel doesn't dissolve immediately.  Its snowflake structure allows it to dissolve more slowly thereby permitting the taste to linger in your mouth.  Moreover, Fleur de Sel is composed not only of sodium and chloride but of other trace minerals.  These adjunct minerals add complexity which further adds to the salt's unique flavor.

Like a good quality olive oil or fresh herbs, Fleur de Sel is one of those small but essential touches that changes a dish from something ordinary to sublime.  It's half the price in Europe and because its light in weight Fleur de Sel is the perfect tiem to bring in your suitcase from a sojourn across the Atlantic.


Friday, October 5, 2018

The British are Coming!

A Pimms' Cup in the very charming Cotswolds

I spent a glorious two weeks in England this summer. One of the reasons I flew over was to check out the country’s new sparkling wine industry that has been taking the international wine world by storm.  Fizz (as they call their bubbly) has become a new icon like Big Ben, Stilton cheese and Megan Markle.   While much of the fizz was world-class, one of my favorite drinks for their unusually warm summer was Pimms.   I’ve known the drink for 30 years, but my recent visit rekindled my love for it.

Pimms is an usual liqueur made from gin.   It’s a savory concoction of various spices and herbs with citrus overtones.  I don’t think anyone would find drinking it alone very enticing, but mixed with sparkling lemonade, muddled mint, and chopped fruits it’s a wonderfully refreshing way to begin a dinner party…or serve poolside on a warm autumn day.  It’s somewhat a British rendition of sangria---light and easy drinking.  Its low alcohol format (due to being diluted with lemonade), makes for a thirst-quenching drink without making your head spin.

My favorite aperitif with Pimms is called a Pimms’ Cup.  I was served this version by an English woman in the backyard of a glorious waterside home in the Cotswolds.  I’ve made it several times since returning with varying fruits.  Here is my preferred rendition which serves eight persons a Long-Live-the Queen aperitif:

   ~ 1 bottle of Pimms #1
   ~ An equal size bottle of sparkling lemonade (Trader Joe has a great one with low 
   ~ ½ cup of peeled, seeded & chopped cucumber
   ~ 1 small apple, cored & chopped (leave skin)
   ~ 1 cup thinly sliced strawberries
   ~ A handful of fresh muddled mint

Combine all in a pitcher, serve in clear glasses with ice & a sprig of mint on top.

Wine-Knows will be visiting England in June 2019 and there are only two seats left.  In addition to Pimms, we’ll be exploring many of the award-winning fizzes.  Also, dare I mention that we’re also visiting the Bombay Sapphire Gin Factory?   Check it out: