Friday, September 25, 2015

One of My Most Requested Recipes

                                             Homemade margaritas are worth the effort

Just this last week cookbook author, restaurant-owner and chef extraordinaire Donna Nordin of Tucson was in my home conducting Southwestern cooking classes to a sell-out crowd.  While Donna was putting the finishing touches on her Tortilla Soup, Grilled Duck in Mole and her Chocolate Mousse Pie featured on the cover of Bon Appetit,  I served margaritas.  Out of  the many requests I receive for recipes, my margaritas are one of the most frequent.  There are a couple of reasons I believe they are especially good.  

The first secret is I use a combination of freshly squeezed citrus.  While limes are the brass section in this orchestra, lemons provide support with percussion.  Oranges add not only some natural sweetness, but also interesting notes to the concert.  

The second important factor is good liquor.  While expensive, aged tequila should never be used in margaritas, a respectable tequila is vital.   I always use one made from 100% agave.   Suggestions include Milagro, El Jimador, Azul or  Espolon---all are moderate in cost.  A good quality liquor also includes the orange liquor.  Forget the supermarket’s insipid Triple Sec…in fact, forget Triple Sec from any store!    Instead, opt for Cointreau or Gran Marnier---very little is used per drink so the 10-fold price does not translate to much per serving.    

My recipe below, honed after >50 trips to Mexico, does not make super strong margaritas, so if you want something with a real punch, increase the Tequila (but keep the Cointreau or Gran Marnier the same).

  • Step 1:  Citrus mélange:   squeeze  a ratio of 10 : 2 :1 citrus (e.g. 20 limes, 2 lemons, and 1 medium orange).    For 2 margaritas, squeeze 1 cup of citrus juice.

  • Step 2:  Make a simple syrup from a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water.  (e.g. 1 cup of sugar + 1 cup of water----place in a pan and cook for a few minutes until sugar dissolves well).

  • Step 3:  Make a “citrus-ade” using a ratio of 1:1 of combined citrus juice and the simple syrup.  (Save any left over simple syrup in the frig for   another batch of margaritas---it keeps for months).

  • Step 4:  Rim a glass with a wedge of lime, dip the rim in kosher salt.

  • Step 5:  Add ice cubes.

  • Step 6.  Pour in 1 cup of the citrus-ade.

  • Step 7:  Add ¾ cup of Tequila and ¼ cup of Cointreau or Gran Marnier and stir well.

  • Step 8:  Stir well and top with a lime slice.

Viva Mexico!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Are France's New Wine Rules Too Restrictive?

France was the first country in Europe to enact legislation regarding wine.  These regulations, ratified 80 years ago, were meant to protect the French wine industry and consumers from poorly made knock-offs.  Prior to 1935, there was no legal penalty for an Algerian wine masquerading as a Bordeaux, or for that matter, for a cheap Italian sparkling wine being marketed as a French Champagne.  In the latest update to the French wine regulations, however, the pendulum may have swung too far in terms of restrictions.

First, let’s review the new rules.  All wines in France are now classified into one of the following three categories:
  • A.O.P. (Appellation d’Orgine Protégée).  This was formally called A.O.C.  This category encompasses wines within a certain demarcated geographical area (wines with a similar terroir).  Within the Bordeaux district, for example, there are 60 AOP’s---each with their unique soil, micro-climate & special geographical characteristics.  Each AOP comes with its own set of rules related to what grapes can be grown, if vines can be irrigated, maximum yields, and a host of detailed laws by which the winemaker must abide.
  • I.G.P. (Indication Geographique Protégée).  This category is far less restrictive than the AOP.  It allows producers to think out of the above category’s rule box.  Winemakers can often choose what grapes can be used, and are more free to use procedures that are not allowed in AOP wines. There still, however, are some rules that must be followed.
  • Vin de France.  This last classification replaces the former “table wine” category known as Vin de Table.  These typically are quite simple, high yield wines grown with very few rules and sold for a fraction of AOP and IGP’s---most are well under 10 bucks a bottle. 

As the AOP regulation noose is tightening, the Vin de France category is becoming increasingly interesting.  Some winemakers are revolting against the restrictive laws and declassifying their wines from AOP or IGP to Vin de France.  One of the best examples I’ve heard is that of the Michel Rolland, the globe’s most famous wine consultant.  Monsieur Rolland, who is French, is not only the most sought after wine consultant in the world but is a Chateau owner in Bordeaux.  During a terrible rain, Rolland used plastic sheeting between rows to protect his grapes.  The authorities demanded that wines made from these grapes be declassified to Vin de France as plastic sheeting was not found in the rulebook.  Rolland had to legal choice but to oblige.

Other winemakers are becoming appellation drop-outs for different reasons.  A common motive is to be able to use varieties that aren’t permitted.  Global warming has many winemakers concerned---some are opting out in France so that they can plant varietals that are better suited to warmer temperatures.  Others are opting out of the AOP as a means of protecting disappearing indigenous varieties that aren’t allowed by law.

For the savvy wine consumer, this means that there are going to be some serious values available in the Vin de France category.  Not only well crafted, but new innovative wines.  But, the downside is knowing which ones are these value wines from the 95%  of the others that are swill.  Perhaps the French should create a 4th category called “Liberté” (Liberation).   This one could be for creative winemakers who would like to think outside of France’s restrictive box?

Friday, September 11, 2015

50 Shades of Red

There must be at least 50 shades of reds and rosés.  For sake of brevity, I’m narrowing mine to 5 which are listed below, starting with the darkest and ending with the lightest.

Deepest Red: 
Syrah is the darkest colored wine of any varietal.   These deep color pigments are also anti-oxidants, hence, exert a protective cardiac function.    My favorite Syrah, without question, is Guigal’s La Turque…the earth moved when I first sipped it nearly 15 years ago.  If you don’t want to splurge on this Rhone rendition, opt for Alban Syrah from California Central Coast which is a superbly crafted alternative.

Medium Red:
Grenache is the clear winner here for me.  This grape has been made popular by winemakers in the Rhone Valley and Spain, however, it’s becoming increasing popular in the U.S. as a light-bodied red that can pair well with fish and poultry.  Chateauneuf de Papes are Grenache-based.  Try Chateaux  Beaucastel, Le Nerthe or Rayas for France’s best.  If you’re looking for a California version, you can’t beat the Central Coast’s Sine Qua Non.      

Light Red:
Pinot Noir falls into this category, however, there are easily 10 shades of this varietal at any moderate-sized wine emporium.  Pinot’s skin, which is thin and delicate, has only a small amount of color pigments thus these wines can be very light in color.   If it were a special occasion (and price were not a huge stumbling block) I would opt for a Red Burgundy such as Drouhin’s  Clos de Mouche.  If it were a special occasion and I needed to mindful of price, I would choose  Dehlingner (Russian River, California).

Billecart-Salmon’s Brut Rosé Champagne immediately comes to my mind for the premier choice in this shade grouping.  Made from approximately 30% of Pinot Noir, the color is a show-stopper.  Why not have a pure love-fest with the coral and serve it with smoked salmon appetizers?

Light Pink: 
I’m not a fan of any brand related to Hollywood celebrities.  My husband recently brought home several bottles of Miraval (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s Rosé from Provence.)   Reluctantly I tried it and was wowed by its complexity.  These two have a serious Oscar contender for Rosé.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Labor Day Labor of Love

Paris' Ambassade d'Auvergne sublime chocolate mousse

I’ve had this chocolate mousse too many to count at one of my favorite restaurants in Paris.  This rendition, to me, is the benchmark for which to judge all other chocolate mousses on the planet.  And, thanks to a labor of love gesture from one of my dear friends (who was finally able to talk the chef out of the recipe), I now know how this ethereal chocolate masterpiece is created.

A few helpful hints:  I’ve tried this using different chocolates, however, the best rendition is exactly what the Parisian restaurant uses:  Valrhrona.  Also, the longer the finished mousse sits in the refrigerator, the more flavor it develops.  The chef recommended refrigerating it for 12 hours prior to serving, however, this can easily be made a day or two before.  Last, I have reduced the restaurant’s large quantity recipe to something more appropriate for home usage---the recipe below generously serves 8.

Ambassade d’Auvergne’s Chocolate Mousse


6 oz  Sweet Valrhrona chocolate (aka ‘milk chocolate’)
3 oz  Bitter Sweet Valrhrona chocolate (aka ‘dark chocolate’)
1 cube butter
3 Tablespoons Grand Marnier (or more if desired)
1.5 Tablespoons vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
9 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar (divided between egg whites and yolk mixture)

Melt the chocolate and butter slowly together in a double boiler pan, stirring regularly.  After it has melted, let the chocolate cool while you do the following:

In a separate bowl (do not use a plastic bowl as eggs won’t develop as much volume), whip the egg whites until they get to the soft peak stage. Slowly add little by little 3 tablespoons of the total 2/3 C sugar.  Whip whites until they are stiff with firm peaks.

In yet another bowl, beat the egg yolks until they are pale yellow, then add the remaining sugar mixture (should be about ½ cup) and continue beating until well mixed.  Next, add the Grand Marnier and vanilla.  Mix well.

Pour the cooled chocolate from the double broiler into a large bowl.  Add egg yolk mixture and mix well.  Slowly fold in egg whites little by little---the key is to gently fold so that the egg whites retain their volume.

If you should be in Paris, don’t miss dinner at Ambassade d’Auvergne.  It’s one of the few restaurants opened in the city on Sunday evenings and it's also one of Paris' best bargains.  If it's a Sunday night, a reservation is a must.  But whatever night, be sure to order the chocolate mousse.

Happy labor day, with love.