‘Tis the season to grab the bubblies and head to parties (or host your own at home). About 80% of all sparkling wine sales happen between November 1 and December 31st — there’s something about celebrating the holidays which creates a Pavlovian response to sparkles in our glass. We. Must. Drink. Them. And drink them we shall… whether you have a Hamilton or a Franklin in your wallet, it’s easier these days to toast with bubbles. Fairly easy to find through the U.S., ask for these wines by name at your local indie wine retailer.
Read more: Sparkling wine, Prosecco and Champagne: Bubblies for all budgets
Lentils, a dried legume loaded with nutrition, come in a variety of forms. The most commonly found are the brown ones but you can also find them in pink and green. Oddly enough, the humble brown ones have the most to offer the human body — 18 grams of protein and boat loads of fiber. They’re super easy to cook too– not requiring an overnight soak like most other dried beans. This lentil recipe — ideally cooked using brown lentils — can be made vegetarian by substituting a rich vegetable broth instead of chicken. About 5 minutes before they’re fully cooked, you can add all sorts of ingredients like 1 Tablespoon of fresh herbs (try arugula!), 1 cup of chopped, cooked chicken sausage (like Aidell’s), bite-sized pieces of rotisserie chicken and any other leftovers. But you don’t need to add anything at all.
Read more: Warming winter (or summer) stew: Simmered rosemary-scented lentils
Since I already own just about every food and wine gadget, I can imagine what a pain in the ass I am to shop for. Some tools I use regularly, like my J Vineyards branded Champagne opener or Microplane grater. But some ended up either being re-gifted or donated, like the cordless, electric corkscrewoddly resembling a vibrator – the thought of using it puts a smile on my face, although my old-school Screwpull openergets me there quicker. As we all know, the best gifts are the thoughtful ones; even if inexpensive, they’ll show that you took the time to be creative or find the unique. To come off as someone who thinks, here are my gift suggestions for the wine and food lovers on your list, whether they be newbies or connoisseurs. It’s always nice to give the gift of great food and wine.
Read more: Seeking the unique: Eight food and wine gifts for all seasons
Sweet wines are everywhere. Previously eschewed for fear of being snubbed by snobs, wineries now proudly tout their full-frontal sugar on their labels. Consumers who love dessert for their appetizer should be in high heaven. Leading the pack is Moscato, whose popularity has shot up like blood sugar after a glass of it. But, sadly, most Moscatos lack balance. When I first started drinking wine in Europe, Swiss-grown Muscat (as it is called in French) tantalized my palate with sweetness and acidity. I reveled in its dry finish after my tongue feasted on a fruit salad of apricots, peaches and juicy, red apple. I had not experienced this same sensation in a wine until recently in Franciscan’s 2012 Equilibrium from Napa.
Read more: White wine review: Franciscan 2012 Equilibrium Napa Valley
For the past five years, I’ve been on a crusade. Not of a violent nature but one a little more serene – incorporating a wider variety of vegetables onto my daily plate. I say crusade since, at the beginning, it was a forceful act. Like many Americans, eating vegetables didn’t always come naturally to me. My parents were (and continue to be) explorers of new food, so when I was kid we grew tomatoes, made yogurt and sprouted mung beans at our house. It wasn’t always pretty – think scrambled eggs with bean sprouts which remain truly disgusting to me – but they instilled a hunger for novel fare. When I became a chef, that exploration continued but I confess my personal veggie repertoire remained fairly limited. It wasn’t until I had to change my diet to fit into my clothes that I truly started traveling the greener side of the protein. And so it began. The bi-weekly co-op veggie box nudged me to beets, bok choy, Swiss chard and the humble cauliflower. I loathed this white wonder every time Mom dropped it in front of me. I stayed for an hour at the table, pushing it around in the hopes that I might appear as if I’d snacked on tidbits. In rare instances I had but Mom usually caved when I whined enough. I was a pain in the ass. If I could take it back…
Read more: Vegetable Recipe: Curry scented roasted cauliflower
When fall weather hits, there’s nothing more satisfying than a warm bowl of hearty soup. This corn chowder recipe, in addition to banishing the chill, offers a sliver of summer any time of the year. No frill ingredients like corn, shrimp and bacon come together in 30 minutes or less. This is an easy, go-to, weeknight recipe.
Read more: Quick bacon corn chowder with shrimp recipe: Summer flavor any time of the year
As a general rule, wines embellished with a celebrity name aren’t particularly well made. Relying on their fame to sell the wine, they siphon schlock into a bottle and call it a profitable day. (Read my blast of this trend from a few years ago.) But I have admit that the pop group Train at least tried to make a decent Pinot Noir. Jimmy Stafford, the quiet lead guitarist for Train, is a huge wine fan and teamed up with California winemaker, James Foster, to make their line of Save Me San Francisco wines last year. James is Senior Winemaker at The Wine Group, the same company that introduced generic Flip Flop Wines, Franzia and Big House to the wine drinking public. Not a huge endorsement for making great juice, so I didn’t have major expectations when I popped the (fake) cork on this bottle of 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir.
Read more: Celebrity wine review: Train’s 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir
I’m a quinoa lover. Although I love my animal protein, this savory, high protein grain is a savior to many vegetarians. Quinoa originated in the Andes mountains and is super versatile, has a uniquely nutty flavor and substitutes for practically any nutritionally neutral grain (think white rice or pasta). I featured a mushroom and quinoa risotto on my site late last year, but this recipe — recently enjoyed at a wine luncheon — sadly puts it to shame in the flavor department. The host chef, Ruth Van Warebeek, works for Concha y Toro in Chile and she paired this delectable recipe with a 2011 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere (CAR min YARE), a grape originally from France now happily residing in Chile’s welcoming climes and soils. Marques de Casa Concha created a soft, silky yet robust Carmenere that cozies up to food in a friendly way.
Read more: The beauty of wine and food pairings: Carmenere meets quinoa mushroom risotto