Reims, France: a Travel Dream Fulfilled

Pop open a bottle of your favorite bubbly and enjoy these sparkling photos!

Girl With Glass

Photo Mar 09, 8 33 47 PM Blanc de Blancs ready to be tasted at G.H. Martel

As a lover of wine and the finer things in life, my love for Champagne was unavoidable. Having just blown out the candles on my 24th birthday, I couldn’t think of a more fitting place to celebrate than in the region where luxury is bottled.

Early on a Saturday morning, my Finnish friend and I boarded a north-bound train from Bordeaux to spend a fabulous weekend in Reims, the capital and largest city of the Champagne Region. Home to some of the largest Champagne Houses and an iconic Gothic art cathedral, Reims is a fine base for exploring what the region has to offer.

Photo Mar 24, 6 41 01 PM

Cloudy skies may not have been the most welcoming site, but the town’s plethora of golden bubble offerings made all things bright. With umbrellas in hand and rubber boots on our feet, we started for…

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¡Cava! Me Encanta El Vino Español

Last week I enjoyed a Spanish wine tasting at our local wine shop:  Mr. Bill’s Wine Cellar.  https://www.facebook.com/mrbillswinecellar/

Spanish Wines ~ Lots to Love!

 I found a new favorite and renewed acquaintances with a couple of old favorites.

Senda Verde Albariño

My new favorite:  Senda Verde Albariño. This bright freshness of this wine reminds me of another of my favorite wines:  the Vinho Verde wines from Portugal.

Notes from Mr. Bill’s Wine Cellar: Senda Verde is a collection of artisanal wines from unique regions in northern Spain that follow the 43° N parallel, stretching from coastal Galicia eastward along the northern coastline.  In contrast to the rest of Spain, this area is lush and green from oceanic and geologic influences.  The region is referred to as “España Verde” (Green Spain). The grapes are sourced from the vineyards situated in the Salnés Valley and the ORosal area, within the D.O. Rias Baixas appellation. Vines are arranged in the “emparrado” and “trellis” systems. Bright and aromatically complex, notes of ripe apricot, apple and wild flowers. Fresh and crisp with persistent lush textures on the palate. The finish is fruity and with mineral nuances.  Aged on the lees for 4 months. $13 – $15 range.

Here’s a couple of links about Spanish wines and more specifically Albariño:

https://www.facebook.com/WinesfromSpain/

http://www.foodswinesfromspain.com/spanishfoodwine/global/products-recipes/products/more-about-products/do-rias-baixas-where-small-plots-rule.html

Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad

My favorite Cava!  With the pewter base and family crest on the bottle…so pretty in a gift basket.  And now I’ve made the connection…the producer, Segura Viudas, is part of the Freixenet family of wines that includes Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma which is one of my favorite California sparkling wines.  The non-vintage Reserva Heredad is the label’s top offering, made only from 67% Macabeo and 33% Parellada grapes.  Aromas of smoke and honey and flavors of apples, dried fruit, and nuts. Creamy and crisp, it finishes clean and bright. Perfect pairing with almonds and walnuts to begin the meal. $30 range.

Juvé y Camps Pinot Noir Cava

100% pinot noir, this pretty pink sparkler has notes of strawberry, warm bread and rose petals.  Very fruit forward and a bit too much minerality  for my taste, but I’ve  heard great reviews about it from others who drink a lot of Cava.  Fine bubbles and a long, creamy finish.  $17 range

2014 Vega Sindoa ~ El Chaparral (Old Vines)

This was my favorite red in the tasting because it had notes of raspberry at the beginning that remind my of Pinot Noir.

Notes from Mr. Bill’s Wine Cellar:  Although the Valley of Valdizarbe has always been considered one of the best areas of production in Navarra and viticulture there is centuries-old, it almost disappeared due to the depressed prices of grapes and extreme weather conditions. This winery is one of the first to bring the vineyards back to the valley by the hands of an energetic winemaker, Concha Vecino.  This is a wine made from old vine Garnacha, between 70 & 100+ years old, from 40 parcels on the hills that surround Añorbe.  Floral qualities add complexity to the nose and fade into the red berry aromas, which continue on the palate. The wine has terrific body, good acidity and underlying, earthy minerality. Aged in French oak for nine months.  ~ 91 points Robert Parker  $16 – $20 range.

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Gluten-Free And Nut-Free Bakery In Salem Virginia

What a fabulous find for those of us who have food allergies…

Corbin’s Confections

18 East Main Street, Salem, Virginia

(just down the main street from the Salem Library)

Corbin’s Confections is a gluten-free, nut-free bakery. The owner Shawna opened the bakery to offer nut-free baked goods that her son Corbin could enjoy.  He has a severe nut allergy.  Her mother helped her open the bakery and asked Shawna to include gluten-free items that she could enjoy. She has celiac disease and cannot tolerate gluten.

This lovely bakery offers cupcakes (regular and bite-size) that are absolutely delicious.  Other offerings include cookies, “Little Debbie Cakes”, bread, and other treats such as eclairs and Boston Creme Pie. The bakery products as well as the facility are completely nut and gluten-free so there is no worry about cross-contamination.

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Sour grapes: you will be my son

Love wine themed movies and this looks like a good one. I also recommend the documentary “Sour Grapes”: Here’s the premise: Rudy Kirniawan, a young artist emerges on the wealthy wine scene after selling rare bottles at auction for millions. Low and behold, every bottle that he sold was fake – making this the world’s largest haul of counterfeit wines. Rudy even made up wine’s from Thomas Jefferson personal collection!

A year in Périgord

Wine is thicker than blood – that’s the message in Gilles Legrand’s You Will Be My Son. The film won’t boost sales of Bordeaux wines in that way Sideways did for Californian Pinot Noir but, arguably, Bordeaux doesn’t need the help.

The film, released in 2011, begins with a funeral. As the story unfolds, we see the steps that led to it.

At first glance, the film may seem a simple family drama set in the vineyards of Saint-Émilion, but it gradually transforms into something much darker.

Winemaker Paul de Marseul, played by Niels Arestrup, is planning for the future of his estate. His son, Martin, has all the qualifications needed to be his logical successor – on paper, at least. However, Paul has no respect for him and leaves him relegated to office duties.

With a harsh cruelty, the father never misses an opportunity to undermine his son, while…

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The “C Food Groups”…Coffee, Chocolate and Champagne!

A very bubbly friend of mine gave me this “Coffee Mug”.  I love it!

 I recently attended a specialty coffee class taught by:

 and I couldn’t wait to share what I learned about coffee and coffee brewing with my readers. After all I love all of the “C” food groups… Coffee, Champagne, Chocolate!

Fun facts I learned in “Coffee School”…Red Rooster Coffee Tasting Room & Lab, 1116 Main Street, Roanoke, Virginia:

  1. Coffee is the second largest commodity in the world ~ second only to crude oil.
  2. Philip Hatter is the Account Manager and Coffee Tasting Room & Lab Manager for Red Rooster Coffee.  Their coffee is roasted in Floyd, Virginia. The lab serves to increase brand awareness of Red Rooster Coffee and have a place to train baristas that work in local coffee houses. Hatter offers coffee classes ($25) to the general public that help determine the best roast for your palate as well as teach us the proper way to brew coffee.

  1. Barista is the Italian word for “Bartender” and is used to address a male or female who is behind the counter preparing your cup of coffee.
  2. It was exciting to have a celebrated barista teaching us how to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Philip is so skilled at his craft that he won a place at the national coffee competition in Seattle, Washington and he will compete next month.  If he wins the national title he will go to Budapest to try out for the world title. The competition involves a blind tasting (barista prepares 3 cups of coffee for 3 judges behind a curtain and the judges give the coffee a score based on taste alone).  Then the barista prepares 3 cups of coffee for 3 judges in front of the judges and the audience. Those cups of coffee are judged on how well the barista explains the preparation process as well as the taste of the coffee.
  3. During training sessions for baristas, Philip asks them to “Honor what has come before you when you brew a pot of coffee”.  Honor the work that has been done by the grower and the roaster by taking time to brew the coffee correctly. Philip carefully walked through the six elements of good brewing. He shared the importance of the proper water temperature and he used a kitchen scale to measure the ground coffee (not a scoop!) He recommends grinding the coffee beans right before brewing because coffee starts to lose its flavor 15 minutes after grinding.
  4. One of Red Rooster’s coffees ~ “Hambella” ~ won a “Good Food Award” in San Francisco this year. http://www.goodfoodawards.org/winners/
  5. Naturally my thoughts turned to wine and the commonalities of the coffee and wine experiences. Coffee, just like wine is effected by terroir…the natural environment (soil, climate, topography)  in which the wine is produced. These factors make the flavor of the coffee unique and those flavors cannot be reproduced anywhere else.

One of my favorite flavor combinations is chocolate and coffee…

 This Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake tastes like a rich, chewy, decadent chocolate brownie.  Super  easy to make and it’s gluten-free!

https://www.landolakes.com/recipe/18242/flourless-chocolate-espresso-cake/

The champagne pairing for this lovely chocolate cake …a Grand Champagne…

Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle

 This Champagne is a blend of three excellent  harvests: 20% 1999, 20% 2000 and  60% 2002. It is 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and all the fruit comes entirely from Grand Cru villages in Champagne. Soft, elegant and balanced with notes of black currant and creamy marzipan and apple.  Tiny consistent bubbles dance up the flute.  $125 range.

And just for fun here’s some other bubbly we’ve enjoyed recently:

1995 de Venoge Champagne Brut Louis XV

Presented in a beautiful crystal bottle. Bright with green apple, hazelnut and brioche notes. Tiny consistent bubbles in the glass.  De Venoge produced this champagne in honor of King Louis XV, who first decreed the bottling of Champagne in the region to preserve the bubbles (prior to this time wine was transported in wood barrels which resulted in flat champagne since most all of the gas would escape through the wood).

This champagne comes with a lovely glass stopper that matches the champagne bottle so after the champagne is gone the bottle becomes a beautiful glass decanter.  $195 range.

Each bottle of Krug champagne has an ID number on it. I reviewed the notes about our bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée at krug.com and here’s what I found:

Received its cork in August, 2013.

Blend is 142 wines from 11 different years.

Oldest wine is 1990.

Youngest wine is 2006.

$215 range.

Notes on this bottle by: Eric Lebel, Chef de Caves, Maison Krug

This bottle left the Krug cellars to receive its cork in automn 2013. This is the last step after more than six years of ageing in the cellars to acquire finesse and elegance. This bottle is an extraordinary blend of 142 wines from 11 different years, the oldest from 1990 and the youngest from 2006. Every glass of this bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée is the fruit of more than 22 years of craft and patience. Reserve wines lend structure and depth to this season’s harvest which seemed to be somewhat too homogeneous. It is this year’s wines of many plots from the villages of Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize and Villers Marmery which provide the shine and minerality to the blend. Blending many years gives Krug Grande Cuvée its unique fullness of flavours and aromas, incredible generosity and an absolute elegance that are impossible to express with the wines of just a single year. Krug Grande Cuvée is re-created each year beyond the notion of vintage. Every year, we recreate from scratch the multitude of facets that do not compete on the palate, but instead form a perfect harmony, the main characteristic of Krug Grande Cuvée. Its myriad aromas make Krug Grande Cuvée the richest of them all. Its generosity means that everyone can find something in it that stirs the emotions. 

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Discover The Secret In The Sauce ~ Herb and Cheese Parisienne Gnocchi

Herb and Cheese Parisienne Gnocchi

Zoe Campbell, Pastry Chef, demonstrates preparation of Herb and Cheese Parisienne Gnocchi during the  Center Stage Catering Country French Culinary Workshop.

from: http://www.ouichefnetwork.com

from Thomas Keller’s cookbook –  “Bouchon”

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chervil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 1 cup loosely packed shredded Emmentaler cheese
  • 5 to 6 large eggs

Method:

  1. Set up a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment. Have all the ingredients ready before you begin cooking.
  2. Combine the water, butter, and the 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a stiff heatproof or wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean, with no dough sticking to it. The dough should be glossy and smooth but still moist.
  3. Enough moisture must evaporate from the dough to allow it to absorb more fat when the eggs are added: Continue to stir for about 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the dough from coloring. A thin coating will form on the bottom and sides of the pan. When enough moisture has evaporated, steam will rise from the dough and the aroma of cooked flour will be noticeable. Immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl. Add the mustard, herbs, and the 1 tablespoon salt. Mix for a few seconds to incorporate the ingredients and release some of the heat, then add the cheese. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating until each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one. Increase the speed to medium and add another 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one. Turn off the machine. Lift some of the dough on a rubber spatula, then turn the spatula to let it run off: It should move down the spatula very slowly; if it doesn’t move at all or is very dry and just falls off in a clump, beat in the additional egg.
  4. Place the dough in a large pastry bag fitted with a 5/8-inch plain tip and let it rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature. (If you have only a small pastry bag, fill it with half the dough two times.) Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a simmer. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Because this recipe makes such a large quantity of gnocchi, your arm may get tired: An easy way to pipe the gnocchi is to place a large inverted pot, canister, or other container that is slightly higher than the pot on the right side of the pot (left side if you are left-handed) and set the filled pastry bag on it so that the tip extends over the side and the container serves as a resting place for the bag. Twist the end of the pastry bag to push the dough into the tip. (From time to time, as the bag empties, you will need to twist the end again.) As you squeeze the back of the bag with your right hand, hold a small knife in your left hand and cut off 1-inch lengths of dough, allowing the gnocchi to drop into the pot. Pipe about 24 gnocchi per batch. First, the gnocchi will sink in the pot. Keep the water temperature hot, but do not boil. Once the gnocchi float to the top, poach them for another 1 to 2 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on the paper towel–lined baking sheet. Taste one to test the timing; it may still seem slightly undercooked in the center, but it will be cooked again. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  6. When all the gnocchi have drained, place them in a single layer on the parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to a day. Or, for longer storage, place the baking sheet in the freezer. Once the gnocchi have frozen solid, remove them from the baking sheet and place in a freezer bag in the freezer. Before using frozen gnocchi, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and defrost in the refrigerator for several hours.

Beurre Blanc
The “secret” to this sauce is 2 pounds of butter!

source:  Larousse Gastronomic

Yield:  1 quart

1 fl. oz. white wine vinegar

4 fl. oz. white wine

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. white pepper

1 oz. shallot, minced

2 lb. whole butter, chilled

  1. Combine the white wine, white wine vinegar, salt, white pepper and shallot in a small saucepan.  Reduce the mixture until approximately 2 tablespoons of liquid remain. If more than 2 tablespoons of liquid are allowed to remain, the resulting sauce will be too thin.
  2. Cut the butter into pieces approximately 1 ounce in weight. Over low heat, whisk the butter a few pieces at a time, using the chilled butter to keep the sauce between 100 degrees Fahrenheit  and 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Once all of the butter has been incorporated, remove the saucepan from the heat. Strain through a chinois (or fine-meshed sieve) and hold the sauce at a temperature between 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 130 degrees Fahrenheit for service.

 

To serve:  toss the Herb and Cheese Parisienne Gnocchi with the warm Beurre Blanc.

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Celebrating The Flavors Of France ~ Country French Cooking

Center Stage Catering Country French Culinary Workshop

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending this deliciously informative workshop where, in the French tradition, simple fresh ingredients were transformed into mouth-watering delicacies.

Pictured above (left) Herb and Cheese Gnocchi tossed with Beurre Blanc and (right) Ratatouille with Roasted Asparagus

Pictured above (left) chicken marinating that will be the main ingredient in  Coq Au Vin and (right) Fresh Green Salad with sliced Potatoes and Bacon Lardons tossed in a Champagne Vinaigrette.

The workshop took place at Center Stage Catering in Rocky Mount, Virginia.

Center Stage Catering Commissary Entrance : Only Elves, Oompahs, Rock Stars, Grandmas, Hipsters, Sexy Cooks, Vikings, Cool Organic Farmers, Sales Reps, (& occasionally Food Brokers), Artists, Philosophers, Magicians, Poets, and World Leaders allowed…everybody else must find another door to enter!

Center Stage Catering

Rocky Mount, Virginia

Pictured above (left to right):  John Schopp, President/Executive Chef, David Carachure, Sous Chef, Jonathan Hart, Chef de Cuisine

John Schopp, CEC, CEPC, CCA, CE is a full-time culinary instructor at Virginia Western Community College. He is president of Center Stage Catering, Inc., a full-service event/catering company.  Schopp has also been the Chef for Victor Wooten’s Center for Music and Nature, outside of Nashville, for the past 15 years.  He writes food columns for several local and regional publications and is an avid primitive cooking enthusiast. In addition to recently appearing on the Food Network’s “Halloween Baking Championship”, Schopp is heavily active in the American Culinary Federation at both regional and national levels.

David Carachure is a graduate of the Al Pollard Culinary Program at Virginia Western Community College, Roanoke, Virginia.

Jonathan Hart is a graduate of the Art Institute of Tampa.

Pictured above:  Zoe Campbell, Pastry Chef

Zoe Campbell is a graduate of the Al Pollard Culinary Program at Virginia Western Community College, Roanoke, Virginia.

Pictured Above: Ingredients for Becky’s Sparkling Coq Au Vin

I love this original Country French Culinary Workshop Coq Au Vin recipe, but…no surprise here…I wanted to make mine with sparkling wine. My additions/suggestions are listed next to the original ingredients.

Coq Au Vin

Yield:  8 servings, 2 pieces each

2 whole chickens (2 lb. 8 ounces – 3 lb. each)

Flour, as needed for dredging

salt and pepper, to taste

Clarified butter

Brandy (I appreciate the flavor brandy brings to this dish, but I omitted this ingredient because I don’t like to ignite the burgundy in my small home kitchen…afraid I will ignite the entire kitchen!)

Bouquet garni:

1 4 inch carrot stick

1 4 inch leek, split

fresh thyme

bay leaf (I omitted this ingredient because I neglected to get a bay leaf at the market!)

6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (I omitted the garlic because the sweetness of the sparkling wine and the garlic did not seem to compliment each other…just my personal preference)

24 fluid ounces red wine (I substituted sparkling white wine Lagarde Dolce Espumante)

16 ounces chicken stock

Bacon lardons (I substituted 6 ounces of country ham cut into Julienne strips) – lardons are small strips of bacon that are fried later in the recipe

18 pearl onions, peeled

1 leek, white part only, split in half and cut into small pieces

10 medium mushrooms, quartered

(my addition) 1 Russet potato, peeled and chopped into small pieces, sautéed in butter until almost tender

Beurre manié, as needed (Beurre manié (French “kneaded butter”) is a dough, consisting of equal parts of soft butter and flour, used to thicken soups and sauces) I found that the flour on the dredged chicken thickened the Coq au Vin enough that I did not need to add the Beurre manié.

  1.  Cut each chicken into eight pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings with tips cut off and 2 breasts – breasts can be cut in half) and dredge in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.

  1. Heat the clarified butter in a 12-inch braiser, brown the chicken in two or three batches.
  2. Add the brandy and ignite (omit this step if not using brandy).  When the flame dies, add the bouquet garni, garlic, wine and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  3. Cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is tender, approximately 40 minutes.
  4. In a separate pan, sauté the bacon (if using country ham, add a little canola oil to the bottom of the pan before sautéing the ham). Add the onions, leek and potato and sauté until they begin to brown.  Cook the bacon (or ham), onions  and potato covered, over low heat, until the onions are tender.  Add the mushrooms and cook them until they are tender.
  5. Remove the chicken from the pan and adjust the sauce’s consistency with the Beurre manié and a little extra chicken stock if needed. Strain the sauce through a china cap and adjust the seasonings.  Spoon the bacon, onions, potato and mushrooms onto a serving plate, place the chicken over them and ladle the sauce over the finished dish.

I will share more of the French Country Recipes from the workshop in future posts…Apple Tarte Tatin, Herb and Cheese Gnocchi with Beurre Blanc, and Ratatouille…oh la la!

Our Country French Culinary Workshop Class!

Until Next Thyme!

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