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Champagne December: Finding Delicious Things for Special Occasions

Pictured: Moet & Chandon Nectar Imperial bottle.

Week 3 of Champagne December was a sliding scale, on all fronts: of different price points of champagne, of different sweetness in my bubbly, and in first impressions.

I chased into the higher end of the market, and mostly remained underwhelmed as I lingered over bottles, trying to puzzle out the secret of their prestige. I drank champagne so dry that it seemed to desiccate my soul as it passed my tongue, and bubbly so sweet that I feared for both my teeth and the integrity of any resulting champagne cocktails. How much can the sweetness of a champagne skew the taste of a Death in the Afternoon, or a French 75?

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Brut geared at the American market is especially guilty of this over-sweetening. The so-called California Champagnes, in my opinion, should be fined for lack of truth in advertising, as the sweetness of their Brut bubblies creep toward moscato.

Even with these pitfalls, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a winner to my palate. The first glass brightened my day immediately as its complex flavors chased each other across my tongue. The second glass made me laugh, and by the third, I knew I’d need to keep a few bottles stocked in my liquor cabinet for special occasions, though it would be an investment.

A good champagne, like any other liquor and like good art, should make you pause and think on it. It’s not enough to find a booze that’s merely passable, unless you’re only looking for a go-to bar choice to survive social outings. A good drink makes you contemplate its flavor profile, what exactly you’re tasting, and why it’s having a good effect. Preferably, the thinking starts the moment it hits your mouth, and lingers well past the swallow. I’m partial toward those that provide layered taste profiles that evolve as they move across your palate.

While this is simple for me to find with gin, rum and beer, finding this in champagne can be a unicorn indeed. Champagne is at its core a white wine, its flavors light and fickle, and the heavy carbonation increases and confuses its volatile taste. Others may disagree, but for me, finding my true north in champagne is an uphill battle. Thus, finding one that immediately delights me is worth holding on to, indeed.

Brut, Demi-Sec and Other Meaningless Distinctions After 15 Days Straight of Champagne

Pictured: Veuve Clicquot, Louis Roederer, and Nicolas Feuillatte champagne bottles

It’s Champagne December, guys! I’m pursuing my dubious goal of filling my glass with champagne this month as easily as one would Coors Light.

This post is part Week 2 check-in, and part irreverent guide to making the most of your local champagne choices. After this much champagne, a bit of extra laissez-faire is necessary in my tips.

The second week has gone smoother than the first. At two weeks, I can claim the increasingly outrageous achievement of enjoying champagne each night for a solid 15 days straight. What was learned in the second week? Mostly that my original estimates were right – even after stocking my liquor cabinet quite well, my original inventory lasted me exactly halfway through the month.

This is not terrible news. I certainly exhausted some of the original choices I’d made, and had a few labels I was ready to perhaps never see again. I also had some that I could re-purchase with new appreciation, and some exorbitantly-priced labels that, after several glasses, I could lean back and think, Wait, that was it?

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As usual, there will be no label or brand dragging, here. My palate is entirely different than yours. Run out and find, and stick to the labels that delight you. The purpose of Champagne December is to be delighted.

Still, if you’re finding yourself overly dismayed with the taste of champagne or other bubbly, the quickest fix may concern its dryness. Too sweet? You may want to instead try Extra Brut or Brut. A word of warning: if you’re mainly consuming American champagne or other sparkling wine produced in the low to mid-end U.S. market, even varieties labeled Brut can come off a little sweeter than their international counterparts. The higher end of the American market or French champagne may suit you better.

If in general, you find most champagne to be too dry, or mouth-puckering with not enough sweetness, yet another word of warning – the majority of modern French champagne is produced on the dry side as Brut, a journey in shifting trends that has taken more than a century. Still, you may be able to find labels in the Sec, Demi-Sec, or even Doux varieties, with a little bit of hunting.

If extensive hunting is not available or out of your pocket book range, you may want to try out popular Italian sparkling instead. Some varieties such as Moscato d’Asti or Asti Spumante can run quite sweet, indeed. If you want to stick with champagne, another quick hack may be to add a dash of simple syrup or powdered sugar to your glass – but not to your bottle! If you like to live dangerously, go ahead and try it – with the bottle in the sink, preferably, or with a few towels handy. Science is fun.

Now run off, and enjoy your weekend! As always in Champagne December, this post has been brought to you by, and under the influence of a healthy quantity of champagne. Life your best life.

 

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St. Patrick’s Day Favorite: Dublin Coddle

img_20160317_142528.jpgDublin Coddle – a nourishing stew of sausage, potatoes, and bacon to warm you up.

I was looking for a new dish to try this St. Patrick’s Day, having thoroughly exhausted my usual corned beef hash in years past. Flipping through The Irish Pub, a relatively lightweight cookbook I found during the Borders bookstore liquidation, I came upon a recipe for Dublin Coddle, which sounded perfect for my cold, snowy St. Patrick’s day.

Looking at the simple ingredients, I was expecting to have to doctor this recipe up, but I was surprised at the delicious flavor. The heavy seasoning of black pepper during assembly really contributes to the personality of this dish.

The stew is essentially just sliced sausage, bacon, leeks, potatoes, and onions, with herbs and garlic tossed in for good measure. These are all layered in an oven-ready casserole dish after browning the onions and sausage and roasting the bacon, covered with chicken stock or water, and braised. I strongly suggest chicken stock, as even though the ingredients will impart wonderful flavor, the boost of a good, gently seasoned stock will do wonders.

As with most recipes here, my measurements are more ballpark than precise. What’s most import is to base your proportions on your casserole dish. Eye your baking dish, and visualize what it will take to make layers with these ingredients:

  • Good quality pork sausages, bratwurst-sized (and style). I used bockwurst.
  • Diced onions, enough to line the bottom of your casserole dish
  • Thick-cut bacon, 5 to 10 slices
  • Rough-chopped starchy potatoes, such as Russet
  • Leek green tops, coarsely chopped
  • Ground black pepper
  • A few garlic cloves, chopped
  • Herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, sage, and dill, finely chopped
  • Lightly seasoned chicken stock, at least 5-6 cups (enough to cover ingredients)
  • An oven-proof casserole dish with a lid (or foil), and pans for browning of ingredients

Directions

  1.  Brown your sausages on both sides in a pan. Allow to cool, slice width-wise into roughly 1-inch pieces, and set aside.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and roast your bacon until cooked. Set aside bacon fat for later, do not discard. Allow bacon to cool, and dice into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside.
  3. Dice your onions. On the stovetop, saute the onions in some of your saved bacon fat until tender. Line the bottom of the casserole dish with the sauteed onions. Season with black pepper.
  4. Add up to a third or half of your chopped bacon in a new layer. Save the rest as a garnish for the end.
  5. Add the sliced sausages as the next layer in the casserole dish. Season with black pepper as well.
  6. Add the coarsely-chopped leek green tops, the diced garlic, and finely chopped herbs as the next layer.
  7. For the final layer, cover with a layer of roughly-chopped starchy potatoes. Season with black pepper.
  8. Pour enough chicken stock to cover all ingredients. Braise uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce oven heat to 250 degrees, cover casserole and braise until the potatoes are tender and have thickened the stew with their starch.
  9. Remove from oven, stir well, salt to taste, and cover the stew with a garnish of the remaining chopped bacon.

img_20160317_142405.jpgMy pot of Dublin Coddle, ready for a cold day.