Pizza Margherita

I have nine pizza cookbooks, and seven of them have  a recipe for Pizza Margherita.  In part this is because it is a classic, and in part because the story of its creation is clearly known and iconic.  In 1889, the Italian royal couple King Umberto and Queen Margherita paid a visit to Naples.  While there, local pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito made three types of pizza for them: a marinara pizza with anchovies; a bianca (white) pizza with lard, provolone or caciocavallo cheese, and basil; and a pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, featuring the red, white, and green of the Italian flag.  The queen was particularly delighted by that last one, and when Esposito received a note of thanks from her, he dedicated the pizza to her.


Start dough at 4p for dinner between 8p and 9p
1 cup warm water
2 tsp instant-rise yeast
3-1/4 cup bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin not necessary)
Combine ingredients and knead by hand for 10 minutes or machine
for two to five minutes. Coat dough ball in a thin film of olive oil or cooking spray, cover in plastic wrap, and let rise in warm place until about doubled in size.


1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped canned Italian-style plum tomatoes with as little juice as possible
1/2 cup loosely-packed torn fresh basil leaves
6 oz. (1 cup) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thin or chopped coarse (You can also substitute Fontina, as I often do.)

Although not traditional, for this pizza, I also used:
6 oz. sliced pepperoni
1 can of anchovies, drained

About an hour before dinner time, turn the oven up as high as it will go, preferably 500 degrees. Thirty to forty minutes before baking, roll dough out to 15” circle. [Or divide dough if you want to make two smaller pizzas.] Place on pizza screen if available, being careful not to press the dough into the mesh. With your fingers, press and form a 1/2 inch border around the edge.  Gently brush or rub the dough with the olive oil.  Cover with plastic wrap for this second rise.

Spread the pepperoni and anchovies (if using) evenly over the dough up to the border, followed by the tomatoes.  Sprinkle half the basil leaves evenly over the tomatoes.  Arrange the cheese over the tomatoes so that some of the tomatoes can be seen.

Bake the pizza on the bottom rack of the preheated oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is brown (as you can see, mine got a bit darker than I would have liked).  Sprinkle on the remaining basil leaves as soon as the pizza comes out of the oven.

I’m thinking only a true Italian wine should go with this, such as a Dolcetto, Barbera, or Montepulciano.

Mangia! Mangia!

Serves 4 to 6.

The dough for this recipe came from James McNair’s excellent New Pizza Don’t be discouraged by the one-star reviews, they are bogus, imho.  One dweeb complained that McNair didn’t cover such arcane techniques as cold fermentation.  Geez.  If you want a cold ferment, use room temperature water and let the dough rise in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  But, you’re not going to have pizza tonight, and you won’t taste the subtleties a cold ferment brings to dough under all those toppings.

The Margherita recipe itself is derived from one in The Ultimate Pizza by Pasquale Bruno, Jr., another quite reliable pizza book.

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Tuna with Lotus Root and Udon Noodles

My wife recently came home with a lovely 7 ounce tuna steak.  Well, I love tuna, and because of this I thought, “this isn’t going to feed the two of us.”  So I began to consider how to stretch it out.  The answer?  Tuna pasta, Japanese-style!

Serves 2

6 to 8 oz. tuna steak (mine was sushi grade, but that isn’t necessary since it will be cooked)
4 oz. of udon noodles
3 or 4 green onions (scallions)
Lotus root, about 3″ long
2T soy sauce
2T mirin
2T peanut oil (I used ginger-infused oil for a bit of flavor boost)
Chives, chopped fine
Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese hot pepper mix, available in Asian markets, the Asian section of some supermarkets, and online, of course.)

    1. Heat lightly-salted water to boiling in a saucepan large enough to fit the udon noodles easily.
    2. Peel the lotus root, then rinse under cold water. Slice the lotus root into 1/4″ rounds. then cut the lotus root into 1/4″ dice. Rinse again, then set in a bowl with cold water and splash of vinegar to prevent discoloration.
    3. Meanwhile, chop the scallions, green parts and all.
    4. Heat the oil in a 10″ skillet on low, and add the scallions and drained lotus root until slightly softened.  Browning is not necessary.
    5. Cut the tuna into 1/2″ cubes.
    6. Add the tuna, soy sauce, and mirin to the skillet until the tuna is cooked to medium rare (140 degrees F) and a sauce forms.  This will only take two or three minutes.  Turn off the heat, but keep the skillet on the burner.
    7. Cook the udon in the boiling water until not quite al dente.  This will vary with the brand of udon, but plan on 2 to 8 minutes.  Mine took about 4 minutes.
    8. Remove the udon with tongs, keeping the water in the saucepan at a low boil, and rinse in a colander under cold water to remove excess starch.  Return the udon to the saucepan, bring to a boil, and heat for one minute.
    9. Drain the udon, place half on each plate, top each plate with half of the tuna mixture from the skillet, garnish with chopped chives, and finish with the shichimi togarashi

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Garlic-Infused Olive Oil

Garlic Olive Oil is a wonderful and versatile condiment.  Sure, you can buy it,

but it’s going to cost about $1.50 to $2.50 an ounce.  For around 75 cents an ounce, you can easily make it yourself, and know exactly what goes into it as well.  Most recipes for garlic olive oil roast the garlic in the oven.  My method uses just the stovetop, which is more streamlined but delivers the same amount of flavor.  Here’s how to do it:

  • Pour 3 cups of extra virgin olive oil into a medium saucepan.
  • Cut the tops off of 9 whole heads of garlic (Trust me on this.  When I first started making this recipe, I began with 3 large heads.  9 are not too many.)  Break the heads into individual cloves, and add all of the garlic to the oil.
  • Add two stems of rosemary, as much fresh thyme as you want, and 2 tsp of toasted whole  black peppercorns to the oil.
  • Cover the saucepan, turn the heat on low, and simmer for 45 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, uncover, and let sit for 1 hour to cool.
  • Strain the oil into a bottle.  A clean green wine bottle works great for this, but you’ll need the cork or some other closure.  The oil will keep for at least a month, unrefrigerated.
  • Discard the herbs and pepper.  Squeeze the cooked garlic out of the skins and into a convenient container.  Refrigerate until ready to use, like for spreading on home-made bread still warm from the oven.  It can last about a month, but mine is usually gone in less than a week.

Based on a recipe from

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Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

If you are looking for an easy and delicious week-night meal, you can’t go wrong with Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, or literally Spaghetti Garlic and Oil.

Here’s how to make it:

Serves 4 to 6

1 lb. of spaghetti
3 tsp. salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup garlic (about one whole large head), sliced, chopped very fine, or run through a garlic press, depending on how you like it
2 2-oz. cans of anchovies*
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup chopped parsley. (The stems are slightly bitter. Remove them if you don’t like that, include them if you do.)  Flat-leaf Italian parsley is traditional, but curly parsley will work about as well.

Because this is a “peasant” dish, it is susceptible to many variations.  With Italian sausage?  Tuna?  Shrimp?  Broccoli?  Except one: no cheese.  Never any cheese.

1. Add salt to 4 to 6 quarts of water and bring to boiling. Add pasta, stirring occasionally during the first couple of minutes to prevent sticking. Total cooking time will be about 10 minutes, or according to package directions.

2. While the pasta is cooking, put the anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes in a large skillet (12″ is best) and turn on heat to medium low. Cook and stir the garlic until it becomes colored a pale gold. Do not let it become brown. Depending on your stove, this may take a very short time; monitor it constantly. Once done, remove from heat and add 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water to the skillet to stop the cooking.

*Note: Don’t fear the anchovies!  Personally, I love anchovies.  They lend no fishiness to this pasta, but they do bring a big umami punch.  To maximize this, I don’t drain the anchovies, adding the entire contents of the cans including the little fishes and the oil they are packed in. However, this may be too intense for younger or more sensitive eaters. If you like, drain before adding to the skillet, or if you are really nervous, drain, rinse, and pat dry before adding.  You can omit them entirely, but you will miss out on a lot of flavor.

3. Using tongs, remove the pasta from the water and add to the skillet. (Or, if the pasta water has already been added to the aglio e olio in the skillet, drain in a colander if you prefer.) Turn the strands over and over in the skillet to coat them evenly until a slightly creamy texture forms. Add the chopped parsley, toss once again, and serve immediately.

Based on a recipe by Marcella Hazan in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

This pasta would go nicely with some of these wines:

Fajita Pizza

Many people like fajitas.  Many people like pizza.  So, how about … a Fajita Pizza!  Ole!  Grazia!

Start marinade (see below) as early in the day as you like.

Start dough at 4p for dinner between 8p and 9p
1 cup warm water
2 tsp instant-rise yeast
3-1/4 cup bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil (extra virgin not necessary)
Combine ingredients and knead by hand for 10 minutes or machine
for 2 to 5 minutes. Coat dough ball in a thin film of olive oil, cover in plastic wrap and let rise in warm place.

About an hour before dinner time, turn the oven up as high as it will go.
Twenty to thirty minutes before dinner, roll dough out to 15” circle. [Or divide dough if you want to make two smaller pizzas.] Place on pizza screen if available, being careful not to press the dough into the mesh.  Cover with plastic wrap.

2 Tbs chili powder
2 Tbs ground cumin
1 Tbs ground coriander
1 tsp crumbled dried oregano
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Ground cayenne to taste
1 pound beef skirt or flank steak, or chicken (thighs are best), cut into slices about 3 in. long and 1/4 in. thick. (I actually used duck, but My Lovely Wife wasn’t amused by the extravagance.  And honestly, the nuance of the duck was lost in this pie.)
2 medium bell peppers.  Any color will do, but I like red
1 medium onion, cut into thick slices
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup water
3 cups freshly shredded cheese: cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, fontina, whatever you like
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1-1/2 cups chunky salsa, store bought is fine.  I like Pace.

In a large zip-lock bag, combine all of the ingredients except the cheese, cilantro and salsa.  Marinade for as long as you like.

While the dough is undergoing its final rise, place a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil is shimmering, pour the entire contents of the zip-lock bag into the skillet.  Cook until the meat is done, the vegetables have softened, and the liquid has evaporated.  Remove plastic wrap from dough and brush liberally with olive oil.  Spread salsa evenly over dough.  Spread contents of skillet evenly over salsa.  Evenly spread the cheese over the pizza.

Bake in rippin’ hot oven until crust nicely browns, about 10
minutes.  Remove pizza to a cutting board, sprinkle with cilantro, slice, and serve.

This would go nicely with a robust Italian or Spanish red wine or a good Mexican beer.

Serves 4 to 6.

Cecchi Wines

La Fea Selección Especial 2018 with Deep Dish Pizza

Two Unusual Wines from Italy, and One of My Original Pizza Recipes

Altolandon Rayuelo

This recipe was derived from James McNair’s excellent New Pizza Don’t be discouraged by the one-star reviews, they are bogus, imho.  One dweeb complained that McNair didn’t cover such arcane techniques as cold fermentation.  Geez.  If you want a cold ferment, use room temperature water and let the dough rise in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  But, you’re not going to have pizza tonight, and you won’t taste the subtleties a cold ferment brings to dough under all those toppings.

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Chicken alla Joe

Gene & Georgetti is a legendary old-school Chicago steakhouse, founded in 1941, and still with us during the plague, happily. On November 1, 1987, the Chicago Tribune‘s food critic at the time, William Rice (excellent name for a food writer, no?), published this baked chicken recipe. Like Spicy Grilled Tuna, I have made this recipe many times. Unlike that one, however, I have modified
it extensively. And about ten years ago, I realized I almost always made this in January. So, now I must make it in January. Sometimes late, like January 31, 2020, and sometimes early, like January 1, 2021.  (Photo: Nancy Young)

Chicken alla Joe is named for the man who invented it. Gene & Georgetti retains servers for years, if not decades. One of them was Joe Pacini, a native of Tuscany, who worked tables beside the bar in the restaurant`s front room. He had a regular customer, Morris Krumhorn, who liked spicy food. He would order broiled chicken and ask Pacini to have the chef, Mario Navarro, put red pepper on it. “One night I went to the chef and told him, ‘My customer is complaining that the chicken you make is not spicy enough,'” Pacini recalled.  Chef Mario responded, “What can I do?” and Joe says, “He really likes it hot. Let’s put some hot pepperoncini with the chicken and green pepper and hot red pepper.” After serving the dish, Joe returned to the kitchen and said to Mario, “Mr. Krumhorn is a happy customer. He asks what you call this dish?” Mario answered, “It was your idea, not mine. I call it Chicken alla Joe.”

Chicken alla Joe

Serves 6 to 8

3-1/4 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs, or a mix of thighs and breasts, skin removed
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried red-pepper flakes
9 tablespoons olive oil
1 red bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into broad strips or chunks, about 12 each
16 oz. jar of pepperoncini, drained, rinsed and left whole (but pierced once, so you don’t get a mouthful of vinegar when you bite into one)
3 – 4 russet potatoes, sliced into spears
2  lemons, cut in half

  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a zip-lock bag, mix the salt, pepper, oregano, red-pepper flakes, and 3 Tbls oil together. Add chicken, seal bag, and toss until coated.
  3. In a large bowl, add the remaining 3 Tbls oil, salt and pepper to taste, potatoes, and bell peppers, and toss with your hands to evenly coat.
  4. Add 3 Tbls oil to an 18″ x 12″ roasting pan and coat the bottom. Add the chicken pieces (just the thighs for now if you are using breasts also) and potatoes. Place pan in the oven and cook until the chicken pieces begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven. Turn chicken pieces (add breasts now if using) and add bell-pepper strips or chunks and pepperoncini. Return to oven and cook until chicken is tender and pepper strips are soft, an additional 20 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from oven. Squeeze juice from lemon halves over the chicken pieces, then transfer them, the peppers, and pepperoncini to warm serving plates. Spoon pan juices over each portion.

Serve with a green vegetable such as spinach, and an Italian red wine, perhaps Dolcetto.

You can read William Rice’s original column and recipe here:

And if you are ever in Chicago, you can try Chicken alla Joe at Gene & Georgetti itself, where the dish remains quite popular to this day.

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(Not Too) Spicy Grilled Tuna Steaks with Salad Greens

If you don’t like fish, this is the fish recipe for you.  If you do like fish, especially  tuna, this is definitely the recipe for you.  It was published by the great Pierre Franey (1921 – 1996) in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune in August of 1992.  It may well be the greatest tuna recipe ever written.  (Yes, Rob, even better than canned-tuna noodle casserole.)  I have made it many times over the years, something I rarely do.  Hell, I almost never make anything more than once.

Photo: Nancy Young

Spicy Grilled Tuna Steaks

Serves 4

1/4 cup sesame seeds (toasted is better, but not necessary)
1 Tbls curry powder
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp anise seeds
Salt to taste
4 tuna steaks, about 1″ thick, 1-1/2 lbs. total, the fresher the better
olive oil

    1.  Preheat a grill, or oven broiler.  Mix sesame seeds, curry powder, black pepper, anise seeds, and salt in a small bowl.
    2.  Lightly oil tuna with olive oil.  Sprinkle  steaks evenly on both sides with sesame mixture, and press down so mixture adheres well to steaks.  Cover and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes at room temperature.
    3.  Meanwhile, prepare Mixed Salad, below.
    4.  Place steaks on hot grill or under broiler for two minutes per side for rare.  (For greater doneness, you can cook a little longer, particularly if you are grilling outside in the winter, but otherwise I don’t recommend it.  Trust me on this.)

Mixed Salad with Vinaigrette

6 cups mixed salad greens (readily available preboxed, for convenience)
2 Tbls each: Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar
2 tsp minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 Tbls olive oil

    1. Wash and dry greens thoroughly in a salad spinner.  If large, tear leaves with your hands; if you buy them in a bag or box they will probably be small enough that you can leave them whole.
    2.  Put mustard, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.  Stir well.  Add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly until well blended.  Adjust vinegar to taste (I like my dressing with a little more zip).
    3. Add greens and toss well with vinaigrette.

To serve, place dressed mixed green salad in center of plate.  Cut tuna into  slices on the bias and place slices on top of greens.

Since the grill is already on, if you’d like more food, this goes really well with mixed vegetable kabobs (zucchini, onion, red bell pepper, mushroom, etc).  Double the vinaigrette, and use half to marinate the veggies.  They will need about five minutes per side to cook, so start them before the tuna.  Alternatively, a side of plain white rice would work, also.

Serve with one of these Pinot Noirs.  Yes, a red, not a white.  Unless it is a sparkler.

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Coq au Vin (Chicken with Wine Sauce)

Coq au Vin is a classic French dish of chicken in wine with onions, mushrooms, and bacon.  It is usually made with red wine, but I think white wine makes for better color and flavor.  In France, the only side is usually parsley potatoes, but you can add buttered green peas as well.  This recipe comes from volume 1 of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Serves 4 to 6

4 oz. bacon
Cut bacon into 1/4″ x 1″ rectangles. Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water.  Rinse and dry.

2 Tb butter
Saute the bacon in a large skillet on low heat in butter until very lightly browned

A cut-up frying chicken
Brown in the fat used to cook the bacon

1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Season the chicken.  Return bacon to skillet, cover and cook on low for 10 minutes.  Turn chicken once.

1/4 cup brandy or cognac
Uncover, and pour in the brandy.  Carefully ignite the brandy.  Shake skillet for several seconds until the flames subside.

3 cups of dry white or rose wine
1 to 2 cups of chicken stock
1/2 Tb. tomato paste
4 cloves mashed garlic
thyme (I like to use about 2 Tbs. fresh)
1 bay leaf
Pour the wine into the skillet.  Add just enough stock to cover the chicken.  Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs.  Cover and simmer on low for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chicken registers 165 degrees.  Remove the chicken and keep warm.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare:
12 to 24 brown-braised onions
1/2 lb. sauteed mushrooms

Boil and reduce the liquid to about 2-1/4 cups.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove bay leaf.

3 Tb. flour
2 Tb. softened butter
Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste.  Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a whisk.  Simmer for a minute or two.

Arrange the chicken in the skillet, surround with onions and mushrooms, and baste with the sauce.  Cover and simmer on low for 4 to 5 minutes to reheat the chicken and serve decorated with sprigs of parsley.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

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Camarena Tequila

Camerena TequilaHey, Camarena!

Winter is behind us for yet another year, and even under quarantine, thoughts turn to relaxed evenings on the deck or patio, steaks or shrimp sizzling on the Weber, and something cool and refreshing in the glass. A crisp Chardonnay or ice-cold beer are nice, of course, but it’s hard to beat a well-made Margarita (no sweet-and-sour mix!) when the weather gets pleasant. And, of course, Cinco de Mayo is just a couple of days away as I write this.

A good Margarita is only as good as the tequila it’s made from, and the best tequila is 100-percent blue agave. Blue agave is a smooth-leafed succulent plant (a cactus-type plant with no needles). The unique blue cast of the plant’s leaves gave it its English name. Agave is native to the central Mexican state of Jalisco; it was there in 1761 that the Spanish-immigrant Camarena family co-founded the town of Arandas (approximately 280 miles east of Puerto Vallarta). In 1860 the Camarenas began cultivating blue agave for tequila, becoming one of Mexico’s top growers. Today, the family grows more than three million agave plants, some at an altitude of 7,700 feet, in the Los Altos Highlands, the world’s highest agave fields. Here, the mineral-rich volcanic soil, low rainfall, and temperate climate support plants of greater flavor maturity.

In 1938, the Camarenas began making their own tequila. The process starts when the seven- to ten-year old plants are hand-harvested by the field workers, the jimadores. The jimadores use sharp spades called coas to remove the spiky leaves from the agave. What remains is a trimmed central piña, often weighing more than 100 pounds.

The piñas are then slow-roasted for two days in ovens made of volcanic sandstone, to convert the agave’s fructose to fermentable sugar. Next, the cooked agaves are passed through a shredding mill to separate the juice from the pulp. A special wine yeast is added to the juice, or wort, to create a mildly alcoholic liquid called mosto. The mosto is then distilled using traditional, small pot stills.

Both of Camarena’s tequilas are exceptionally smooth and appealing, and they are excellent values.

To help get your summer started, here’s my personal Killer Margarita recipe: combine 4 oz. tequila, 2 oz. triple sec, and 3 oz. Rose’s lime juice with 1 cup crushed ice. Stir until ice is nearly melted. Pour into salted-rim glasses half filled with ice cubes. Garnish with a fresh lime slice.

Camarena 100% Agave Silver

Camarena 100% Blue Agave Silver Tequila rests for several months after distillation to integrate flavors before it is bottled at 40% alcohol. This unaged tequila is completely clear, and exhibits hints of sweet vanilla and black pepper. Substitute it for vodka in a Bloody Maria.

Camarena 100% Agave Reposado

Camarena 100% Blue Agave Reposado Tequila is aged for two months in American oak barrels. The wood aging imparts a golden color, and brings out additional roundness to the flavor, as well as the natural agave sweetness. Substitute it for bourbon in a Mexican Manhattan.

Cline Nancy’s Cuvee (with tuna souffle)

As you enter Sonoma county from the south on California 121, one of the first wineries you encounter is Cline Cellars, and there could hardly be a better introduction to the Carneros AVA.

Even as a young teenager, Fred Cline learned to make wine from his grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi (yes, he of the hydrotherapy tub, as well as many other innovations). With a $9000 inheritance from Valeriano, in 1981 Cline founded the eponymous Cline Cellars in Oakley, California.

The winery was relocated to its current location in 1991. The property is the original site of the Mission San Francisco de Solano, the 21st and final of the historic California missions. Although the mission was moved in 1823, the Cline tasting room is located in a rustic 1850s farmhouse that is original to the property, surrounded by spring-fed ponds and thousands of rose bushes. The vineyards also reflect this history, with vines ranging from 80 to 120 years old.
Cline is one of the first of the pioneering Rhone Rangers, a group dedicated to wines from the grapes of the Côtes du Rhône in France (ironic for a boy with an Italian grandfather, no?)

Cline also has been a pioneer in sustainable farming. It is the second-largest completely solar-powered winery in California. Natural cover crops are used to nourish the soils, sheep and goats roam freely as they graze on weeds, and compost teas are used as fertilizer. “We’d be considered ‘organic’ if we wanted to follow the rules of the government,“ said Cline. “We are actually more sustainable [than the law calls for] by not following their organic rules.“ He calls his methods “beyond organic.”

Cline Nancy’s Cuvée

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes for this sparkler are grown at Clines’s Five Sisters Estate Vineyard in Los Carneros, directly behind the winery. This vineyard is planted in rocky soil and yields a small crop. The area benefits from cool growing conditions which lead to a long ripening season adding to the grapes’ flavors

Grapes were handpicked and destemmed without crushing. The juice was cold-settled and then racked to a stainless-steel fermentor where it fermented at 50-55°F. The wine was fermented to dryness without undergoing malolactic fermentation. It was then moved to individual bottles where a small amount of sugar and yeast were added. The wine then fermented in the bottle, which captured the naturally created CO2. Riddling and disgorging followed, preparing the wine for release the year after harvest.

In the glass this wine sparkles with small bubbles and a pale pink color from the Pinot Noir grapes. Aromas of citrus and pineapple lead to a bright tart grapefruit flavor with notes of freshly toasted bread.  For our Easter breakfast, this wine went perfectly with:

Tuna Souffle

I adapted this recipe from a salmon souffle in The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne.  It was the first cookbook I ever got, and is still one of the best.

3 Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
1 cup milk
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp dry mustard, or to taste
4 Tbs teriyaki sauce, or to taste
1 cup fresh cooked tuna, or 2 small cans tuna, drained
4 oz. sliced mushrooms, microwaved for one minute (optional)
Hollandaise sauce (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 deg. F.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stir in flour, and blend with a wire whisk. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a simmer and add all at once to the butter-flour mixture, stirring with the whisk until thickened and smooth.  Stir in salt, mustard, and teriyaki sauce. Allow to cool.
  3. Beat in, one at at time, the four egg yolks.
  4. Flake the tuna and blend well into the white sauce and egg mixture.
  5. Beat the egg whites until they stand in peaks. Do not over beat. Fold the whites gently into the tuna mixture with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, being careful not to overblend.
  6. Pour into a 1-1/2 quart souffle dish, lightly greased with cooking spray.  Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes.  Serve with Hollanaise sauce, if desired.

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North Wisconsin Brandy

North Wisconsin BrandySteeerike Three! Yer Out!

Major League Baseball’s 2020 season was supposed to open today. As of this writing, that’s been pushed out to at least mid-May due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the season does begin though, at Milwaukees’ Miller Park, home of the Brewers, the official brandy served at the ballpark will be Central Standard distillery’s North Wisconsin Brandy. Your opening-day celebrations can include an iconic Wisconsin-style brandy Old Fashioned made with a spirit produced right there in town.

North is the first-ever brandy produced by a Milwaukee company. Made at Central Standard’s Clybourn Street distillery, the small-batch brandy is aged and finished in their bourbon barrels.  (By the way, North Wisconsin debuted as North 40, but was quietly rebranded shortly thereafter.)

“North is a recipe we’ve been working to perfect since we opened our doors more than four years ago,” notes Central Standard Craft Distillery co-founder Pat McQuillan.

Photo: J Matt

Photo: Mitchell Metcalf

Photo: Mitchell Metcalf

All well and good, and more than 40,000 people will be potential customers for North Wisconsin every game day. Unfortunately, the brandy is mediocre at best.  It is pale amber in the glass, perhaps a sign of not enough time in those bourbon barrels (a quirky choice on its own).  There are distinct whiffs of acetone on the nose, often indicative of a lower distillation temperature.  The taste is hot and one-dimensional.  And at about $20 a bottle, there are a number of better values out there, often at about half the price, including Korbel.

“Wisconsin is our number one state,” says Margie Healy, director of public relations for the California-based Korbel. “We export 385,000 cases a year, and 139,000 go directly to Wisconsin. That’s one-third of our total production.”

But perhaps a classic Wisconsin Old Fashioned will mask enough of those flaws for you to give it a try.  Here are three recipes:

Old Fashioned Sweet

1 orange slice (never an orange twist)
1 maraschino cherry
1-1/2 ounces maraschino cherry juice
1 teaspoon bitters
1/4 to 1/3 cup ice cubes
1-1/2 ounces brandy
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon orange juice
3 ounces lemon-lime soda

In a rocks glass, muddle orange slice, cherry, cherry juice and bitters. Add ice. Pour in the brandy, water, orange juice and soda.

Old Fashioned Sour

1 orange slice
2 cherries and their juices
1-1/2 ounces brandy (or about one shot)
dash of bitters (1 dropper full – 10 drops)
1 teaspoon of sugar
Collins mix, or 50/50 or Squirt soda
ice cubes

In a cocktail glass muddle sugar, orange slice, cherries and bitters, add shot of brandy and stir. Add ice to fill the glass, then top it off with Collins mix, 50/50 or Squirt soda.

Old Fashioned Press

Press is short for Presbyterian, and refers to finishing the drink with club soda.  So for a Press, simply substitute club soda for the sweet soda in either of the recipes above.

Listen to my podcast about brandy, Cognac, and Armagnac here.
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FOS Mastiha Liqueur

FOS Mastiha LiqueurThe Mastiha tree is also known as the famous Crying Tree,  since it “cries” teardrops of resin during the harvest period. It only grows and is cultivated on the small Mediterranean island of Chios. Nowhere else in the world has it been able to take root.

The island of Chios is the fifth largest island in Greece, with an area of 325 square miles. Its nickname is “the mastic island.” In the south of the island are the Mastichochoria, literally the Mastic villages, the seven villages of Mesta, Pyrgi, Olympi, Kalamoti, Vessa, Lithi, and Elata, which together have controlled the production of mastic gum in the area since the Roman period.
The villages, built between the 14th and 16th centuries, were carefully designed with fortified gates and narrow streets to protect against the frequent raids of marauding pirates.

Mastiha has been used for thousands of years by the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottomans, and many others. From this small Mediterranean island, In the 5th century BC, Hippocrates recommended Mastiha as an excellent digestive. It is said the Romans spiced their wine with it. During the Byzantine years, Mastiha became famous. It traveled across Europe and reached from east to west, including Constantinople, Damascus, Alexandria, Rome, Paris, London, and Florence.

To produce this unique liqueur, the Crying Tree is harvested once a year, usually at the beginning of summer. Experienced workers delicately slice the surface of the trees. The resin slowly seeps out of the bark and dries in the sunlight to form translucent golden crystals.. It takes several weeks to collect the resin .

Once collected, Mastiha is packed in wooden containers and sent to a cool warehouse, where women of the villages pick the best quality Mastiha by hand.

The Mastiha is then mixed with fine-quality alcohol and is put in large bronze tanks. The mix is heated carefully over a wood-burning fire. It is finally blended with other secret ingredients and bottled.

This balanced sweet spirit has pronounced notes of cucumber, pine, anise, and herbaceous undertones. FOS Mastiha Liqueur is made out of 100% pure Mastiha and is not artificially scented. FOS Mastiha works well on its own or the rocks or as a mixer.

Here’s a recipe to get you started with this unusual liqueur:


2 oz. FOS Greek Mastiha
2 oz.  Cucumber Vodka
1/2 oz. Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz. Coconut Water

Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass.

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Bakon Vodka

Bakon Vodkammm…bacon

Whenever Homer Simpson wants to relax with something other than Duff beer, my guess is he turns to Bakon Vodka. Yes. Premium vodka infused with the aroma and taste of delicious smokehouse bacon.

People have been mixing savory ingredients with alcohol as long as they have been drinking alcohol. Writers from the 17th century, including John Locke and Samuel Pepys frequently imbibed and wrote about savory infused ales. It turns out that mixing sweet and savory in food and beverage is not a new idea.

The folks behind Bakon started developing the product in the fall of 2007 and worked on it for two years. The base spirit is  quality Idaho potato vodka. It is smooth and slightly sweet, with the well-rounded flavor that you only get from a quality potato distillation. The vodka is column-distilled using a single heating process that allegedly doesn’t “bruise” the alcohol like the multiple heating cycles needed to make a typical pot-still vodka.

Next comes the infusion, to deliver the essence of a delicious, crisp slice of peppered bacon. This secret process creates a taste and smell that is surprisingly accurate. Before you do any mixing with it, first try it chilled and straight up, to maximize the “wow!” reaction.

Co-founder and Creative Director Chris Marshall notes, “Although today you can find plenty of sweet, fruity-flavored mixtures and infusions, we’re excited to produce a savory spirit that people can’t wait to try.”

Flavored vodkas are popular with trendy mixologists who want more versatility and options than mainline liquors provide. Like them, you can use Bakon vodka to whip up an excellent Bloody Mary, a Bacon Martini with a blue cheese-stuffed olive, or:

The Elvis Presley

2 oz. Bakon vodka
1 oz.  hazelnut liqueur
1 oz.  banana liqueur
a splash of cream.

Shake with ice and strain into a glass. Thank you. Thank you very much.

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Gabriel Boudier Saffron Infused Gin

Gabriel Boudier Saffron Infused GinIn 1909, Gabriel Boudier took over the house of Fontbonne, founded in 1874, and renamed it after himself. He established the business at Boulevard de Strasbourg in Dijon, France, where it continued to thrive until his death in 1918.

In 1936, his widow sold the house to Marcel Battault, who decided not to change the trading name because of its high-quality reputation, He, in turn, handed the business to his nephew Pierre in 1941. In the years since, four more Battaults, Jean, Yves, Francois, and Claire have joined the firm and enjoyed the company’s penchant for nepotism.

Boudier makes a comprehensive line of Crème de Cassis de Dijon, for which they are most famous, Crème de Fruits, eaux de vie (unaged brandy), liqueurs, and the saffron-infused gin which we’re focusing on here.

Introduced in to the US market in 2008, Boudier Saffron Infused Gin is based on a artisanal colonial French recipe rediscovered in the Boudier archives. It is distilled in small batches using a traditional pot still.

The saffron in this dramatically golden-orange-hued gin is more subtle than its appearance suggests (it is artificially colored). The saffron adds a nuanced spiciness and slightly-honeyed balance to the traditional gin botanicals of juniper, coriander, lemon, orange peel, and fennel.

What to do with this unusual spirit?  Here’s one idea:

Saffron Peach Cocktail

3 oz. GB Saffron gin
1 oz. peach syrup
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. agave nectar
Shake and garnish with a fresh peach slice.

A few other ways to enjoy this unique gin are ‘up’ in a martini glass (skip the vermouth); on the rocks; mixed with tonic and garnished with an orange wedge; or to put a new twist on a Negroni. 80 proof.

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Cinque Aperitivo

 Cinque AperitivoCiao, Italia!

As you cocktail mavens may be aware, aperitivos and amaros are currently having a moment in bars across the U.S. The rest of you are probably asking, “A what and a what?”

An aperitivo (in Italian) or apéritif (in French) is a light alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite, and is therefore usually dry rather than sweet. An amaro (Italian for “bitter”) is an Italian herbal liqueur that is commonly drunk as an after-dinner digestif. It usually has a bittersweet and sometimes syrupy flavor.

Cinque is an aperitivo created following a traditional recipe developed in 1929. It is based on an infusion of 12 selected roots and herbs, highlighted by bitter orange and gentian lutea, selected for its bitter root (the overall bitterness level is an approachable “medium”). It’s perfect for fans of Campari and Aperol looking for something a bit different.

Although Cinque is labeled to look as Italian as possible, and the parent company, Don Ciccio & Figli, has roots to the Old Country going back as far as 1883, it is in fact produced in Washington, D.C.

Here’s a sample recipe: 1 oz. gin, 1oz. Cinque aperitivo, 1 oz. amaro, a splash of soda, and a dash of lemon bitters. Stir well and serve on the rocks with an orange twist and sweet cherry as garnish. Salute!

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