Party Planning, Homemade Holiday Gifts and Champagnes

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The Sensual Joys of Bubbling and Blushing, Plus Three Sparkling Wine Cocktails

Rose Champagne is the rarest and therefore, the most expensive. Its lure is that it's a great aperitif as well as the best sparkler for food.


Canella Bellini, Veneto: $ 10.95

  • This is the original, the cocktail made famous by Venice's famed Harry's Bar. You can make it yourself by combining champagne with fresh white peach puree. But why, when you have this delicious sparkler all ready to go!

Franciacorta, BellaVista Cuvee Rose, Lombardy: $44.99

  • A pretty, light rose sparkler made with the methode Champenoise. The aromas are of toast and cherries that develops into a citrus crispness.
'02 Marenco Pineto Brachetto d'Acqui, Piemonte: $16.95
  • Here is the one to have with bittersweet chocolate. This sparkler tastes of fresh raspberries. Just imagine this with a flourless bittersweet chocolate cake! Put a bite into your mouth and then a sip! Nirvana.

Nicolas Feuillate (Split) $ 22.95
Nicolas Feuillate (Full Bottle) $ 30.95

  • This is one of the best-selling Champagnes in America and, also in France. It's what the French bring to each other's homes for dinner. The color is medium-pink and the body is enough to stand up to real food. Would be quite romantic with grilled lobster or a vegetable risotto.
'00 Bailly-Lapierre Cremant de Bourgogne $ 13.95
  • Here is a stunner! There's enough acidity here to make a cold peach and sparkler soup.
NV Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut $ 49.99
  • This comes from a giant, family-owned producing house. The resultant wine is light in body and very refreshing. This would be a delicious pairing with chicken, duck and plenty of herbs. Would work with creamy cheeses, too.
NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose $ 62.95
  • The ultimate rose. The color is salmon pink, the bubbles are small and intense, but soft on your tongue. While able to go with either appetizers or main courses, it is really at its best when paired with someone you love.
'01 Majella, Coonawara: $ 29.95
  • Wouldn't you know the gang from Oz would take their beloved Shiraz and make it sparkle? Here you have a dry, sparkling wine that is full-bodied, but not sweet. This could/would stand up to a grilled steak or shrimp on the barby!
Chavignon Crystal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: $ 38.95
  • Not to be outdone by the Aussie's, Napa Valley rings in with a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The color is coral-pink, the nose is smoky, toasty with red apple and cherry. Once in your mouth it retains the smokiness and adds some citrus and plum flavors. Quite unique. The only winemaker to do this grape into a Sparkler.
Some Champagne Cocktails To Sparkle You Plenty:

The Classic:
Soak a sugar cube with Angostura Bitters at the bottom of a Champagne flute. Then pour your choice of sparkler over it and sip away!

The Flirtini (made famous on Sex and the City):

  • 3-4 fresh raspberries
  • 1 1/2 ounces of Vodka (if you like a sweeter taste, use the raspberry flavored vodka)
  • 1/4 ounce of Cointreau
  • A squeeze of fresh lime juice
  • A splash of pineapple juice
  • A splash of cranberry or cranberry/berry juice
  • Fill the glass with sparkling rose wine
Me and Mrs. Jones (from the song recorded by Billy Paul in 1972. It became a #1 Billboard hit. Today, it is served in Harlem at a small, corner restaurant named Native).
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce Rose's lime or fresh lime juice
  • 1 ounce Chambord (raspberry flavored liquor)
  • 5 ounces sparkling wine
  • Dash of maraschino cherry juice
  • Dash of bitters
  • Maraschino cherry

Erika Lenkert is the author of The Last-Minute Party Girl: Fashionable, Fearless and Foolishly Simple Entertaining, published by McGraw Hill.

Elegant Endives
Makes about 10 to 15

  • 1 head endive
  • 1 cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup caramelized and spiced nuts (recipe to follow)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
Slice off the base of the endive and separate the endive leaves, carefully pulling them apart so they're intact. Lay the leaves on a large serving tray in a decorative pattern -- such as concentric circles or diagonal rows. Fill the base of each leaf (the strongest and whitest part) with a heaping teaspoon of blue cheese crumbs. Sprinkle each with nuts and top with a drop or two of honey.

Caramelized and Spiced Nuts
Makes 1 cup

  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • Pinch of cayenne and freshly ground pepper (for spiced nuts)
  • 1 cup pecans and walnuts
In a small saucepan melt the butter over moderate heat, add the sugar (and spices if you wish) and stir until the sugar's dissolved. Add the nuts, stirring until golden, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a nut bowl to cool.

Salmon Rillettes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups, serves about 8

  • 1 celery stalks, sliced thin
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 1 leek, sliced thin
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 6 ounces king salmon fillet
  • 2 ounces cr-me fra-che (budget partiers can substitute sour cream or a cream-and-sour-cream combo)
  • 2 Tablespoons minced chives
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a simmer. Add the celery, onion, leek, peppercorns, bay leaf, wine and lemon and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the salmon. Cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and let it stand for 10 minutes.

Remove the salmon and chill it in the refrigerator. Discard the vegetable water. In a food processor or by hand, whip the salmon with the cr-me fra-che, chives and olive oil, and add the salt and pepper to taste. Keep the spread chilled until you're ready to serve.

The following recipes are from the December 2003 issue of Gourmet magazine. John Willoughby is the executive editor.

START HERE Basic Butter Cookie Dough
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • Coarse or sanding sugar; or melted chocolate (for garnish)
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer (preferably with the paddle attachment) or 6 minutes with a handheld. Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Form dough into a 12-inch log (2 inches in diameter) on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll up dough in plastic wrap. Chill dough on a baking sheet until firm, about least 4 hours.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut enough 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick slices from log with a heavy knife to fill 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging slices about 1 inch apart (chill remainder of log, wrapped in plastic wrap). If garnishing with coarse sugar, sprinkle slices with it.

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are golden, 12 to 15 minutes total. Cool on sheets 3 minutes, and then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough on cooled baking sheets.

Almond Spice Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients for basic butter cookies

  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 4 ounce slivered almonds (1 cup)
Follow recipe for basic butter cookies and, when mixing in flour mixture, add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger, then stir in almonds.

Form dough into a 12 by 2 inch rectangular log (1 1/2" thick) and wrap in wax paper before chilling.

Lemon Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen

  • Ingredients for basic butter cookies (above)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
Follow recipe for basic butter cookies, mixing in lemon juice and zest after adding flour.

Chocolate Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen

  • Ingredients for basic butter cookies
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 10 1/2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), melted and cooled
  • Salted roasted pistachios, finely ground; Demerara sugar (for garnish)
Follow recipes for basic butter cookies, mixing in cocoa, baking soda, and melted chocolate after adding flour (dough will be stiff). Form dough into a 14-inch log (2 inches in diameter) on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll up dough. Dough will be hard to slice and may crumble.) If garnishing, roll edges or each slice first in pistachios and then in Demerara sugar.

Coconut Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

  • 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • Ingredients for basic butter cookies
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • Sweetened flaked coconut and coarse sugar (for garnish)
Pulse coconut in a food processor until finely ground. Follow recipe for basic butter cookies, mixing in coconut and almond extract after adding flour. If garnishing, sprinkle cookies with flaked coconut and coarse sugar before baking.

Caramel Pecan Cookies
Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies

For crust:

  • Ingredients for basic butter cookie dough
For caramel pecan topping:
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 stick (6 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups pecans (1/2 lb), toasted, cooled, and coarsely chopped
Grease a 13 x 9 inch metal baking pan, then line with foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang on both ends, and grease foil.

To make the crust, follow recipe for basic butter cookies to make dough (do not chill), then press dough evenly on bottoms of baking pan, using plastic wrap on top to prevent dough from sticking to your fingers, and chill until firm, about 20 minutes.

While crust chills, put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake crust until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 20 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping while crust cools. Cook sugar in a 2 1/2 inch to 3 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, undisturbed, until it begins to melt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a fork, until sugar is melted to a deep golden caramel. Tilt pan and carefully pour in cream -- caramel will harden and steam vigorously. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in butter, vanilla, salt and pecans.

Immediately spread topping over cooled crust and bake until bubbling, about 20 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours. Run a heavy knife under hot water, then wipe dry and cut confection into 2-inch triangles, diamonds, or squares.

Teri Gelber-s Homemade Edible Gift Ideas

Candied Spiced Nuts (Adapted from Nancy Silverton-s Sandwich Book)
Yield: 2 cups

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsps cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) pecan (or walnut) halves
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 3/4 tsp fairly coarse French sea salt or kosher salt
In a medium sized, clean and dry saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and cayenne pepper to a boil over high heat. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, wash down the sides of the pan to remove any undissolved sugar granules.

Add the nuts and turn the heat to medium-high. Simmer the nuts in the caramel mixture for about 20 minutes, reducing the syrup until it-s thickened and the bubbles are large and bursting. You don-t really need to stir them, but move the pan around to circulate them a little. Using a slotted spoon remove about half of the nuts (1 cup) into a strainer over a bowl and let drain for a minute while the oil is heating. Turn the heat to very low and let the remaining nuts simmer in the caramel until you-re ready to fry them.

Meanwhile, in a small to medium sized heavy-duty saucepan, bring the oil up to 350 degrees, measuring the temperature on a deep-fat frying thermometer, over medium heat. (This will take about 5 minutes.) Carefully add the nuts and fry them for about 2-3 minutes, stirring a bit, until they-re well-browned but not burned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the nuts to a baking sheet covered with parchment to cool. Dab with paper towels to remove more oil and sprinkle with salt. You can store the nuts for up to a few days, or until they are no longer crisp.

Lime Zest Macaroons (Adapted from Home Baking by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford)

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups dried shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup pastry or cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsps vanilla extract
  • Grated zest of 4 limes
  • 1 tsp lime juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large heavy saucepan, whisk the egg whites, sugar, coconut, flour and salt. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla, zest and lime juice.

Immediately shape them into teaspoon sized balls and drop them onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2" space between each one.

Bake for 13 minutes, until the coconut shreds have turned opaque and the cookies are very lightly browned on the bottom.

Lift the cookies, still on the parchment onto a rack to cool and firm up. Peel the paper away, and let them cool completely and crisp up. Store in a well sealed container for up to 5 days.

The following recipes are from Desserts by Pierre Herme, written by Dorie Greenspan.
Instead of using the larger loaf pan that the recipes call for, I use small aluminum tins, 3 per recipe, for giving away.

Coconut Loaf Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened finely grated dried coconut, plus additional for cake pan
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 tsp double acting baking powder
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup powdered milk
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
1. This cake has the best texture when you use coconut that is almost as powdery as ground nuts. To get the coconut to this consistency, place it in the container of a food processor or blender with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and process until the coconut is pulverized. But take care not to process the coconut into a paste- it should be powdery and dry.

2. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan or 3 small ones, and dust the interior with the optional finely grated coconut, and tap out the excess. (You can omit the coconut, in which case the pan should be dusted with flour.) Set pan aside. Prepare an insulating layer for the cake by stacking 2 baking sheets, one on top of the other, or use an insulated (air cushioned) baking sheet.

3. Sift the flour, coriander, and baking powder together and reserve.

4. Working at medium high speed in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it-s creamy. Add the remaining 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar and continue to beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is pale, thick, and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition and scraping the bowl as necessary. Decrease the mixer speed to low and, one by one, add the coconut, powdered milk, and whole milk, beating only until each addition is incorporated. (The batter may look soupy and curdled. Don-t worry. It will come together when you add the dry ingredients.) Remove the bowl from the mixer and, working by hand with a large rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture gently into the batter in two or three additions; you-ll have a smooth, thick batter.

5. Immediately, spoon the batter into the prepared pans (it will just about fill the pans or pan) and place on baking sheet and in the oven. Bake for about 70 minutes or until the cake is crowded, split down the center, and golden. A long thin knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out dry and crumb-free. (This cake has a tendency to brown quickly, so it-s a good idea to cover it loosely with a foil tent after it-s been in the oven for 30 minutes.) Remove the cake from the oven and turn it out onto a cooling rack; invert it so that it-s right side up. If you want to soak the cake with run syrup, do it now while the cake is warm. Allow the cake to cool before wrapping.

Rum syrup

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1/4 cup water (added after sugar syrup is made)
  • 1/4 cup white rum
Stir the sugar and water together in a heavy bottomed saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to the boil AS soon as the syrup comes to the boil, remove it from the heat. Measure out 1/4 cup of the simple syrup and store the rest in the refrigerator. Add the 1/4 cup water to the misture and stir in the rum. Brush over cake using a pastry brush.

Chocolate Nut Loaf

  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 7 Tablespoons Dutch processed unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp double acting baking powder
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 5 ounces almond paste
  • 4 large eggs, room temp
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup skinned pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate cut into small chunks
  • 1 stick plus 5 Tablespoons (6 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an insulating layer for the cake by stacking 2 baking sheets, one on top of the other, or use an insulated baking sheet. Butter the loaf pan or pans and set aside.

2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder and set this mixture aside.

3. Put the sugar and almond paste in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the almond paste breaks up and blends with the sugar; the mixture will look sandy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 2 minutes after each addition. Replace the paddle with the whisk attachment, increase the mixer speed to high, and beat for 8-10 minutes, until the ingredients have formed an emulsion- the batter will look like mayonnaise and the whisk will leave tracks as it spins.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the milk, mixing until combined, then add the sifted dry ingredients. Continue beating on low until the mixture is homogenous.

5. Working with a large rubber spatula, fold in the nuts and chocolate. Gently fold in the melted butter.

6. Turn the batter into the pans or pan and level the top. Bake for 60 - 70 minutes or until a knife comes out clean when inserted in the middle. The cake will crack as it bakes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool on a rack for 10 minutes before unmolding. Invert the cake so that its right side up, and cool to room temperature on the rack. The cake can be served now, although it-s best to rap it in a double thickness of plastic wrap and allow it to -ripen- for a day before cutting it into very thin slices and serving.

From Paris Boulangerie-Patisserie, by Linda Dannenberg

Sables a l-Orange
Makes about 3 dozen

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 Tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup currants or raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel
  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tsp water
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar until light. Add the egg, egg yolk, and almonds in turn, mixing after each addition until well blended. Sift the flour with the baking powder and add to the butter mixture, mixture, mixing jut until partially incorporated. Add the currants and orange peel and finish mixing the dough with a large rubber spatula just until blended. Be careful not to overmix. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface about 1/8" thick. Cut out the cookies with a round cookie cutter, or any other shapes you like, and place the cookies on the prepared sheets. Brush the cookies lightly with the egg wash. Bake until light golden, about 13 minutes. Watch carefully so the cookies don-t overbake.

Cool the pan briefly on a wire rack, and then carefully transfer the cookies from the pan to the rack with a spatula. Cool completely. These cookies keep well, stored in an airtight container, up to 2 weeks.

Gateau Basque
Makes 8 servings

Pate Sucre:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • Grated zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups less 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsps baking powder
Almond Cream:
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups sliced or coarse chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 Tablespoons rum
  • 1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp lemon extract
  • 1 beaten egg
For the dough:
With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light, then add the eggs and beat until smooth. Add the zest and vanilla. Stir together the flour and baking powder and add to the butter mixture, mixing just until it is blended. Don-t overmix. Wrap and chill at least an hour.

Almond Cream:
Grind the sugar and almonds in a food processor until powdery. Add all the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

To assemble:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 inch round cake pan (or more small ones). Cut off about one-third of the dough and return it, wrapped to the refrigerator. This dough is somewhat delicate to handle and it should be kept as cold as possible, though malleable enough to roll. Roll out the larger piece of dough on a lightly floured sheet of wax paper to 11 inches about 1/8" thick; invert it into the pan without stretching it and peel off the paper. Brush a 1 inch strip around the edge of the dough with the beaten egg.

Scrape the almond cream into the dough and spread evenly to cover the bottom and sides. Roll the remaining piece of refrigerated dough on a floured sheet of wax paper into a neat 9" round, trimming it to just fit the top of the pan. Invert the round of dough onto the cream and gently peel off an discard the paper Gently press the edges of the pastry around the rim of the pan to seal. Carefully trim off the excess dough from the sides Brush the surface with the egg wash. With a fork, make a diagonal crisscross pattern of lines in the dough.

Bake about 40 minutes, or until the pasty is golden brown. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Carefully invert the cake, remove the pan, then turn right-side up again.

Serve at room temperature.

Honey Almond Brittle

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup plus 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds almonds, coarsely chopped or blanched slivered almonds
In a large, clean heavy skillet, heat the sugar over low heat until it has melted and is slightly browned, making sure it doesn-t burn. Add the honey and butter and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the nuts and cook for 10 minutes. Pour onto a silpat and let it harden, break into pieces and serve.