Sparklers for the New Year

Sparklers for the New Year

I’m talking sparkling wine, of course. Not those sparkly fire-works things that are totally illegal in my neighborhood. (But if you’ve got ’em, outside at midnight on New Year’s is the perfect time to use ’em! Not that I’ve ever done such a thing…ahem.)

Sparkling wine, champagne, prosecco – this is, to me, the perfect wine. You can serve it to your sweetie with breakfast in bed; order it with a celebratory lunch, or woo your significant other with it prior to a romantic dinner for two. It’s also great with cheese and crackers as you sit on the beach.  I am a sparklingwineaholic and I’m not ashamed of it!

To get us started, let me run down the order of driest to sweetest in the sparkling wine lingo. Ready?

Rating Sugar content
(grams per litre)
Brut Nature (no added sugar) 0–3
Extra Brut 0–6
Brut 0–12
Extra Dry, Extra Sec, Extra seco 12–17
Dry, Sec, Seco 17–32
Demi-Sec, Semi-seco 32–50
Doux, Sweet, Dulce 50+

Thank you,  Wikipedia !  (I will say, I don’t know if I’ve ever drunk an “Extra Brut” sparkling wine – though I have had a Natural.) So, Dry = sweet. I can’t handle sweet sparklers any more – Asti Spumante is not my thing, but lots of people like it. Most of the wines below fall in the “brut” category.

There ARE sparkling wines out there under ten dollars and over the years, I’ve tasted them all. Well, almost all. But I’m bringing you my favorites first, those that haven’t seen a ten dollar price tag in years – if ever.

I mentioned one of my favorites, Etoile by Chandon, last week and you can find that post here. Go all the way to the bottom of the post, and you’ll see the gorgeous bottle. Last week, the hubby found it at BevMo for under $20 – but don’t expect to find it for that price for very long. Their lesser-priced sparklers, Domaine Chandon Brut and the Brut Rose are very good – and contrary to my faulty memory last week, usually go for $11.99 at Vons on sale. Not a bad price at all!

I’ll squeeze Piper Sonoma Brut in here, as it’s in this same price range between $11.99 and $14.99 on sale, depending on who’s doing the pricing at Vons that day. (Just kidding…) Also a great value, terrific flavor, a real nice sipping sparkler.

Another tasty favorite is by the Mumm’s brand. Mumm’s Cuvee Napa with the dark blue label is another go-to bottle for me This usually goes for $14.99 at Vons on sale – when I can find it for lower, I grab two bottles, just in case. Right now, I believe it’s at $13.99. Mumm’s also has another, black label champagne that runs the same price but it’s just a little different.

Going pricier, and unfortunately no longer available, is the French  Moet & Chandon’s White Star non-vintage champagne. It ran around $50 full price a year or so ago, but you could usually find it in the $30’s price range (and I remember when it was really expensive at $25 a bottle). This wine won all sorts of awards, and in 2010 M&C pulled the plug on it. You can’t find it anywhere, it’s not being made, and those people who have a case stowed away in their wine cellar aren’t talking – and they’re not selling, either.  A real disappointment.

There’s a reason Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Yellow Label  is a favorite of mine. It was one of the last Christmas gifts my brother Scott gave me. Plus, it’s tasty! Another non-vintage champagne from a terrific house. This wine is found in wine shops – maybe your grocery store around New Year’s eve. You can also find this at BevMo for about $35 – it’s got a traditional, French yeastiness to it (or, maybe that’s just me) that I really like. On the splurgy side, but hey – the bubbles are REALLY small. If you want to spend the big bucks to impress that special someone who’ll know you spent the money (I’m talking between $120-$150 per bottle), then you want to go for the Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame 1998 vintage.  I had the 1996 vintage  – and it was superb.

Others that I’ve had that are on the pricier side of things: Roederer Estate Brut, about $25Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, $36.  Piper Heidsieck Brut Cuvee, $45. These are all straight prices found on the internet, no discounts or sales. If you look about, I’m sure you’ll find them for less.

On the less expensive side of things, I do appreciate Korbel Brut. The low man on the totem pole is often under $10; if you go for Korbel Natural (with the green label, instead of the white label), it goes up a bit to around $14.99 and can be considered on a par with Piper Sonoma. But this is the sparkling wine without any sugar added (see table, above).  BAREFOOT  also puts out a decent sparkling wine, and it’s around $8.99. I’ve had it, I liked it, and I will buy it again, but it’s not my all-time favorite.

ONES TO STAY AWAY FROM: (And please remember, this is just my opinion!)  Cooks , $5.99. Frexienet (the black bottle), $7.99. ANYTHING under $4. These wines tend to be sweeter than the others and have big bubbles, both of which will give you a huge headache the next day (or maybe that same night). They might be okay if you’re using them for mixed cocktails; but still, buyer beware.

I speak with full knowledge of both these wines. Way back at the dawn of time, when I was  young and unemployed, my best friend Tammy and I would sit and drink Cooks or Frexienet and eat french bread pizza and watch General Hospital (this was the Luke and Laura wedding year). I have put money into those bottles, and loved them well at the time. Now, however, I like to think my palate has grown more sophisticated and as such, I can’t – literally, can’t – drink these wines.  (They’re really too sweet.) This doesn’t mean that you can’t drink them and enjoy – as I am sure many people do! They definitely fill a niche in the market.

So, there you go. I’ve given you a lot of different sparkling wines (and a couple Champagnes) to think about for your New Year’s celebration. Here’s another handy tip – keep a few bottles of Sparkling Cider around, for those designated drivers or those who don’t drink who may want something more exciting than cola. It comes in a lot of different flavors, not just apple; and as the commercial says, it’s festive! (Plus most places have a deal on it right now.)

Whatever you choose to do this New Year’s Eve, whether it be to curl up with your new Kindle Fire or to party hearty in Las Vegas, may you have a safe and joyous New Year’s Eve.  Cheers – and remember to drink responsibly!

~   ~   ~

The opinions above are mine and mine alone, based on years and years of taste-testing Champagnes and Sparkling Wines. If YOUR favorite sparkling beverage wasn’t listed here, feel free to send me a bottle and I’ll be happy to give it my thorough attention – and an honest review.



White, Rose´, Red, and Sparkling Wine

White, Rose´, Red, and Sparkling Wine

In these days of high unemployment and global financial crisis, it’s nice to relax with a bottle of wine that doesn’t break your pocketbook. I’m here to sort out the memorable from the truly awful, and each bottle is under $10, unless noted otherwise.

In the spirit of the holidays, I’m going to pass on to you three wines – a terrific white, a fair rose´, an okay red, plus –  an outstanding sparkling wine.

Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, 2009 Alcohol 13.5% by volume $9. at Vons on sale.

On the Label: “The rewards of patience are remarkable. For three decades, my family has nurtured coveted vineyards along California’s cool coast. Our Jackson Estates Grown 100% Chardonnay is bursting with tropical flavors such as pineapple, mango and papaya along with citrus notes that explode in your mouth. Crisp, green apple flavors and a smooth, creamy teture add even more depth. To balance this intensity, we age the wine in small oak barrells. I’m very proud of this wine. I hope you enjoy it.” –Founder, Jess S. Jackson

My Take:  I could have sworn I just posted about this wine, but when I gave a quick look in my archives I couldn’t find it. Anyway – this is a lovely wine. Crisp, with a mere hint of oak – not a big, buttery chardonnay, but neither is it a sterile, steel-casked wine, either. It is quite possibly the best of the “new” style chards, and I for one love it.

If you have a little more cash to spend, and want to impress someone (and treat yourself), go for this wine’s big sister, Kendall Jackson’s Grand Reserve (about $16, if memory serves). You won’t regret it.

My Rating: ~ Very, Very Drinkable! ~  By the way – The Grand Reserve has a “Stay Away! This is MY Wine, You Slut!” rating. Just FYI.

Chateau Marouine Rose Wine 2010 Cotes de Provence, France –  Alcohol 12% by volume – made with organic grapes. $7.99 at Costco.

On the Label: Not a thing that hasn’t been mentioned above.

My Take: The same day I bought the Chameleon wine, I bought this wine. After being properly chilled, we tasted. And while it didn’t take us an entire week to drink the bottle, it did take a couple of days. The flavor is crisp and cool, very laid back, with a lean toward bland. It wasn’t bad wine; it was unremarkable. Which is always a pity.

My Rating:  ~ Drinkable ~

Vigilance Petite Sirah Red Hills, Lake County Geyserville, California – Sustainably Farmed  –  Alcohol 14.5% by volume –  $9.99 at BevMo!

On the Label: Front: “As vintners, it is our honor and responsibility to care for the land that sustains us; to preserve the environment for our children and generations to come. Every bottle of wine that we make is truly a harmonious expression of this earth and our commitment to it.”

Back: “Having children reaffirmed our dedication to the planet. That’s why our vineyards are sustainably farmed using cover crops and sheep to control the weeds between the rows. Ever vigilant, our watchful sheep dogs stand guard over the flock and vines,protecting them from harm. It is this same spirit that drives us in our obsession to craft wines that honor and respect the earth.” – Clay and Margarita Shannon, Vigilance Vineyards

There was other stuff on the back, but I gave up – the type is tiny, the color absurd (orange on a black label) and I’d had enough.

My Take: With that chatty a label, you’d expect the wine to be something amazing. Alas, all their sustainable farming didn’t do squat for this wine. It wasn’t amazing; it was pedestrian. Drinkable. Something to pass the time while you wait for the grown-up wine.  Not watery but not thick either, it lacked character. We had the Petite Sirah with oven-cooked ribs – you’d think the wine could stand up to the heartiness of the ribs, but…not…quite.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~  Like I said, it wasn’t a bad wine. (I believe our quote last night was “emminently drinkable”.) If you’re offered it, by all means feel free to take a glass – you might really enjoy it.

Etoile Brut Sparkling Wine NV Domaine Chandon, Napa Valley  – Alcohol 13% by volume  $19.99 on sale at BevMo!

On the Label: “As Chandon’s prestige cuvee, Etoile is the ultimate achievement in sparkling wine, personifying grace, elegance and balance.”

My Take:  I’ve been a fan of Chandon since visiting their winery in Napa back in 1987. The glass of Tete de Cuvee I had there will forever remain in my memory as the best sparkling wine, ever.  Aside from that, if you choose a Chandon sparkling wine, you’re in good hands. The founders of Domaine Chandon are/were (?) a part of Moet et Chandon; they came over from France, and have been putting their expertise to work for the past 30 years.

This wine in particular has tiny bubbles (as my boss says, the bigger the bubbles, the bigger the headache) and a creamy, spicy taste that is perfect for any special occasion. (Festivus, anyone?) Yes, it’s twice the price of my usual bottle of wine, and on sale no less; but if you’re looking to impress, or just spend a wonderful, relaxing evening with a special someone, this is definitely the bottle to get. Worth the splurge for a special occasion.

On the other hand, for still-festive but less expensive bubbles, go for the Domaine Chandon Brut or Brut Rose – those bottles run about $13.99 on sale at Vons (usually). That is one of my favorite go-to bottles for occasions (like, um, a Friday).

My Rating: ~ Stay Away! This is MY wine, you slut! ~

As usual, these are my opinions based upon my tastebuds, how cold it is outside, and whether or not I’ve managed to get some exercise in that day. Your impressions and tastes will invariably vary.

Happy Festivus, Happy Hannukah, Sweet Solstice, Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwaanza, and all good things to you during this holiday season. Remember to appoint a designated driver if you must go out and drink (I prefer to drink at home, but that’s me); and above all, drink responsibly.

    ~   ~   ~

Pick up your copy of DEMON SOUL today! Only $5.99 at!

3 Good Reds – and a Chameleon

3 Good Reds – and a Chameleon

In these days of high unemployment and global financial crisis, it’s nice to relax with a bottle of wine that doesn’t break your pocketbook. I’m here to sort out the memorable from the truly awful, and each bottle is under $10 unless noted otherwise.

Peachy Canyon Winery Incredible Red Zinfandel 2008 Central Coast – Paso Robles, California Alcochol 13.9% by volume – $8.49 at Vons

On the Label: “Incredible Red is a great Zinfandel for everyday enjoyment. Excellent with a variety of foods from peppered stead to pasta. Consume this wine with pleasure.”

My Take: I was so astounded to see a bottle of Peachy Canyon in the store, that I reached for it, quite forgetting that the last time I’d been to Peachy Canyon Winery, I hadn’t been impressed with the wines at all. Also, the Incredible Red part of the label is big – I thought it was a blend. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized it was a Zinfandel blend. But I like Zins, so I was pleased.

The wine itself was also pleasing. There is truth in advertising on this label – it is, indeed,  “a great Zinfandel for everyday enjoyment”. It’s not too deep, not very thought-provoking – just tasty and welcoming. I might have to stop at Peachy Canyon, the next time I’m in Paso Robles.

My Take ~ Very Drinkable ~ Plus it has the added benefit of being a California wine that isn’t often on the grocery store shelves. A nice little tidbit to share when you arrive at your Holiday party.

Folie a Deux Menage a Trois 2010 California Red Wine Napa County, California Alcohol 13.5% by volume Under $10 at Vons

On the Label: “A delightful blend based on three varietals – Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

My Take: I’ve been a fan of Folie a Deux since I first found them a few years ago. Their red blends, however, do vary from year to year. 2009 was not Hubby’s favorite year; 2010 seems to be faring better, taste-wise. The label is nicely brief, and the name will give a certain panache to both the giver and the giftee, especially when presented with a wink and a smile in front of a wide-eyed audience. It is not, however, my favorite red blend.

My Rating: ~ Drinkable ~  Hubby liked this one better than I did, and would rate it higher on the Christine scale. So be it!

Blackstone Sonoma Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 Sonoma County, California Alcohol 14.5% by volume. $11.69 on sale at Vons – normally $16.99

On the Label: “Sonoma County has been our home for nearly twenty years, and we take great pride in crafting these wines from the County’s top growers and appellations. They represent the very essence of the finest vineyards from our own back yard. Our Sonoma County Pinot Noir explodes with dried cherry, vanilla, and cranberry flavors, followed by a velvety palate. Lovely with roast chicken, salmon, or ribs.”

My Take: Despite the chatty label, this is one wine you want to spend the extra cash on. It’s a step above their normal line (hence the “reserve” in the title) and it shows in a luscious feel in your mouth. This is definitely a wine to save for dinner; that first sip will allow you to relax and enjoy the rest of the evening. Complex, but not too complex (it is a Pinot Noir, after all), it’s a satisfying wine with an elegant label.

My Rating: Very, Very Drinkable This is one wine you will never be ashamed to give, and will be delighted to receive.

On to France…

La Vieille Ferme Recolte 2010 Rhone Valley Vineyards Red Wine 1.5 L; Alcohol 13.5% by volume $9.99 at Costco La Vieille Ferme online.

On the Label: “This full-bodied and fruity wine comes from vines grown high on the slopes of Mount Ventoux, one of the best vineyards in the Rhone Valley. It has been meticulously selected and blended by the Perrin Family, who also produce one of Frances most acclaimed wines: Chateau de Beaucastel. The blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault grapes has produced a typical Rhone valley style full of fruit and spice aromas, it has soft tannins and good body. Winemaker interviews, recipe ideasl, for all details: .

My Take: Well. This is the Chameleon wine. I must warn you my friends, Chameleon wines don’t always change for the better. I cannot swear this wine changed for the better. But I digress.

I was off at a party last Saturday night, without the hubby (all-girl party); Hubby opened this big bottle sitting on the counter. When I came home a couple hours later, he was still complaining about it. “Thick and viscous” were the words he used. The next morning, he made me take a sip of it before we went off to my company holiday brunch – it was not a good way to start my morning.

The next day, however, I had a glass while cooking. Well, I had half a glass – I couldn’t finish it. It was like the wine hadn’t made up its mind what it wanted to be. It started to open up, but it was also getting watery. Very strange.

The third day, we had nothing else open so I had another glass. This time, I finished it. And poured myself another. The taste still wasn’t the best – hubby could only drink it by adding water to it. If we had mulled it, I’m not entirely sure it wouldn’t have been a waste of brandy. Times being what they are, though, I couldn’t bring myself to pour it out.

By the end of the week, it had become a more or less presentable table wine. Something fine for us, but nothing I’d want to press on anyone else.  Which is really too bad – it’s a nice-looking bottle, and at $10 for 1.5 L, a bargain and a nice presentation to a host/hostess – but the taste rendered it ungiftable. I am VERY glad I didn’t take that bottle to the Saturday night party, as originally planned!

Why did the wine change so much? Well, wine can do that. Maybe it had rough handling crossing the Atlantic from France. Or maybe the 2010 vintage just needs more down time, and next year it’ll be a lot better. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I won’t go down this path with this wine again.

My Rating: ~ Undrinkable Chameleon Wine – Stay Away ~  Don’t let the nice bottle, the cheap price, and the French on the label change your mind. Bad wine is bad wine at any price.

As usual, this is just my honest opinion and depend upon my mood, the weather, and what cycle the moon is in. Your taste buds will differ.

~ Until the next time, cheers – and remember to drink responsibly! ~

Demon Soul is available for the Kindle and the Nook! Have you read it yet?

Acoustic Neuroma Surgery, One Year Later

Acoustic Neuroma Surgery, One Year Later

This is more for me – a need to get this out and on the page. You see, it’s an anniversary of sorts. A year ago on December 16, at this very hour that I write this, 5:30pm, I was still in surgery for removal of an acoustic neuroma.

But let me back up. During the 4th of July weekend in 2010, I worked a music teacher’s convention with a friend of mine, selling sheet music to whoever wanted to buy some. We were at the Marriott near the airport, in a huge ballroom with a hundred other vendors. Setting up, I kept getting dizzy and feeling nauseous. I brushed aside the feeling though, as I had too much to do, opening dozens of boxes and sorting through hundreds of pieces of sheet music. Going home that night gave me another jolt – my vision tunnelled a couple of times. It was late at night, I told myself. I was tired. I just needed to concentrate harder on driving.

The next day the head-spinning got worse. As people wandered around, the noise and the bobbing heads made me ill. A part of me thought – vertigo – well, I can handle that. Anyway, it was a difficult weekend but I got through it. My symptoms seemed to go away and I forgot about it – until Hubby and I started walking again during the long summer evenings. We found I kept veering off to my right and stumbling. He finally had to walk on my right side. That’s when I sat him down and said, look, there’s something wrong. I don’t know what it is and it’s probably nothing, but I think I need to see a doctor and figure this out.

One doctor led to another, which lead to my neuro-otologist, Dr. Akira Ishiyama, who just happens to teach that specialty at UCLA. One of the top dogs. HE will only work with one neurosurgeon, because this neurosurgeon will take the time to do the work with impeccable precison rather than speed. That neurosurgeon just happened to be the Chief of Neurosurgery at UCLA, Dr. Neil Martin. I had the gold standard surgical team. Which brings me back to the day of surgery.

It was a strange, lost day. I had trouble sleeping the night before; knowing someone is about to wiggle their fingers around in your brain isn’t exactly a soporific thought. But finally the alarm rang. We got up and dressed at o-dark-thirty, made it to UCLA hospital by 5am and filled out some minimal paperwork – most of it had already been done. Then we waited in a large waiting room filled with other people waiting to go into surgery for various and sundry reasons. All ages were represented; children sleeping on the chairs, couples in their 80’s, and everyone in-between.

The hubby was wigged, and doing his best not to show it. I played games on my iPod Touch, too restless to read. Finally my name was called and I joined the line. We were all processed – a nurse took each of us away, behind a door and then another door to a cubicle of a room with a bed and a chair and not much else. I undressed, put on their lovely gowns, kept my socks on, and waited, and listened to other surgical patients as they got ready and talked to the people that brought them.

My Neuro-otologist surgeon came by, and put his initials on the side of my head. My surgery was scheduled for 8am, but I could see my Neurosurgeon walking around in a suit – running late. He had charts to dictate or he’d get in trouble with someone. Finally they came in, put an IV in my left hand; the Head of the Anesthesia department came in to check on me, and tell me she’d be there during the whole surgery.

My Neurologist’s Chief Resident came by a couple times and assured me it wouldn’t be long. And then the wait was over – they wheeled me out of the cubicle, I waved to my husband with a smile, and they popped something into my vein and I was out.

Then I was back in. Amazing – I felt really good. Like no time at all had passed. Which – drat – it hadn’t. I had been out and my two surgeons had been looking at my last MRI, taken just two days before. They decided to go in through my Eustachian tube, instead of through my skull. Which meant a couple of things; they wouldn’t be cutting my skull open (YAY), and they would obliterate all the hearing facility in my Eustachian tube, thusly taking out all my hearing in my right ear (boo).  And a bonus; they’d be pulling fat from my belly and sticking it into my head. Um, okay – but couldn’t they have taken more, while they were in there? But the changes meant I had to be mentally competent to say “yes” and scrawl my name. Which I did.

Both surgeons came and talked to me during this time; I did some joking around with them. Just so they would know that I’m a real person, not just an acoustic neuroma they were removing. The patient is not the procedure. But as soon as I signed off on it, they put me back under and I floated away.

Meanwhile, Hubby had been walking in the UCLA sculpture gardens when he got the call about the change in plans; he tried to get back to see me while I was still awake, but didn’t make it. He was going through a rough time; twice in his life, he changed on a dime, and both times it was due to something traumatic happening – once when a friend died in front of him. Worried that I might not make it, he was trying to figure out who and what he would be. Luckily I made it, so he’s stuck with me, lol!

The next time I woke up, I was already in ICU. This time, I knew I’d been through something. I had intravenous feeds on both sides of each hand (that’s four); one in the side of my neck, in case of extreme emergencies; and one in my ankle, just in case. A tight bandage around my head, heart monitor thingies and a catheter completed my medical equipment ensemble.

Ice chips brought on nausea. I felt brittle, parts of me were sore from being in the same position for so long. The time? Hubby says close to 10 pm. I’d actually been in surgery for 11 hours. Hubby kept our friends updated via text messages every time he heard. He was allowed to see me in ICU; his eyes were so worried, until he touched my right cheek, and I smiled. My whole face smiled, and he grinned at me. I was maybe a little weak on the right side, but all functionality was there. My surgeons had done what they said they would do from the very beginning; take out as much of the tumor as possible while keeping as much of the facial nerve intact as possible. Here’s a couple pictures of my staples, taken the day after surgery when they finally released me from the head torture. Note the two places where the docs put their initials (the higher place was the original entry site):

I was in the hospital a total of 4 whole days; they discharged me on the 5th day. The 20th of December, five days before Christmas, I was home. And my recovery began. The next few days, I found tape residue on the strangest parts of my body, which really made me wonder.

It’s been an odd year. My balance, that had gone missing in the months prior to surgery, didn’t all of a sudden come back; when I went to see my neuro-otologist, he said (it had been nine months) that now I was ready for rehab therapy. Um – it would have been nice to know it would take that long! But I went, and I’m better.

Mentally, I was squirmy for a long time. Writing has been difficult for me, and I’m grateful my publishing house is understanding. Even now I feel like, while I’m finally at about 90% of where I was prior to surgery, I’m not totally back. I may never get back. But that’s okay – I’m learning to deal with it. With the mental squirmies and with the wobbly balance. It doesn’t happen often, either the squirmies or the wobblies; when it does, I just have to laugh.

The above picture is three days after surgery – I didn’t feel “me” until I got my hands on the keyboard again. That’s the view out of my room at UCLA Hospital.

So; it’s been a year. I’ve found patience (especially after breaking my leg). I have gotten some amazing writing done this past month or so; plays. Writing I’m very proud of. The novel is almost done as well, and I’ll be turning it in soon. The job has been the final blessing of the year – it’s brought me back to being more “me”. That’s the only way I can describe it.

Above all, I have my husband, my hippy-guitar-jester guy who loves me, treasures me, and is there by my side, always, ready with a steadying hand. I know I could have gotten through this year without him; but I am so very, very grateful I didn’t have to.

I know I’ve been lucky, all down the line. Top notch doctors; excellent nursing care, both at the hospital and at home; awesome insurance; a loving family, friends who helped out. Most of all, the tumor hasn’t grown back. Plus my scar is small, and you can’t see it unless I show it to you. I’ve been very, very lucky.

But still, I feel my life has been divided. Before acoustic neuroma diagnosis and surgery, and after. It’s not something you have, and then forget about. It’s a game changer, for sure.

As I read over this, I realize I’m leaving a lot of “stuff” out. But if I put everything in, this would be a novel, so…

Smashed Potatoes and Decadent Hot Chocolate

Smashed Potatoes and Decadent Hot Chocolate

On the surface of things, Smashed Potatoes and Decadent Hot Chocolate don’t seem to have much in common. But if you delve a little deeper, you’ll find the connection.

Both mashed potatoes and hot chocolate can be made via the instant, just-add-water type. Which isn’t bad if, say, you’re camping. They can both be quite tasty, depending.

But when made from scratch, when you put the time in, so to speak, you come out with something indescribably delicious. A crispy, buttery-fluffy potato, and a rich, dark chocolate drink that is akin to what they must serve in Heaven. (Or at least in some nifty Paris bistros!)


If you need a side dish that is a step above ordinary, this is it. Hearty, filling, and a taste

Yukon Gold Potatoes

treat, it all starts, of course, with the potato itself. I use fresh, hard, baby yellow potatoes, or baby reds if I’m in that mood. They both work. Slightly bigger than the baby potatoes work as well; you just need to cut them a bit smaller. I’ve never used russets or baking potatoes for this; I assume if you peel them and chop them into similar-sized chunks, they’d work fine.

Ingredients: Baby potatoes, butter, sea salt (or Kosher salt)

Kitchen ware needed: One sauce pan, one baking pan with sides (either a jelly roll pan or a 9 x 13 pan), and one slightly smaller pan of the same type (or a cast iron skillet).

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Scrub the potatoes well. If they are true babies, cut them in half. If they’re a little bigger, cut them in quarters. Your goal is to get them all about the same size so they cook evenly. Put them in the saucepan, fill with water, and boil until they are fork-tender about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain.

Put potatoes, still steaming, into the jelly roll pan.  Crowd them together in the center of the pan, as much as possible, so they’re all touching. Take your slightly smaller pan (or your cast iron pan – anything heavy that you can put your hands into) and make sure the bottom of the pan is clean – you might even want to lightly spray it with cooking spray. Set the second pan on top of the first pan (I put the pan with the potatoes on the floor) and, with all your weight, press down on the second pan so it “smashes” the potatoes to about half to  3/4 of an inch thick.  Spread butter on top of the potatoes; sprinkle with sea salt or Kosher salt. Put in oven for 20-25 minutes. If your potatoes are done before the rest of the meal is done, just turn off the oven and keep the door closed. The potatoes will crisp more while you finish up.

Is this calorie-free? No. More butter makes it taste better. But it’s a fabulous side dish that you can wow your friends with. To make it fancier, sprinkle some freshly chopped parsley on top. Serve directly from the oven to your guest’s plates. They will thank you for it.

thanks to for the photo!

Decadent Hot Chocolate

Perfect for the Holidays, or any day where it’s chilly outside, the powdered stuff will get you by. It’ll do in a pinch. But when you want to see how it feels to be Royalty, have your kitchen slave whip you up some of this  bundle of delicious goodness, and you’ll feel your holiday stress melt away.

Ingredients: 1 cup high quality 60% cacao chocolate (I use Ghiradelli – but regular choc chips are fine) 4 cups milk, 3 Tlb powdered baking cocoa, 3 Tlb white sugar, 1 cup heavy whipping cream.

Put chocolate in a pan, and add just enough milk from your 4 cups to float the chips a bit. Heat until chocolate is melted through, stirring the entire time. Once melted, add the rest of the milk a little at a time, keeping the heat on medium (don’t boil!). Then add the powdered cocoa, one Tlb at a time, whisking it in. Do the same with the white sugar. Once that is incorporated, slowly add the 1 cup heavy whipping cream, stirring the entire time. Continue to stir until the chocolate is hot again. Then drink and be glad you are human!

This goes beyond mere hot chocolate. This will put you into Holiday Nirvana. Turn the Christmas lights on, put the carols on, and get the wrapping paper out – no chore is too much to handle when you’ve got a cup of Decadent Hot Chocolate by your side!

Again, not calorie-free. But sometimes, during the crazed holiday season, we need to treat ourselves.  It is seriously rich – maybe start with a small espresso-sized cup. It also is a fabulous addition to coffee – say, half chocolate and half coffee. It also goes really well with cinnamon cookies that my hubby made – pure heaven! (But that’s another post!)

I hope you enjoy.  To see the original post, and how we came to steal this recipe, please hop here…

Coming up: This Friday, I talk about affordable wines. More reds – three really good ones, and a chameleon wine…see you then!

Demon Soul is available for the Kindle and the Nook, as well as in paperback! It makes a great Christmas present, lol!