Blog Posts by Epicurious.com

  • A champagne primer


    A look at how and where sparkling wine is made, and how to read those mystifying French labels

    Why does Champagne cost more than other wines? You can get sparkling wine around the globe: Spain 's cava and Italy 's Prosecco are also world-famous. But the real-deal stuff-wine that can legally be called Champagne -generally costs between $25 and several hundred dollars in the United States . Why the steep price? First, there's a limited quantity: It must come from a specific region of France . Second, it goes through a labor-intensive process (described in the production section). Third, you are paying rent on the aging of the bottle, in a sense. Like any good wine, the aging process transforms (mellows, integrates) the flavors. Better Champagnes have been laid down for several years. And finally, there are many special cuvées (blends): Some contain wine only from a specific vintage (harvest), for example.

    In this mini-guide, we'll tell you when Champagne was first made, how it's

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  • Nigella Lawson's Christmas Menu


    The British hostess extraordinaire shares her favorite recipes for a sumptuous holiday feast; plus, timeline and tips for effortless prep, setup, and serving

    T'was the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring-because the Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson, had the next day's meal all figured out.

    British journalist, self-taught cook, and entrepreneur Lawson-who's also a cookbook author, television host, and mother of two-knows the rigors of putting a family dinner on the table on a normal night. Add to that the expectations and exhaustion of the holidays, and the idea of cooking a formal Christmas dinner can be downright daunting. But, according to Lawson, who puts the pot back in sexpot, it needn't be. "This time of year isn't about having people assess your abilities as a host, but rather an opportunity for you to make those you love feel welcome and cozily at home," she says. "Once you take the pressure off yourself and put the focus on

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  • That's the spirit: Best bottles of 2008 holiday gift guide


    The latest trends, and top buys, in the world of absinthe, vodka, gin, whiskey, and tequila

    If ever there were a year to broaden your horizons and not buy the usual bottle of bourbon for gifts, this holiday season would be it. Cocktail culture took off in 2008, and spirit makers got surprisingly creative. In the last 12 months, we've seen new companies, new flavors, and even whole new categories emerge.



    Finding a (Niche) Flavor

    In the category of wacko flavors: England 's Three Olives Company released three crazy vodkas with very specific (i.e., limited) applications. These include Tomato (for Bloody Marys), Espresso (instead of Red Bull), and Root Beer (to go with, uh, root beer?). A bottle of each costs around $22. Prefer a little heat? McIlhenny Co. recently released its own $22 Tabasco Spicy Tequila (with Heaven Hill Distilleries) (pictured at left), and it's not bad-you can really taste the pepper. Far sweeter and more versatile is Skyy's Passion Fruit Vodka

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  • Mario Batali's Feast of the Seven Fishes



    What is the Feast of the Seven Fishes? According to Mario Batali, "It's what Italians do when they say they're fasting." More precisely, the Feast is a meal served in Italian households on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). In many parts of Italy , the night is traditionally a partial fast, during which no meat should be served. But in true Italian style, this proscription has morphed into something very unfastlike indeed: course after course of luxurious seafood dishes, often as many as 7, 10, or even 13. "No one's quite sure of the significance of the number," says Batali. "Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do ten for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus."

    Regardless of the religious symbolism, for most people the main point of the meal is to gather family and friends and enjoy delicious food. In Batali's Italian-American family, his grandmother used to host the feast, with everyone pitching in. "She would let us kids help her make

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  • A Hanukkah menu with style


    Chef Suzanne Tracht's dinner is its own Festival of Lights

    With the onset of the holidays, Suzanne Tracht, chef-owner of Los Angeles 's award-winning Jar, finds herself doing a lot of entertaining, not just at the restaurant but at home, too. "People seem to invite themselves over," she says.

    Jar stands for "Just Another Restaurant," but Tracht's ideas about food are anything but commonplace. The elegant interpretation of comfort-food favorites featured at her modern-day chophouse helped renew a trend in Los Angeles of focusing on straightforward preparations of top-quality ingredients. For Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, Tracht uses Jar menu items as the inspiration behind the dishes she serves to friends and family, including her son Max, 13, and daughter Ida, 12.

    Since the story of Hanukkah revolves around a small amount of oil miraculously lasting over eight days in a holy temple, Tracht's menu features several dishes prepared with oil. Potato latkes are a

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  • Foodie gifts for under $100

    We know it's been a hard year. You're on a budget? Us too. But that doesn't mean you've got to give fruitcakes to all your loved ones this holiday season. Somewhere in giftland there exists a basket for every craving, a box for every obsession, a bucket for every fancy. Got a vegetarian daughter? We found a gorgeous gift basket piled high with six pounds of baby vegetables. Wife's pregnant? Get her a colorfully printed ice cream cooler full of snacks. Know someone who's keen on imported cheese, microbrews, caramels, exotic salts, or olives? We've located cool metal tins, wood crates, steel buckets, and wicker hampers for them, too.

    In fact, we pored over the offerings at all our favorite food purveyors-Artisanal Cheese, Fortnum & Mason, Vosges, andZingerman's included-and came away with 16 gorgeous gourmet goodies for every possible type of foodie on your list. Great packaging, in every case, seals the deal. The best part? Each gift costs less than $100; more than half of them

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  • Doughnut demo-How to make Sufganiyot

    A nine-step lesson in preparing a delicious Israeli Hanukkah treat

    There are few things more miraculous than a homemade jelly doughnut, fresh from the frying pan. Tossed with a dusting of crunchy sugar, its crisp exterior gives way to a fluffy, yeasty interior and a sweet burst of hot jam that makes biting into one almost a religious experience. So it's fitting that, in Israel , this heavenly treat has become a tradition during the holiday of Hanukkah.

    Israeli jelly doughnuts, called sufganiyot, bear a strong resemblance to the Viennese confections called krapfen-the recipe was probably brought to Israel by Austrian Jews who immigrated in the mid-20th century. Being, like latkes, fried in oil, the doughnuts were a perfect fit for Hanukkah's culinary symbolism (fried foods commemorate the Biblical miracle of a small amount of sacred lamp oil burning in the Temple for eight nights rather than the expected one). They were soon adopted by the young country as a holiday favorite.

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  • Top 5 Holiday Beers

    Greet the season with five robust ales and lagers that stand up to both sweet and savory dishes

    For as long as humans have brewed beer, they have also crafted special ales and lagers for holiday feasts and celebrations, a flavorful tradition that continues to this day. While there exists no precise definition of what constitutes a Christmas beer-some are spiced, others highly hopped, and still others crafted in conventional styles like bock and India pale ale-they are generally a bit stronger than conventional beers, and share among them a spirit of celebration and indulgence, much like the holidays themselves.


    Avec les Bon Voeux (Brasserie Dupont , Belgium )

    (About $10.50 for a 750-milliliter bottle)

    The name translates to "with best wishes," a salutation from Belgium 's peerless brewer of the ale style known as saison (or season). These were historically well-hopped, potent ales brewed in farmhouses and designed to quench the thirst of laborers through the nonbrewing

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  • The top 5 misconceptions about scotch whisky

    Winter is Scotch season. It's warming, it's honeyed, it's rich. But it's also woefully misunderstood. Below are some examples of consistently perpetuated falsehoods that Compass Box whiskymaker John Glaser brought to my attention recently while discussing his two latest masterpieces, the Peat Monster Reserve Magnum Edition ($150) and Hedonism Maximus Reserve ($300).

    The Top 5 Misconceptions About Scotch Whisky:

    1) Blends are inferior to single-malts.
    A rash generalization that presupposes that a "pure-breed" is somehow better than a mutt. There's a reason why everyone loves Johnnie Walker Black and Chivas Regal; they are miraculously consistent year after year. And great blends often draw on 30 to 40 single malts. These blends may in fact have some components of your favorite Scotch, too. Do some homework, try a little more tasting. You'll be surprised.

    2) Scotch is an after-dinner drink only.
    The cliché is familiar to most: Some old guy nursing a Scotch in the

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  • A feast of fritters (and more)



    Celebrate Hanukkah with these tasty fried treats

    During Hanukkah, it's customary to eat foods cooked in oil in homage to the Biblical miracle of the Maccabees. (The Temple had only enough lamp oil to last one night, the story goes, but it somehow lasted for eight.) Latkes, of course, are the most common culinary symbol of that miraculous oil, but if you're looking for a change, there's a world of other options.

    Here are five recipes that explore the creative possiblities for fried foods. Three are variations on fritters: Jalapeño poppers are a fun riff on the classic bar snack, poached pears are dipped in beer batter, and chocolate and hazelnuts come together in a confection reminiscent of a Creole beignet (see recipe below). Less closely related are samosas and risotto cakes- delicious examples of the different frying traditions that exist around the world.

    If you're throwing a party, any or all of these would be perfect as hors d'oeuvres or on a buffet (though they're

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