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Poured with Pleasure

By Bill Marsano

Recipes Below
I run with a low crowd, I must admit. Recently one of them has been circulating an e-mail telling people how to get free barbecue grills. What he suggests is kidnapping shopping carts from supermarkets. Well, that’s over the line for me, and besides—I have tip that are more useful and won’t get you arrested.

Such as . . . Set your pitchers of sangria and other coolers in containers of ice water to maintain chill without excess dilution. Remember that bag-in-box wines chill fastest, so know where to lay hands on Hardy's, Dtour, Banrock Station, Black Box (which has just released its Pinot Grigio and Merlot), and others. An array of flavored syrups and a Salton ice-shaver will keep young guests busy making non-alcoholic snow cones (if the grown-ups don't monopolize it). And two books to grab are Elizabeth Karmel's "Taming the Flame" (published by John Wiley), which covers both fast, high-heat grilling and authentic low-and-slow barbecue, and Sharon Tyler Herbst’s “Ultimate Guide to Pitcher Drinks” (Villard/Random House). So much better than beach novels, both of them.

All in all, it’s hard to disagree with the novelist Henry James. He was a verbal ditherer who obsessively edited his every sentence--even individual words. He would spend five minutes ordering lunch while his companions said "I'll have the special" and moved on. Yet he got right to the point when he called "summer afternoon" "the two most beautiful words in the English language."

Running a close second—the words “summer coolers.” Coolers are engaging and frivolous and charming and distracting. They match themselves accommodatingly to what you're doing (preferably not much) and when (as often as possible). One of the great favorites is the wine cooler. Make one any time you have sand in your shoes, a Hawaiian shirt on your back and no keen desire to gussy up for dinner. Instead, toss another shrimp on the barbie, as they say Down Under, invite hungry friends and make an Italian-style al fresco: Chill a bottle or few of inexpensive red wine in a bucket of ice water, slice very ripe peaches into a pitcher, add the chilled wine and stow it in the fridge. Stir gently once or twice while the food cooks. Result: wine for dinner, peaches for dessert. You hero!

Those who actually plan such events allow time to make that Spanish tesoro or treasure called sangria. (Bottled sangria is often available, but it reminds me of canned martinis. In short, it's a travesty.) Make it by combining chilled red wine, citrus fruit sliced or wedged, maybe some other fruit, maybe some spices, certainly a cup of sugar dissolved in a cup of warm water. Don't go rolling your eyes here--that's what pulls everything together, helps the mixture, as we experts like to say, meld. There is no end to the variations. Some use extra water to lighten full-bodied wine or white wine when there's enough humidity in the air to flatten a red. A few recipes--doubtless pioneered in Mexico and the American Southwest--even add a cup or so of tequila. Experts agree that it should be the white tequila (also called blanco, plata or silver) for its fresh, youthful verve, and not the subtler aged variety.

They disagree over the level of quality. Most suggest using "well" tequila--good but ordinary, the kind bartenders pour when customers don't specify a brand. A vocal minority argues that something really fine (and expensive), such as Frida Kahlo or Corzo, will make a big difference. Readers should experiment for themselves, make notes and report back to headquarters. This is called "contributing to the literature," and a noble deed it is.

Events held toward evening with tony guests (wearing shoes, for example) call for champagne and sparkling wine. Try such French labels as Krug and Dom Ruinart (back in the U.S. after far too long), California's Schramsberg and Domaine Carneros, or Italy's superb Bellavista and Ca'del Bosco. All are delightful on their own or in one of the many champagne cocktails. "Just be sure to use quality wine," says Eileen Crane, the angel of Domaine Carneros. "If you're going to skimp on the bubbly, you might as well use frozen fruit juice too, or Kool-Aid. Then you can serve the stuff in paper cups."

Still, platoon-sized guest lists can stress the budget, so look for sparklers that hold prices down and their heads up at the same time. French cremant is bottle-fermented like champagne but made from different grapes. I've had fine ones from Alsace and Limoux. Spain's cava is well represented by Freixenet (with its California branch, Gloria Ferrer) and Cordoniu.

A rapidly spreading Italian favorite is Prosecco, the lightly sparkling white from the hills behind Venice. Mionetto, the largest producer, makes several versions from plain to fancy; Martini & Rossi and Banfi’s Maschio are also readily available.

Venice’s sweltering summers led to the invention of the 'ombra’--literally a shade but actually a glass of cold prosecco. It was merely a local favorite until the 1930s, when Giuseppe Cipriani had two inspirations. One was to open Harry's Bar beside the Grand Canal; the other was to mix prosecco with peach nectar. All hail the Bellini! Harry’s excellent restaurant and stellar patrons help make it one of the world's great bars, but the fame of the Bellini also helped make Cipriani an international brand.

The Bellini proves 'tis the gift to be simple. It's just peach nectar (from white peaches, if possible) and prosecco, both cold, cold, cold. That encourages further research. Resulting in, for a example, the Bernini, a variant using pear nectar, and there are two drinks I created myself—with an assist from Nicola Maurello. Nicola owns New York City's Proseccheria, which is part Italian restaurant and part Prosecco R&D Lab. He develops cocktails continuously to stay ahead of the curve or at least keep up with it ("people always want something new," he says), so I broached my ideas for Prosecco coolers with juice from pomegranates and Sicilian blood oranges. With a little tinkering he turned both of my ideas--the Red Priest and the Sicilian Vespers--into coolers both pleasing and original.

The best way to make sparkling coolers, Nicola says, is in small batches. "You don't want a big pitcher of your drink sitting around and losing its fizz," he says. "Mix one bottle at a time, or mix directly into the glasses." Which brings us to the vexed question of whether to pour the prosecco into the juice or the juice into the prosecco. Partisans have been known to wax wroth over this; I have heard them out until my teeth hurt. Then I have assumed a judicial and even magisterial mien and fled the room.

If the idea is to reduce stirring and so preserve the bubbles, I have a solution. Hark: When wine and juice are of similar density, it doesn't much matter, just pour the bubbly very gently to minimize fizz-wasting foam. Thick juice--peach nectar, for example---should be poured into the wine and from several inches above the glass. It will sink of its own weight all the way to the bottom: The drink mixes itself.

Among the cooler immortals is the priceless gin and tonic. Gin, as we know, was originally a Dutch treat intended as a health drink. Later, the British took it over. During the high days of the Empire, before synthetic drugs were created, a bitter bark-extract called quinine was the preventive of choice for malaria. Quinine didn't dissolve well in "tonic water," but the bubbles helped the medicine go down, and it was better than nothing at all. Until. Until some blessed soul discovered that quinine dissolves beautifully in alcohol. Did anyone happen to have any gin handy? Well I imagine so. And thus did gin at last become a health drink and simultaneously produce one of the world's greatest summer coolers.

And now for the drink recipes . . . with a couple for ribs and steaks flung in just for lagniappe.

SANGRIA 1

• 1 bottle Red wine
• 1/2 cup Sugar
• 1 cup Orange juice
• 1 cup Lemon juice
• Cloves
• Cinnamon sticks

Melt the sugar into warm water or juice (it won't dissolve well in cold liquid.) Mix all together in a pitcher and refrigerate. Add cloves and cinnamon sticks to taste. Serve in stemmed glasses.
-------

SANGRIA 2

• 4-5 Tbsp sugar
• 2 oranges
• 1 cup orange juice
• 3 apples
• 1 bottle dry red wine
• 2 tbsp cognac
• 1/2 cup mandarin peel
• 2 cups club soda
• Ice cubes

Dissolve sugar in warmed orange juice with mandarin peel. Cube apples and oranges, removing seeds. the oranges, take out the pips, and cut into small cubes. Mix ingredients in a pitcher and chill, adding ice just before serving in stemmed glasses.
-------

FRIDA SANGRIA
Created by Julian Medina, chef of Zocalo, a favorite Mexican restaurant in New York City.

• 1/4 watermelon (about 3 pounds) in bite-sized chunks)
• 1/4 fresh pineapple, in bite-sized chunks
• 1 cup Frida Kahlo Tequila (blanco)
• 2 oranges cut in wedges
• 1 lemon cut in wedges
• 1 lime quartered
• 1 ruby red grapefruit cut in wedges
• 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
• 1 Jamaican star fruit, sliced into star shapes
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
• 1/4 cup pineapple juice
• 1 cup grapefruit soda
• 6 slices of star fruit for garnish

Place watermelon and pineapple in a pitcher, add tequila, juices, orange, lemons and star fruit; let chill 2 hours. Before serving add the wedges of grapefruit and quartered limes. Serve in a wide-mouthed glasses filled with crushed ice and garnished with star slices.
-------
 
Many visitors discovered vermouth during the "Sunny Italy" era of tourism--the 1950s and '60s--and this aperitif wine, red or white, still makes a number of popular summer drinks.
 
THE ITALIANO

• 1 part Martini & Rossi extra dry vermouth
• 1 part orange juice
• 1 part strawberry puree

Shake and strain into a chilled martini cocktail glass
-------
 
THE MELEGRANO

• 3 parts Martini & Rossi red vermouth
• 1 part pomegranate juice
• splash orange juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail martini glass. Garnish with an orange wheel.
-------

GIN AND TONIC

• 2 oz. best-quality gin
• best-quality tonic water

Pour gin into a highball glass filled with ice cubes; fill with tonic and stir. Just keep in mind that the tonic is as important as the gin. The best is brand-name stuff (such as Canada Dry and Schweppes) in small bottles (a half-finished quart salvaged from the fridge will kill any drink); so will most cheap no-name tonics.
-------
 
Proseccheria's Nicola Maurello offers two of his recipes--and two of mine, which he tweaked into perfection. All are based on Prosecco, a ‘frizzante’ or lightly sparkling wine from Italy’s Veneto.
 
THE CLASSIC BELLINI

• 1 part white peach nectar
• 5 parts Mionetto prosecco brut

 Slowly pour the nectar into a champagne flute filled with Prosecco if you must—but a generous goblet is a better glass.
-------

THE SCROPINO

• 1 scoop lemon gelato
• Mionetto Prosecco brut

Place the gelato in a wine goblet; add enough Prosecco to make it float. Garnish with lemon twist.
-------

THE RED PRIEST (Italian: PRETE ROSSO)
I named this drink for the red-haired Venetian priest and composer Antionio Vivaldi, who was known as the Red Priest.

• 3 parts Mionetto Prosecco brut
• 1 part pomegranate juice

Pour Prosecco into a goblet, add juice and fill with small ice cubes.
-------

SICILIAN VESPERS (Italian: I VESPRI SICILIANI)
I named this drink for the 13th Century Sicilians who massacred their French overlords in an uprising that began with the ringing of the bell for vespers, or evening prayers.

• 3 parts Mionetto Prosecco brut
• 1 part juice of Sicilian red or blood oranges

Pour Prosecco into a goblet, add juice and fill with small ice cubes.
-------

Which brings us to the vexed question of whether to pour the Prosecco into the juice or the juice into the Prosecco. Partisans have been known to wax wroth over this; I have heard them out until my teeth hurt. Then I have assumed a judicial and even magisterial mien and fled the room.

If the idea is to reduce stirring and so preserve the bubbles, I have a solution. Hark: When wine and juice are of similar density, it doesn't much matter, just pour the bubbly very gently to minimize fizz-wasting foam. Thick juice--peach nectar, for example---should be poured into the wine and from several inches above the glass. It will sink of its own weight all the way to the bottom: The drink mixes itself.


Fully Sparkling Coolers
Eileen Crane, winemaker of Domaine Carneros, prefers simplicity in her coolers. The four she offers below have few ingredients; they need only be assembled with care and cold in champagne flutes or wine glasses.

STRAWBERRY BLONDE

• 4.5 ounces Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut
• Half ounce fresh strawberry puree
-------

LONG-STEMMED ROSE

• 4.5 ounces Domaine Carneros Brut Rose
• 1/4 ounce fresh raspberry
• 1/4 ounce raspberry liqueur (optional)
-------

PASSION FLOWER

• 4.5 ounces Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut
• 1/2 ounce fresh passionfruit puree
-------

CALLA LILY

• 4.5 ounces Domaine Carneros Vintage Brut
• 1/2 ounce fresh French pear puree
• 1/4 ounce Pear William eau-de-vie (optional)
-------
 
Schramsberg, another California sparkler with an international reputation, has its own recipes for coolers, and well as its own legion of devoted admirers.

MANGO TANGO

• 1/2 lemon
• 2 oz. mango juice or mango gelato
• 4 oz. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs
• powdered sugar

Rub rim of champagne flute with lemon and dust with powdered sugar. Carefully fill glass with mango juice and sparkling wine.
-------

KIR ROYALE
Adapted from Elizabeth Karmel's "Taming the Flame: Secrets to Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ," John Wiley & Sons, 2005

• 1/2 Tbsp Chambord (raspberry liqueur)
• Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Sparkling wine

Just before serving, pour Chambord into a champagne flute or wine glass; add wine until the glass is full. Do not stir, lest you dissipate the bubbles
-------

 
EAST MEETS MIDWEST HOISIN-GLAZED BABY BACK RIBS
Adapted from Elizabeth Karmel's "Taming the Flame: Secrets to Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ," John Wiley & Sons, 2005
Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium Low Heat

• 4 slabs of baby back ribs (about 1 pound each)
• 3 tsp kosher salt, divided
• 4 tsp Chinese Five-Spice Powder
• 2 Tbsp un-toasted sesame oil
• 1 cup Hoisin sauce
• 2 Tbsp molasses or cane syrup
• 2 Tbsp apricot jam with chunks
• 4 tsp garlic-chili sauce (often called sriracha) or more to taste
• 1-2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated
• 1 tsp kosher salt or more to taste
• 1 small bunch of chives, minced

Remove ribs from refrigerator and pat dry with paper towels and set aside. Meanwhile, build charcoal fire or preheat gas grill. Set up the grill for indirect heat and if using wood chips, place soaked chips directly on charcoal, or in smoking box of gas grill.

Remove silver skin from back of ribs, if desired. Combine 2 teaspoons of salt and 3 teaspoons of five-spice powder and rub all the mixture over the ribs. Brush with sesame oil and take to the grill.

Place ribs, bone side down in the center of the cooking grate or in a rib holder/rack, Grill covered (at about 325 F, if your grill has a thermometer) for 1 over indirect medium-low heat for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until meat is tender and has pulled back from the ends of the rib bones.

Leave ribs untended for the first 30 minutes--this means no peeking. Meanwhile in a bowl make the sauce by whisking together the Hoisin sauce, molasses, jam, sriracha, ginger, oil and the remaining five-spice powder. Taste and add the remaining five-spice powder and salt if you think the sauce needs it. I recommend this because every brand of Hoisin sauce varies in its spice and salt and it is easier to add than subtract salt and spice. Cover sauce and set aside until ready to use.

After 1 hour of cooking time, brush sauce on ribs and continue grilling for 45 minutes more or until the sauce is caramelized and slightly shiny. If the ribs start to burn on the edges, stack them on top of one another in the very center of the grill and lower your fire slightly. Twenty minutes before ribs are done, unstack if necessary and brush with Hoisin Glaze. Remove ribs from grill and let rest 10 minutes before cutting into individual 2-3 rib portions. Just before serving, sprinkle with fleur de sel sea or other sea salt. This step is essential, as the fresh salt brings out the sweetness of the sauce. Transfer the meat to a clean platter and let rest for minutes. Garnish with chives and serve with warmed sauce on the side if desired.

Serves 4 hungry souls. Serve with Schramsberg Brut Rose.
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The hot-and-high approach to outdoor cooking, often called barbecuing, is actually grilling, probably the oldest of cooking methods. It has a certain primitive magnificence and when herbs and species are added via marinades or rubs, can show a little sophistication as well.

Down in Buffalo Gap, Texas, the experts in that field are to be found at the Perini Ranch Steakhouse (www.periniranch.com.), whose cooking has been hailed by Gourmet magazine and Forbes' FYI apparently because everyone who tastes it wants to become a cowboy right away, except for those who want to become cowgirls. You should probably run down there pronto. Just head south from Abilene on Rt. 89. If you forget, ask for the Buffalo Gap Road.

Grilled beef blessed with owner/founder Tom Perini's Ranch steakhouse herb-and-spice rub is highly recommended, and if you can get meat deserving of it, you can make it at home. There are two ways to do it.

The easy way is to pick up some Fess Parker Syrah. It'll go well with the beef, and from May to September Fess Parker's Santa Barbara County Syrah, Parker Station Syrah and Frontier Red will have little packets of Perini rub dangling from their necks.

The other way is to make the rub yourself. Tom's wife, Lisa, was kind enough to give me--and you--the recipe.


Tom Perini's Ranch Steak Rub


• 1 Tbsp. corn starch or flour
• 2 Tbsp. salt
• 4 Tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
• 1 Tsp. dried oregano
• 4 Tsp. garlic powder
• 1 Tsp. paprika
• 1 Tsp. granulated beef base

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Sprinkle or rub into the meat. Makes 1/2 cup.

If I had the nerve I'd fine-tune this recipe by using fresh minced garlic instead of garlic powder. That would be 32 cloves (1/8 Tsp. garlic powder = one clove). I'd make the dry rub into a moist, easily spreadable paste by stirring in some extra virgin Italian olive oil. Finally, I'd apply the rub well before cooking time--that morning or the night before.

Dig in, pardners!--Bill Marsano


Copyright 2006 Bill Marsano
Bill Marsano, a James Beard Award-winning writer, is the wine & spirits editor of Hemispheres, the magazine of United Airlines, in which this article originally appeared in different form.
 

 

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