Thursday, July 16, 2009

Confident Entertaining with the Purcell Sisters

I'm so jealous of this duo - what I wouldn't give to throw fabulous parties with my sisters and then publish our secrets in a fabulous book. That's just what Lauren and Anne Purcell have done in their book "Cocktail Parties, Straight Up! East Hors D'oeuvres, Delicious Drinks and Inspired Ideas for Entertaining with Style." You can get the Sisters' Secrets to Confident Entertaining here, just in time for all the summer parties you promised to throw.

My favorite party theme from their book is the "Map-Happy Evening for Anyone Who's Been Everywhere." Here's how it works: Every traveller has a travel tale/disaster/triumphant just-happened-to-stumble-upon-it discovery to share and this party brings out the stories as a way to inspire brilliant, laughter-filled conversation among the best of friends or guests who just met. All you need for this party are an oversized world map and plenty of pushpins to tempt guests to "mark their spots." Instead of lamely asking each other "So, where are you from?" they'll be exclaiming, "Wow, you've been there?!"

It's an easy entertaining theme but works so well with wine. Invite guests to bring a bottle from a country they've visited to go with the theme. And there you go - party planned, easy-peasy.

Here's a favorite recipe from the Purcell Sisters that works well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc:

Cucumber Goat Cheese Spread -This spread is a hit even with guests who think they don’t like goat cheese. Tarragon’s subtle hint of licorice gives the spread an interesting flavor that people invariably ask about.


1 hothouse (seedless) cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)

8 ounces soft mild goat cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh lemon zest

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



In a food processor, purée 1 cup of the cucumber with the goat cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice until almost smooth.

In a bowl, stir together the goat-cheese mixture, remaining cucumber, tarragon, 1 tablespoon of onion, and the pepper. Add salt to taste.

Garnish with the remaining tablespoon of onion and serve with slices of soft, crusty bread.

Makes about 1 1/4 cups of spread.

Make-Ahead Factor:The spread may be made 2 days ahead and kept covered and refrigerated. Let it soften and stir before serving.

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How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

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