Ask Alpana - Sangria Recipe for the Holidays

I received a question about Sangria from Gina C. in Niles:

"Hi, I am looking for a great recipe for a sangria for the holidays. We just returned from the Gran Melia resort in Puerto Rico, and one particular bartender made a really good drink. Unfortunately, we left before we could see her again and ask for the recipe. Thanks."

It never occured to me to serve Sangria during the holidays but I figure why not? It's a great idea! After all, Sangria, aside from being chilled, is similar in style to mulled wine or glogg which are both traditionally served during the holiday season. Punches in general are a hot trend in the spirits world right now and what could be easier and in many ways more affordable to serve your guests for a party?

Here is my basic recipe for a sangria which can be easily adjusted and customized to suit your own tastes. I have seen recipes that call for brandy or rum but my guess is since Gina was in Puerto Rico, the bartender used rum. Don't worry about using an expensive bottle of wine to make the sangria - the cheap stuff works just fine. You don't have to stick with red wine either - white sangria can be delicious as well. The key is to have fun and experiment with a wide array of fruits and liqueurs (i.e. frozen sliced peaches & peach schnapps with for a white sangria). Make it your own!

1 750 ml bottle of red or white wine
1/2 cup of fresh squeezed orange juice (or to taste)
1 cup diced oranges
1 cup diced green apples
1 cup diced Bartlet pears
1 cup of other fruits if desired (mango, peaches, grapes, cherries, etc.)
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons of lemon or lime juice
A couple of cinnamon sticks to give a holiday flair
1/4-1/2 cup brandy or rum (optional)
1/3 cup Grand Marnier (optional)
1 cup lemon-lime soda

Mix the ingredients and refrigerate to marinate minimum 1hour.
When you are ready to serve, pour mixture into a punch bowl or jug filled with ice, mix in lemon-lime soda to desired sweetness. If you want a drier sangria, you can use seltzer water. Let your guests serve themselves or pour into cups garnished with citrus wheels.
Got a burning question about wine or beverages? I welcome and enjoy receiving your requests or suggestions for postings so please email them to me at lettucewine@gmail.com or you can find me on Facebook as well.


Sunday Night Take Out - Big Bowl with Fruit Tea

Like most of us, Chinese takeout was a weekly family menu mainstay. When I was a young child, I always looked forward to Sundays, when my mother took a night off from cooking our usual curried Indian fare and we patronized the Golden China restaurant located a short drive from our house. On these beloved evenings, without fail, we ordered Kung Pao chicken, sizzling rice soup, and crispy egg rolls. I find Asian food very comforting as it reminds me of my childhood and good times with my family. Not being in the mood to cook tonight along with the fact that the only things in my refrigerator were Asian condiments and several types of mustard, we decided to order take out from Big Bowl which thankfully is located a block from our house.
I wasn't in the mood for wine tonight (shocking but true) so I decided to brew up a new Amaretto flavored fruit tea that I purchased the other day from Tea Gschwendner. I am a tea addict and will soon need an intervention as I can't stop buying and trying new flavors. When I was first getting into wine, I had a difficult time pin pointing fruit descriptors in wine and someone suggested that I get into tea as the different flavors can be useful in helping you build a scent bank. Whenever we smell wine, our brain's job is to decode the various compounds based on our history of past smells. The more you pay attention to smells and access and build your scent bank - the better a wine taster you become. We don't actually taste blueberries, peaches and bananas on our tongue - it's all in our head. Don't believe me? Taste something and then pinch your nose closed. Chances are you won't be able to taste anything aside from sweet, salt, bitter, sour, temperature & texture. Smells also dredge up our memory as evidenced when you smell Eternity cologne for men and you are instantly reminded of the 90's.

I brewed the tea, added a little Stevia sweetener and poured it over some ice. The fruit tea is a mixture of apple pieces, raisins, rose hips, Rooibush tea and almond bits. It really tastes like Amaretto on ice (or Di Saronno on the rocks as they like to say in those cheesy TV commercials). We ordered Kung Pao Beef, Scallop & Shrimp Citrus Curry, Spareribs and a very spicy Green Curry with Tofu. The sweetness of the tea really helped in putting out the heat and I enjoyed the almond, apricot flavors along with the exotic Asian flavors in the entrees.

Wine is not the only thing you can pair with your food in order to heighten the flavors. Non alcoholic choices such as tea can also enhance your everyday meals. Think about this next time you are trying to figure out what to drink with that ham and cheese sandwich at lunch time.


Brunch - Mimosa & Eggs

We were out fairly late last night so it was no surprise I woke up a little fuzzy in the head this morning. It could have been the several glasses of Champagne or the potent bottle of Australian Grenache that we drank with dinner but I'm blaming Joel McHale since I fell asleep on the couch watching The Soup after we got home. Oh well, nothing a little scrambled eggs and mimosa can't fix.

I put on my Iron Chef hat and opened the refrigerator to see what I could concoct for brunch. I found some eggs, onions, chicken sausage and avocados and cilantro close to expiration. I did not have orange juice but I had my mind set on a mimosa so I went to the liquor pantry and found a bottle of orange liqueur that I could mix with citron honey - close enough. We try to always have something sparkling stocked in the house so I decided to retrieve a bottle of Marques de Gelida Cava from the card catalog that we use as a makeshift wine cellar. This Cava sells for around $13 a bottle which makes it perfect for mixing since you don't want to adulterate an expensive bottle of Champagne with syrups and juices.

I was rather impatient to get to my mimosa on so I put the Cava in the ice box to quickly chill it. Hey it works and I don't think my Kashi entree minded the extra company.

After about 20 minutes, the Cava was nice and cold. I mixed together 1 tablespoon each of Citron Honey and the orange liqueur in these adorable glasses that I found at IKEA and then topped it all off with the Cava. It wasn't quite like a Mimosa but I did not mind since it tasted more like Cava and not OJ for adults. I thought this shot of dripping honey came out very Check, Please! - like. I agree with David, the creator of the show, images of food in motion can be very sexy!

As for the eggs - I sliced two onions and caramelized them in two tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper on low-medium heat for approximately 20 minutes. I then added 4 links of chopped chicken sausage to brown along with the onion after which I added four scrambled eggs. I cooked this mixture low and slow until the eggs were done but still slightly runny then they were scooped on to a plate and finished with avocados and cilantro for freshness. Normally, I don't arrange my food in a restaurant perfect fashion but who wants to see a photo of a pile of messy eggs so I made it as pretty as I could.

The eggs came out well. They were creamy and the sweetness of the onions were a nice contrast against the savory sausage and the whole thing was lightened by the refreshing zing of the Cava. It looks like Chach enjoyed it as well and with my headache gone, I could now return to the couch to watch the rest of The Soup....spaghetti cat - where are you?


Flashy Yet Frugal Fridays - Urban Uco Tempranillo $9

Last week we had some friends over for a little dinner and among the many wines we purchased for the occasion was this Tempranillo from Argentina for $9. The wine is made by Bodegas O. Fournier and I've always enjoyed their higher end Crux wines but their economical Urban line is nothing to sneer at either. They make several different wines including a Torrontes, Malbec-Tempranillo blend and Sauvignon Blanc. We decided to try the Tempranillo and it was delicious! It paired really well with the sweet and spicy flavors of our menu which featured BBQ ribs, pulled pork and brisket. There were tons of blackberry fruit notes and the texture was pleasantly soft without being too heavy. Tempranillo is the main grape used to make Rioja in Spain and you rarely encounter any good versions of it outside of it's homeland but in this case it was a slam dunk!

The label is really cool too. I can't figure out what building it is but the violinist reminds me of Florentino Ariza serenading the great love of his life, Fermina in Love in the Time of Cholera. I'm referring to the book and not the movie, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a little screen time with Javier Bardem.


How Corked Wine Can Ruin Your Night

Even though this video has nothing to do with wine, it's still hysterically funny to me because this is basically the scene that I make if the wine that I just opened ends up being corked or spoiled. Think about it, I make the effort to go to the wine store, I find a nice bottle, fork over my money, bring it home, make a nice dinner, light the candles and after all the anticipation has built up, the wine ends up tasting like moldy cardboard and wet newspapers.

The term "corked" or "cork taint" has nothing to do with bits of cork floating in the wine. If a wine is corked then it refers to the fact that there is presence of TCA or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole(TCA) if you wanted to get technical. Humans can detect TCA in very tiny amounts and wine containing TCA has a characteristic odor, variously described as resembling a moldy newspaper, wet dog, damp cloth, or damp basement. Mmmm...delicious, right? Industry standards put the amount of wine with detectable amounts of TCA at anywhere between 3-5%. The chief cause of cork taint is up to debate and far too complex for me to go into detail but you can check out a discussion on it here . I will tell you that price does not seem to be an indicator whether or not the wine will end up spoiled as I have had corked wine that cost anywhere between $5 to $500. One of the main ways wineries are dealing with this problem is by switching to screw caps or synthetic corks.

Now I could have taken the wine back to the wine store for a refund just as you can send a wine back in a restaurant if it smells like wet socks to you, but by the time I'm sitting nice and cozy in my jammies at home and I'm left without a wine for the night - the damage has been done. So...for the rest of the evening you will see me moaning and complaining like a 12 year old girl.

P.S. - The girl with the Aero Surf shirt totally wanted David Cook to win.