Tag Archives: vodka

Healthier drinks for the holidays?

healthy choices for drinks

Two KEYS for healthier choices from your holiday libations.

I’ve been a home entertainer all my adult life. My friends have always thought of me as an expert at entertaining guests and throwing good parties – just ask any of them about my annual New Year’s Eve parties (when they reached over 100 guests I moved them to a restaurant!). It’s why I loved owning my restaurants for 20-plus years. Entertaining is in my DNA.

That’s why many people turn to me with their questions about how to set their home for a really elegant party. They want to know my “secrets,” like what to serve at a party: food, snacks, and drink. And pretty frequently, I get asked about “healthier” choices for alcoholic drinks at a party (whether you’re hosting or not). I have two keys that I think about, whether I’m a guest at a party or hosting my own.

The first KEY is to look at what and how you drink. It’s all about picking the kinds of drink you want and planning around your health goals, which naturally brings us to calories and carbohydrates.

Straight liquor is ‘healthiest’ if served “neat” (alone and meant to be sipped) or “on the rocks” over a little ice.  Clearer types of alcohol can be a bit easier on your body but oddly, the calorie count is very similar no matter if you drink vodka, tequila or bourbon.  Lucky for me they’re all about the same, for instance, one serving (typically about 1.5 ounces – a shot) contains about 97 calories and NO carbohydrates.

Depending on my mood and what I’m serving, I may reach for Chopin Vodka (I like potato) or Ciroc Vodka (made from grapes!). If it’s “taco night” with my girlfriends, I may look to Don Julio 1942 Tequila or Herradura Tequila (I like their Reposado; very smooth). But if I’m in the mood for a whiskey, it’ll be Maker’s Mark.  All no carbs and under 100 calories!   That’s the easy way.

The whole point is to drink as close to neat or on the rocks as possible, and sip and enjoy.  If you add mixers – even just ginger ale or juice – you’re adding not just a bunch of calories but also carbs and, depending on what you mix with it, it could be a significant addition.

If you prefer wine, a five ounce pour (a typical wine glass) will give you about 100-150 calories and about 5 grams of carbs. But maybe you’ve heard that red wine has some proven health benefits. It’s true. Various health studies have shown the healthy properties of antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol that are naturally found in reds (my favorites – the Cabernet Franc from Long Meadow Ranch or Zephyr from Davis Estates). Studies have shown that these antioxidants help lower the bad cholesterol and boost the good one.

However, if beer is your adult beverage of choice – you need to know that beer is NOT your friend. One bottle of your favorite IPA may have more than 130 calories and as many as 24 grams of carbs!  I guess you could go with a light beer, but you’re still consuming about 110 calories with a minimum of 5 grams of carbs. Plus, people tend to drink more than one bottle of light beer because they think “Oh, it’s only light so I can have another” so in the end you’ll consume way more calories and carbs than you planned.

The second KEY is pretty simple and it involves not only what you drink with your adult beverage of choice but also what else you put in your stomach during the evening.

Try to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink: one for one. It’s a good rule to keep. This can help you gauge how much you’ve had, if you’ve had “enough” and when you should stop!

This key also means never ever drink on an empty stomach. Drinking on an empty stomach will not only will enable you to get drunk faster and you’ll also drink more than you normally would as the night goes on.  Eat something before you go out or snack on something while you’re drinking, but not salty fried things – they will only make you want to drink more. Think about it – bar snacks are ALWAYS salty and fried – the bar will sell you more alcohol!  Stick to nuts, cheese, veggies, or even eat dinner before you go.

Having said all of that, moderation in all things is always the best way to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. And, personally, I think it’s more fun that way because then I can have “some” of everything I want.  So, enjoy those holiday parties – just be aware!

The simplest Vodka cocktail that isn’t really a cocktail.

NIKOLAI-vodka-taste_sm

Another way to enjoy your favorite vodka: a Nikoli for your party.

I love to host parties of all sizes.  Sometimes it’s a small group of 6, and sometimes it feels like I sent out a mailing addressed to “current occupant”!  Almost no weekend goes by that I’m not hosting some activity, somewhere.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a “tasting” – a party where various dishes or types of food or beverage all focused around one theme are shared.  This one was focused on caviar (I served four types) and vodka (two types) – two incredible flavors that are a classic pairing.  I added a couple of types of smoked fish and, of course, champagne.  It had a very Russian feel to it.

A close friend of mine (part of the group around the table) used to manage a vodka bar and shared a very special cocktail that her Russian clients would regularly order.  She said that this drink has quite a few different names: Russian Cocaine, Russian Rocket, Nicolaski, but the one she remembered was most asked for, and the name I’ll use from now on is “Nikoli.” It’s really quite ingenious and very delicious.

This is a very simple drink and even if you don’t normally drink vodka – this may win you over!  Use only a very smooth vodka.  For me, it’s always a potato vodka and one of two labels (I drink both). When I’m out on the town with friends, my vodka of choice is always Chopin.  If the restaurant has Luksusowa, a classic Polish vodka, I’ll order that for a change.  I keep both in my freezer at home, so I’m ready at a moment’s notice.  Both are distilled from potatoes and are very smooth and rich especially when stored in the freezer, so they stay chilled properly.

Just an aside, that’s the big secret to making vodka taste great – keep it cold enough.  People have been dropping their bottles of vodka in the snow, letting the bottles stay out in subfreezing weather for a day or so for hundreds of years. We’ve got it a whole lot easier –  just put the bottle in the freezer!

Remember that vodka will not freeze (of course, because it’s alcohol), but it will thicken up a little, and the taste will change quite a bit. At “near freezing” temperatures, the proper drinking temperature for good vodka, it releases fewer volatiles, the compound in the alcohol that quickly vaporizes. That’s why when a spirit like vodka is warm, the smell of pure alcohol can be overwhelming.

By sipping a vodka that’s properly chilled (near freezing), a balance is created between the natural volatiles and the taste of the things that you are eating with the vodka. Which brings me back to a “Nikoli.”

You need four things for a Nikoli – aforementioned near-freezing vodka, thinly sliced lemon (I use Meyer lemons – they’re sweeter), a small dish of regular white sugar, and another small dish of freshly ground coffee (the finer the ground, the darker the bean, the better).

  • Prep the Meyer lemons by pressing one side of each slice into the little dish of sugar and the other side of the lemon slice into the dish of ground coffee.
  • Then pour about one to two ounces of chilled vodka into either shot glasses or aperitif glasses.
  • Pick up one lemon slice by the rind and fold it between your fingers (like a taco) with the coffee side inside and the sugar side on the outside.
  • Bite the flesh of the lemon clean from the rind, take the shot and then chew the lemon and swallow it all together.

Absolutely delicious!

One more little recommendation: chill your glasses. Chill your shot glasses in the freezer with the vodka, but place aperitif glasses in the regular refrigerator.  I like to use my antique aperitif glasses, they’re pretty, and they make the table look more festive, but I’d never put them in the freezer – they’re way too delicate.

Try a Nikoli – it’s a great way to get a party started!!

Serving Caviar for a Tasting?

Champagne-Caviar-Tasting_orig

Handy tips for serving caviar at your next event.

 

When you own restaurants, as I did for more than twenty years, you learn quite a bit about serving all kinds of different food. Caviar is a little unusual in its own way. Serving can be tricky, but the effort is well worth the work.

Remember that caviar is basically cured (salted) eggs from sturgeon, a white meat fish. The sturgeon flesh is also very edible, usually found in stores canned or frozen, but the big value are the eggs. For that reason, because fresh caviar is so delicate, you want to keep it unopened for no more than 8 days in the coldest part of your refrigerator – ideally at 28-32 degrees. If the tin is opened, don’t keep it for more than 2 days.

You want to be especially careful with unpasteurized caviar which is the freshest and the best tasting and truly the one you want to spend your money on.  So, buy it close to the date of your party and only what you think will be eaten.  If there’s any leftover use it as a garnish on an omelet the next day!

When serving, you want to keep caviar cold. I place the smaller serving dish into a larger dish that is filled with ice. This will chill the serving dish and keep the contents cold for a few hours. Just a little warning, you do NOT want the caviar to warm up on the table or it will spoil. Also, never use a sterling silver spoon with caviar. You won’t like the taste of the caviar if you do. You want to use wood or glass for the serving dish; mother of pearl, horn or bone for the serving spoon. You can even use plastic as an absolute last resort, but maybe not for the nice party you just laid out!

When it comes to serving, there are a couple of options – it can be served plain if you prefer or as a garnish on other foods. Some people are happy with just a dab of real butter, and some lemon juice on a cracker. But I serve my caviar with blini and pumpernickel or rye cocktail size bread, with sieved egg yolk, sieved egg white, minced red onion, minced chive, and crème fraîche.  A perfect bite!

It’s important to remember that there’s actually all kinds of “caviar.” My favorite Italian restaurant Sfxio in Beverly Hills serves Truffle Caviar Pasta. They import “truffle caviar” (truffle oil in the shape of caviar) from Italy and serve it on house made fresh pasta. It’s delicious and it’s their most popular dish.

Truly the best recommendation is one that I’ve done myself. Not long ago I hosted a tasting party that featured my favorite Champagnes and vodkas with the best osetra caviars from Petrossian.

For the Champagne or sparkling wine, we served Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Gruet Sparkling from New Mexico which is my go-to sparkling for informal gatherings. Don’t forget nice glasses for your beautiful bubbles.  Two favorites are the Reidel Veritas collection for simple wide tulips or the Mulle Nuits crystal flute from Baccarat.

Now let’s say that you want an alternative for Champagne, like a vodka. I like vodka distilled from potato. There are three that catch my eye for flavor and body. My favorite vodka is Luksusowa, a popular brand imported from Poland. You can make a real statement with Chopin from the Podlask Wytwornia distillery also in Poland.  Or you can serve another favorite, Ultimat, which is actually a blend of wheat, rye and potato vodkas!

Serving tip for vodka – keep the bottle in the freezer until you’re ready to serve. Put it in the deepest recesses of the freezer for at least three days. The vodka won’t freeze but will get a little thicker and taste a great deal better than just chilled. Find some fun shot glasses at a resale shop for a vintage look or use these plain ones I found at Crate and Barrel.

I think it’s time to party!

What is Caviar?

A little ‘what’ and ‘where’ about caviar, and how you can enjoy it.

 

In the twenty years that I owned my restaurants you wouldn’t believe how many times I was asked, “What is caviar?” It’s a delicacy, to be sure, but it’s also one way to start a conversation during a champagne tasting party (or maybe vodka?).

The correct definition for caviar is that it is the harvested, cured and salted eggs (roe) of wild sturgeon, a white meat fish. If you want to add some history, you would add that the caviar had to be harvested from wild sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. But the fact is, caviar can also come from sturgeon all over the Northern Hemisphere.  Caviar (or technically caviar substitute) can also come from salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish, whitefish and even carp.

As for purely sturgeon caviar, there are three species: Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga, all of which can be found in BOTH fresh and salt water bodies. The fish themselves can be very large, reportedly over 18 feet long, can weigh more than a ton and can live on average 50-60 years! The sturgeon flesh is very edible, usually found in stores canned or frozen, but the big value are the eggs.

Between the three types of sturgeon caviar, the beluga is the rarest, most well-known, definitely the most expensive. Some say that beluga has the best taste. But not all caviar – even beluga – is equal to the label “the best.” Good caviar can be very expensive. You’ll want to pay close attention to the classification found on the label.

The highest quality class of sturgeon caviar will say “Malassol.” This caviar will have less than 5 percent salt content – often as little as 3.5%. For people who don’t mind the salty taste there’s also “Payusnaya” caviar which is made from too-soft, damaged, broken and overly ripe eggs.  It is highly treated, highly salted (can contain 10%) and pressed to a jam-like consistency, and is less expensive but, for some who like its strong, concentrated flavor it can be a favorite.

If you want a little more history to add to your table talk, you might mention that near the end of the 1800s American caviar production really peaked. So much caviar was produced that it was cheap enough for many American bars to serve it to encourage more beer drinking. Think about how bars use peanuts or other salty snacks today. Imagine, caviar at peanut prices.

By 1915, the Atlantic surgeon on the East coast and the white sturgeon on the West were fished out. Fisheries closed down and the sturgeon didn’t return to sport fishing until the 1950s. When over fishing again became a problem, U.S. importation of caviar was briefly banned in 2005. Fishing for Beluga sturgeon was again banned between 2008 to 2011.

Many countries produce caviar with some producing “farmed” caviar: Iran, Canada, Israel, Italy, Spain, the U.S., and England among others. The bans for caviar from wild Beluga sturgeon are now partially lifted and you can purchase it online or in stores.  Just know it’s the most expensive of all the caviars.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, I recommend Petrossian – and if you don’t live in either New York or Los Angeles where they have actual stores you can always order it from their 15-year-old online store.

Want a little more adventure?

How about caviar at your own Champagne and vodka tasting party? Ready?

 

The 3 Essentials for Any Home Bar

Party at home? Better get equipped.

I always love to learn simple tricks and I got lucky today!! I spoke with a good friend (a guy I’ve known for several years) about dating who told me a secret. He asked me if I knew what the 3 essential items every woman’s bar should have. My first guess was a good red wine. He said that it is assumed all women will have decent wine in the house-one strike. So, I said no I have no clue. He prefaced his comments with the following – When you are on a date with someone you like, pay close attention to what they order to drink. If they routinely order scotch, ask if they have a favorite or if they were just ordering what the restaurant had. If they mention a favorite ask what there is about it that they like- single barrel, a particular age, etc.

Now on to the important data – The 3 essentials:

  1. Have a really good Scotch in your bar. If this is their beverage of choice make sure you have the one they like.
  2. Have a really good Tequila on hand. Same rule if this is the favorite beverage.
  3. Have a really good Vodka in your freezer. Same rule as above.

These three items are apparently crucial. Have all three in your bar, just make sure that whichever one they like to drink is included. I would think you might need a good Gin too but I guess that’s only if it’s your favorite or theirs-otherwise just these. He also said that you should always have a chilled beer glass and good cold beer if you’re not sure what the beverage of choice is. Then he said that everybody LOVES the really big ice cubes that some restaurants use in their alcoholic beverages because they keep the drink cold but melt very slowly so they don’t dilute the alcohol. But, there is nothing worse than stale ice. It will ruin your drink. Be sure to throw away the ice cubes once a month.

I happen to have a couple of silicone VERY large ice cube trays that I bought at Crate and Barrel. They are just 6 cubes to a tray so the tray isn’t big just the ice cubes. They fit about one ice cube in a double old fashion glass-you know those short fat glasses. I guess I need to actually fill them with water and put them in the freezer and not just have them on the shelf! My friend said everyone thinks those are really cool. This is apparently (per my friend) the quickest way to seriously impress someone you’re interested in. Just sharing!!!!