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Published: 12/8/2013

MORSELS

Wine tastings to take on holiday flavor

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Another month means so many things: Another turning of the calendar page. Another group of wine tastings. Another month closer to the inevitable icy grip of death.

Let's concentrate on the wine tastings, shall we?

The Walt Churchill's Market at 3320 Briarfield Blvd. in Monclova Township is having holiday-ish wine tastings in December, or at least what is left of it. On Saturday, wine guy Austin Beeman will uncork what he calls iconic wines of Southern France, by which he means the suddenly trendy Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Hermitage, and other appellations.

All, he promises, are highly rated, and some are hard to find (although frankly we guess you can find them at the Walt Churchill's Market in Monclova Township).

Because Dec. 21 is Christmas week, the store will not be holding a wine tasting that day. But it will be back for the final tasting of the year on Dec. 28. And it will be a doozy.

On Dec. 28, they are breaking out the champagne. And not the champagnes you find at grocery stores, either. These will be artisanal champagnes, the ones that taste the way champagne is supposed to taste.

Also to be served will be Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava (it can be surprisingly good), and Great Michigan Sparkling Wine, if you like your bubbly a little cheaper.

All tastings are sold by the glass. The event runs from noon-5 p.m. each Saturday, and reservations are never required.

For more information, call 419-794-4000.

Baking tips

It is December, and the baked goods are falling like snowflakes. Every time you turn around, someone is offering you a cookie, a pie, a piece of cake.

But mostly a cookie.

Baked goods are as much a part of the holidays as carols, ornament-laden trees, candy canes, and wishes of good cheer. If you are so moved to make them yourself — and really, shouldn't you be? — how can you be certain they will turn out the way they are intended?

Fortunately, the good folks at the Nielsen-Massey vanilla company have compiled a few tips, plus a great-looking recipe, to help keep your baked goods merry and bright. They are:

• Stock the staples: If you know you are going to be baking, be sure you have the most-used ingredients on hand. Keep your pantry full of flour (generally, you'll want to use all-purpose flour), baking soda, baking powder, eggs, sugar, chocolate chips or cocoa, and vanilla. Naturally, the people at Nielsen-Massey suggest using Nielsen-Massey vanilla. Normally, we wouldn't mention it, except that it is excellent vanilla. Extremely pricey, yes, but excellent.

• Prep for performance: Before making a recipe, be sure to read it twice (one new cookbook recommends this step for every recipe in the book). Have all the ingredients, utensils, and pans you will need ready, and be sure to pre-measure the ingredients to make the cooking process go smoothly. There is nothing like having to stop, at a critical point in baking, to have to measure out 1-3/4 cups of flour. And don't forget to preheat the oven.

• Cool for conclusion: Recipes for baked goods always mention the time needed to allow the baked goods to cool after you've cooked them. Pay attention to it. If you are impatient and try to remove the baked goods from the pan, sheet, or tray, they are likely to wind up broken, crumbled, or split.

If you want to try these tips on some cookies, you could make these from a recipe provided by the company. They look spectacular:

Chewy Macadamia Nut Cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened

2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Cook's note: When preparing bakery items such as cookies, you can intensify the flavor by first creaming the vanilla along with the butter or shortening and sugar. This step encapsulates the vanilla and helps prevent flavor loss in low mass/low moisture/high heat cookies.

Cream the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer on a medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar, and cinnamon and mix well. Stir in the macadamia nuts. Chill for two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an insulated cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Yield: Three dozen.

Source: Nielsen-Massey 

Sugar and pastries

If you've ever watched those sugar sculpture competitions on TV, then you know how difficult (and how hot) they can be. That is why it is especially impressive that Kelly Wolfe, pastry chef instructor at Owens Community College, received a bronze medal for her colorful sugar sculpture at the first American Culinary Federation, Columbus Chapter, Competition.

Ms. Wolfe also took home an equally impressive bronze medal for what is described as a "pastry mystery basket."

If we were the sort of column to say "Way to go, Kelly" at the end of just such an item, we would say, "Way to go, Kelly." But we're not. Still: Way to go.

Items for Morsels may be submitted up to two weeks before an event to food@theblade.com.


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