Embrace the blend

A mix of grapes can produce one interesting bottle

We are all familiar with wines classified by the grapes used to make them — merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese — and wines named by their place of origin — Rhine, Bordeaux — but what does a label that reads “red blend” mean?

As its name implies, it is a wine produced from the blending of two or more varietals of grapes. The blending of grapes is steeped in the history and tradition of European winemaking, dating to at least the 17th century with the origin of modern wines as we know them today. Bordeaux wines are classic blended wines, the reds consisting of combinations of merlot or cabernet sauvignon, along with cabernet franc and petit verdot added in smaller quantities, and the whites generally consisting of sauvignon blanc, to which semillon is added to temper the citric, and more specifically grapefruit, notes of the sauvignon blanc. These blends date to the 18th century.

The concept and development of single varietal wines in America in the second half of the 20th century migrated to Europe, South Africa and Australia. To the extreme, some vintners have produced single vineyard varietals to showcase the strengths they feel those particular vineyards have. This is all a matter of opinion, and all these wine-making styles are welcome to the table. In a good wine, the blending of varietals is intended not to cover the deficiencies of the “lead varietal” but to add to the complexity of the whole. The blending of varietals is both a science and an art. The vintner must know the strengths of the grapes before him, but the vintner must also be able to know when to blend — at the fermentation of the grapes, or after they have become wine. The vintner must also have a deft touch to know just how much of which varietal to add to create not only a drinkable wine but a memorable wine.

Our first blended wine is the 2017 Domaine du Grand Montmirail Gigondas ‘Le Coteau de Mon Rêve’ (at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $59.99, reduced to $25.99) is a blend that comes from the Rhone River Valley of Southern France. With a dark red color and nose of cherry and plum, this wine comes to the tongue with a full mouth feel of blackberry, plum and cherry, with notes of chocolate and a bit of leather. It is composed of 75 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah and 5 percent mourvèdre.

Denis Cheron acquired the Domaine du Grand Montmirail in the 1960s. The estate vineyards are 59 acres, set on terraces, planted in 50-year-old grenache vines, along with 20-year-old syrah and mourvèdre vines. This is a sophisticated, plush wine to be enjoyed with beef, lamb or game, now, or it can be cellared over the coming decade.

Our second blended wine is the 2016 Darcie Kent Vineyards Firepit Red (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $40.99, reduced to $19.99), a blend that comes from Livermore, just east of the San Francisco Bay. To the nose we sense raspberry, blackberry and cherry flavors that carry to the tongue with additional notes of oak and spices. Gentle tannins persist to a long finish of cassis and nutmeg. The oak nuances come from 24 months in new and used French oak barrels.

This is a blend of malbec, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petite sirah and merlot. The proportions may vary from year to year. The zinfandel gives the wine its spiciness; the petite sirah its concentration of tannins. In fact, many makers of zinfandel add petite sirah to quiet the pepper in the zinfandel. It should be noted that the petite sirah grape has nothing in common with the syrah grape of our first wine!

So the blending of grapes and of the wine from those grapes opens new opportunities, new flavors, and other characteristics to be explored and savored. Try a blended wine with your next purchase. You will welcome the experience.

Featured photo: Gunner’s Daughter by Mast Landing Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Lion with a straight face

It’s not spring yet.

Count on spring at this point, and you’ll only get your heart broken. There are at least two more blizzards and a lot of mud before spring gets here.

But there are hints. Whispers of hints. Whispers of innuendos of hints.

An afternoon where you can get the mail in shirtsleeves.

Old guys in the library parking lot talking about sugaring equipment.

Parts — only parts at this point, don’t get too excited — of your front steps are bare of snow and dry.

We’re still in the lion part of “In like a lion; out like a lamb.”

So I went looking for a lion-themed cocktail, and found something promising called a Lion’s Tail — a sort of a cross between a whiskey sour and a daiquiri, with front notes of bourbon and hope, and back notes of loneliness and bitter disappointment.

It’s good — very good — but with two small issues:

(1) It calls for bourbon, which is a good idea. Bourbon can be caramel-y and delicious and add a note of class to the proceedings. But I’m out of bourbon, and I can’t afford the good stuff, anyway. (You can fake your way through a lot of drinks with bottom-shelf rum or gin, but in my experience, most bourbon doesn’t get good until it is physically painful to pay for.)

(2) It calls for a specialty liqueur called allspice dram — a low-octane but very flavorful ingredient. As it turns out, I do have a bottle of it at the very back of my liquor cabinet — a relic of a short-lived but intense tiki phase I went through a year or so ago — but seriously, who else is going to have this kicking around?

So let’s see what we can do to replicate this with more proletarian ingredients:

Step 1 – Make the original cocktail with more-or-less original ingredients.

** Sound of clattering. “Mumble, mumble …” Measuring … **

“Google, how many dashes to fluid ounce?”

“Blah, blah … Was this answer helpful to you?”

“No! Not even a little bit! … Wait! I meant teaspoons….”

** More clattering, mumbling. Finally, the sound of a cocktail shaker, then pouring. **

Verdict: This is very good. The allspice is a big deal. Huh, go figure.

Step 2 – Replicating the recipe

Lion’s Butt Cocktail


  • Syrup – ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup water, 20 allspice berries, cracked in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 ounces rye
  • ¾ ounce allspice syrup
  • ½ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ tsp. angostura bitters

Combine sugar, water and allspice berries to a very small saucepan and stir, bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Strain and set aside.

Combine rye, allspice syrup, lime juice and bitters with ice in a cocktail shaker.

Shake thoroughly, until you hear the ice splintering.

Strain into a coupé glass.

Verdict: Very nice, indeed.

The original cocktail was heavy on the allspice, which totally works — especially this time of year. For a tropical spice, it suits winter weather very well. This — I won’t say “knockoff” — er, tribute version is a little more lime-forward and a skosh less sweet. (I’ve grown to really like rye. I’m not sure why that’s surprising to me, but it is. But then again, almost-spring is a surprising time of year.) The rye works well with the lime, which works well with the slightly spicy syrup. Could this be slightly cloying and too sweet? Yes, but it is saved by the bitters swooping in, wearing a cape, and deflecting the sweetness.

If you find yourself with a warm afternoon, you might want to call in sick to that last video conference of the day, drag an easy chair out to the deck, and drink three of these while listening to songs you listened to while making questionable decisions in your youth.

The kids can eat cereal.

Featured photo: Photo by John Fladd.

Frosted apricot biscotti

This week is Recipe No. 2 in my three-week biscotti series. Last week was all about maple syrup season; this week is an any-time-of-year recipe. The focal flavor in the biscotti is apricot. What makes it a year-round recipe is that it uses dried fruit.

You may think to yourself, “Let’s be creative and use fresh apricots!”

That is the one caveat to this recipe. You must use dried apricots. Biscotti are meant to be fairly dry cookies. If you use fresh fruit, it imparts too much moisture, which negatively affects the structure of the dough.

Speaking of the dryness of biscotti, I have met a person or two who prefers a slightly softer cookie. There is a simple way to remedy that. In the second phase of baking, when the biscotti are cut into slices, you can reduce the time by a minute or two per side. The only tricky part is to make sure the slices are fully baked. You want some softness, not raw treats.

Whether you like your biscotti traditionally dry or slightly softer, this recipe produces a nice apricot-centric snack.

Frosted apricot biscotti
Makes 28

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced dried apricot
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on speed 2 for 2 minutes.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth.
Stir in vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and blend until fully combined.
Stir diced apricots into dough.
Divide dough in half.
Shape each half into a 10″ x 3″ rectangle, using floured hands.
Set loaves 4 inches apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the dough is set.
Leaving the oven on, remove the biscotti loaves and cool for 15 minutes on the baking sheet.
Using a butcher knife, cut the loaves into diagonal slices, 1/2″ thick.
Place the slices on the baking sheet with the cut sides down.
Bake for 9 minutes.
Turn over slices, and bake for 8 to 9 minutes more.
Remove biscotti from the oven, and allow to cool completely on a baking rack.
Place powdered sugar in a small bowl, and add milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until a thick glaze is formed.
Coat each biscotti slice with glaze.
Allow glaze to set, placing in the refrigerator to speed the set, if desired.
Store in a sealed container.

Featured Photo: Frosted apricot biscotti. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Matt Romano

Matt Romano of Manchester is the owner of Grace’s Kitchen Pizza Truck (find them on Facebook @graceskitchen603), which launched last fall. Named after Romano’s paternal grandmother, a major influence on his life and cooking, Grace’s Kitchen Pizza Truck features a menu of specialty pizzas available in a variety of flavors, as well as other items like hand-breaded chicken tenders, loaded Tater Tots, french fries and fried Oreos. The truck has parked at multiple spots across southern New Hampshire, like J&F Farms in Derry and Over the Moon Farmstead in Pittsfield, as well as in the Merrimack Valley and North Shore areas of Massachusetts. Romano is also booked to appear at several upcoming festivals this spring and summer, including Intown Concord’s annual Market Days Festival this June. Weekly posts on the truck’s whereabouts are updated on its Facebook page. Grace’s Kitchen Pizza Truck is also available to book for private events and parties.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I would say a ladle. Especially with pizza, a ladle is very important when it comes to spreading on the sauces, and then I also use it for other menu items, whether it’s covering chicken tenders in Buffalo sauce or teriyaki sauce, or covering tater tots in cheese or gravy.

What would you have for your last meal?

My mom’s macaroni pie. It’s a recipe that’s been passed down a couple of generations, starting with my nana, down to my mom, and now I’ve been tweaking it.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

The Crazy Noodle [House] in Londonderry. The food there is awesome, it’s always so fresh, and the service is always great. … I take my niece and nephew there usually about once a month or so, and they love it.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from your truck?

Jon Favreau. He had that movie, Chef, which revolves around a food truck, and he’s got a great TV show on Netflix too that’s based off of that.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

That would be one of our specialty pizzas, which is called the Mac 10. It’s a spinoff of a fast food favorite with a little bit of a kick. … We do 19-inch round pizzas and we sell them by the slice.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

I don’t know if it’s just me being new to the market, but it seems like food trucks are on fire this year. … The reason why I got into them was because I love how they give people a chance to really show off their menu to a large crowd in a small area. You go to a food truck festival and you can choose from 20 to 30 different types of food … and each chef is homing in on whatever they want and making it the best that it can possibly be.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I love making my own Greek marinated chicken and making some sort of kebab or healthy salad with it from scratch.

Easy chicken broccoli alfredo casserole
Courtesy of Matt Romano of Grace’s Kitchen Pizza Truck

1 pound chicken breast, cut into one-inch pieces
2 broccoli crowns, chopped
1 pound penne or similar pasta
3 cups alfredo sauce
2 cups ricotta
2 cups mozzarella
¼ cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Boil pasta to al dente. Saute chicken in a pan. Combine chicken, pasta, broccoli, alfredo sauce and ricotta in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Add mixture to a casserole dish. Layer mozzarella and then Parmesan on top of the casserole. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top begins to brown.

Featured photo: Matt Romano. Courtesy photo.

The Weekly Dish 22/03/03

News from the local food scene

Make it maple: It’s New Hampshire Maple Month, and several farms and sugarhouses across the Granite State will once again be welcoming visitors for multiple weekends of tours, demonstrations, tastings and family activities, all revolving around local maple syrup production. At Ben’s Sugar Shack (83 Webster Hwy., Temple), for instance, maple sugaring tours start the weekend of Saturday, March 5, and Sunday, March 6, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with free tours of the premises beginning every 15 minutes. Samples will be provided and items will be available inside the gift shop, including everything from maple syrup to maple cotton candy, fudge, roasted nuts, doughnuts and more. For a walk back through time, check out one of the sugar camp hiking tours being offered at Canterbury Shaker Village (288 Shaker Road) on Saturdays, March 12, March 19 and March 26, at 1 p.m. Local land surveyor Mark Stevens will lead guests on a tour to the Shakers’ remote sugar camp, where they produced maple syrup each year. A full list of local sugarhouses participating in New Hampshire Maple Month (including New Hampshire Maple Weekend, set for Saturday, March 19, and Sunday, March 20) can be found on the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association website at nhmapleproducers.com.

Bowlfuls of deliciousness: The ninth annual soup/chili/chowder cook-off is happening at Epsom Central School (282 Black Hall Road, Epsom) on Monday, March 7, from 5 to 7 p.m. Dozens of local soup, chili and chowder makers will participate in this friendly competition to raise money for various student activities at the school. Winners from each of the three categories receive a “Souper Bowl” trophy, and the top vote getter also wins a $50 Visa gift card. Two People’s Choice recipients from each category are awarded ribbons. The cost to attend the cook-off as a taster is $8 for adults and $6 for kids ages 10 and under, and includes access to up to 10 four-ounce sampling cups for adults and up to five samples for kids, along with sides of cornbread. Tickets will be sold at the door while supplies last. For more details, see “9th annual ECS Soup/Chili/Chowder Cook-off” on Facebook, or find our story about the event on page 25 of the Hippo’s Feb. 10 issue.

New date for Amherst chili cook-off: A new date has been set for the Amherst Lions Club’s annual Fire & Ice chili cook-off and ice cream social, which was originally scheduled for Feb. 4 but postponed due to rising Covid numbers. Amherst Lion Joan Ferguson said the event will now be held on Friday, March 11, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Amherst Middle School (14 Cross Road). This will be the first in-person cook-off in two years following last year’s pre-recorded “virtual” event. Local restaurateurs and community members compete for the title of the best chili in one of three categories, and winners are awarded an engraved trophy and bragging rights for a year. Admission is $8 for adults and free for kids under 5, or $25 per family of four, with proceeds benefiting local charities selected by the Lions Club. Visit e-clubhouse.org/sites/amherstnh or follow them on Facebook @amherstnhlionsclub.

Spring into healthy eating: Local Baskit (10 Ferry St., Suite 120A, Concord) is offering its next Instant Pot series, a seven-week program featuring various pressure cooker meals, from the week of March 7 through April 18. The theme is “spring and speed,” with quick and healthy options designed for those with busy and active lifestyles. The seven-week series includes all of the pre-measured (and, in some cases, pre-chopped) ingredients for each meal, along with complete instructions and a tested recipe serving three to five. Meals include teriyaki chicken, butternut squash farro risotto, lemon mustard chicken with potatoes, vegan white bean stew, cashew chicken, curried spring vegetable potato chaat, and fig and pig quiche. The cost is $64 for the full seven weeks. Dinners can be picked up at Local Baskit or can be delivered to select towns on Tuesdays or Wednesdays — visit localbaskit.com for the full list of drop-off locations.

Tastes from the trucks: Tickets to this year’s Great Bay Food Truck Festival will go on sale beginning Monday, March 7. The second annual event will return for the first time since 2019 on Saturday, May 7, from noon to 5 p.m. at Stratham Hill Park (270 Portsmouth Ave., Stratham). The rain-or-shine festival is being organized by the Stratham Parks and Recreation department in conjunction with the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce, and will feature dozens of food trucks and vendors, as well as lawn games, live music and more. Admission starts at $5, while all available foods and drinks are priced per item Visit greatbayfoodtruckfestival.com.

Beer, slopeside

Beer and skiing: Yeah, they go together

I’ve snowboarded, or well, known how to snowboard for, I don’t know, 15 years, even if there’s about a 10- to 12-year gap in that window where I didn’t even look at my snowboard.

I’m not good at it and I still get stressed out about getting off the chairlift — and even if I manage to stay upright, I’ll probably knock over whoever is next to me. A three-seater? Forget it.

I met some friends at Pats Peak last year for an evening on the slopes. It reminded me of why it’s such a literal high to experience the rush of the mountainside.

The thing is, hitting the slopes is tiring, and if you’re on the mountain for an extended period of time, a beer or two to break up the day is just a winning move.

You do have to be careful. After you’ve taken a few runs, whatever beer you choose is going to taste very, very good. You’re going to want another. But don’t do it.

Let’s develop a game plan together so you can experience the mountain and have your beer.

Start your morning — without any beer. Let’s be real. Have a cup of coffee, have breakfast and get out there. The morning is going to be your longest stretch skiing or snowboarding. Give yourself a solid two to three hours to embrace the cold.

At lunchtime, grab something light and refreshing, such as the Czech Pilsner by Moat Mountain Brewing Co., which is crisp, light, bright and yet still flavorful, or Tuckerman Brewing Co.’s Pale Ale, which gives you a little fix of hops, a little bitterness and a nice, smooth finish. A tart Berliner weisse, such as Pulp Up the Jam Vol. 11 by Kettlehead Brewing Co., would be another nice choice.

At this stage, anything heavier like an IPA or a stout is just going to bog you down, and you have more skiing to do.

Now, you’ve had lunch and a beer, and you’re staying hydrated because you’re responsible. You felt the rush in the morning, explored some trails, and maybe challenged yourself a little bit. The afternoon can be a little less aggressive. Don’t worry about pushing your limits. Take in the scenery. Cruise some easy trails. Offer some pointers to beginners as you glide by because they always love that.

After a couple more hours of relaxing skiing or snowboarding, it’s time to take a break with something that packs a little more of a punch and a little more hop character, like the Mountain Haze New England IPA by Woodstock Inn Brewery, a beer that is still pretty easy to drink but with a little more in-your-face flavor. Another nice option would be a Stoneface Brewing Co. IPA — you just can’t go wrong with that. The Combover IPA by Schilling Beer Co. would be another game winner.

At this stage you may be feeling a bit tired. Get over it. You need to get back out there one more time, just for a couple more runs. This is your last chance to take it all in. Maybe you can time it right to catch the sun setting.

Take those last couple of runs, embrace the moment, and then close out the day with something rich, dark and decadent, like a Meltaway Milk Stout by Breakaway Beerworks, which is a just a creamy bomb of roasted malt and smooth chocolate-coffee sweetness. Another tremendous option would be to grab a Gunner’s Daughter milk stout by Mast Landing Brewing Co., which rewards you for going back out a third time with a luscious brew bringing together big flavors of chocolate, coffee and peanut butter.

You did good today.

What’s in My Fridge
Shipping Out of Boston Amber Lager by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, Mass.) This easy-drinking amber lager is the perfect change-of-pace beer, particularly when you’ve had enough of IPAs, and when you aren’t in the mood for something super heavy or something super light. With a welcoming malty character, it’s incredibly drinkable, flavorful and just simply enjoyable. Cheers!

Featured photo: Gunner’s Daughter by Mast Landing Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

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