All week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve my DH and I were arguing over whether or not we should drink the expensive champagne given to us by some friends a few months back. He was of a mind to give it to someone else in the same manner as we received it but prudence woon the day (I was cooking dinner after all!) and we toasted both our New Year and the Champagne Gods. It was quite good! Well, look what the Champagne Gods sent our way as a “thank you” via some friends. (The Champagne Gods were actually Mark and Chuck who brought this to Sina as a token of appreciation.)
Yup. Another vintage Dom Perignon! This was a 2000 so this champagne is just older than our relationship. Of course, this bottle is Sina’s to give away if he wants to but I’m going to lobby hard to keep it for ourselves. To my mind, champagne is the perfect beverage. A chilled bottle of champagne can turn any gathering into a celebration. My grandmother once told me that a bachelor should always have a bottle of champagne ready to go in the refrigerator. Of course this is true, but looking back, I wonder where she learned this?
If you are going to follow my grandmother’s advice (which is good advice for everybody — not just bachelors –you are going to have to spring for the good stuff. And yes, people can taste the difference. And even if they can’t, their tastebuds are influenced by the label if they know its good that way. One of my favorite “keep in the refrigerator” champagnes is Veuve Clicquot with its iconic orange label. My friends and I have really polished off a lot of these during impromptu “sessions” or “lunches out on the town”. Its quite reasonable these days with the best deal on it usually at Costco. No so reasonable at restaurants when your friends keep ordering another bottle.
Offer champagne at a cocktail party and you will be surprised at how many takers you get. Even the most mundane of meals can be exciting when paired with a good champagne. Not many wines can truly be said to go with everything but it is definitely true of champagne. I once served take out burgers on fine china with an expensive champagne and it made quite an impression. Nowadays I would have no problem serving champagne with a fancy homemade burger, even for a dinner party.
More recently, on a day off following New Years, I made a simple lunch for Sina and I and enhanced it with a bottle of champagne. It wasn’t that special a lunch but adding champagne to it reminded me of the type of bistro lunch I might be having if I were visiting my dear friends in New York. (I miss you guys!) Recently I’ve been on something of a french bistro kick most likely as a result of watching Julie and Julia and digging out my worn copy of The Book . When my brother gave me a Le Creuset dutch oven for Christmas it was french food city around here before the bell tolled and my diet began.
Nonetheless, try this for a great lunch either by itself or as a side with roasted chicken. The recipe makes a lot so even if you are making a side dish casserole you can still freeze some in one or two small gratin dishes for a handly lunch for two later. If serving it for lunch, accompany it with a simple arugula salad (and champagne!)
Macaroni Gratin — Balthazar
- One 16-ounce box elbow macaroni
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 ounces lightly smoked slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice (I used pre-diced pancetta from Trader Joes.)
- 5 cups whole milk
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 cups grated Gruyère cheese
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
2. Cook the macaroni according to the directions on the box. Drain, toss with the olive oil, and set aside in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add the bacon to a small skillet and saute over medium heat until brown but not crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and add to the cooked macaroni.
4. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk just to a foamy boil, then reduce the heat to very low to keep warm.
5. In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, remove from the heat. Whisk in the flour and continue stirring until a smooth, pale roux has formed. Return the saucepan to medium heat and, while still whisking steadily, begin ladling the hot milk into the roux, 1 cup at a time, completely incorporating each cup before adding the next. After all the milk has been added, continue to whisk until the sauce thickens and bubbles gently, about 2 minutes. Add the Parmesan, 2 cups of the Gruyère, and the salt and pepper, and stir until the cheese has completely melted.
6. Pour the sauce over the macaroni, mix thoroughly, and pour into a buttered 10 X 14-inch gratin dish. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove, sprinkle the remaining cup of Gruyère over tire top, and continue baking for an additional 10 minutes, until the top is golden and crunchy.
And I still have one in the freezer for after the diet!