A Toast to Champagneby Lori Grossman
Whether it's a celebration with a crowd of family and friends or a romantic tête à tête, a bottle of bubbly is usually the drink of choice. Unfortunately, champagne doesn't come with a handy instruction booklet or DVD. So, here's a short history, followed by some interesting facts, and recipes that will help you finish off the leftovers.
Champagne HistoryChurch rituals made wine a necessity. During the Middle Ages, grapevines were planted alongside churches in order to provide wine for Mass and communion. By the end of the 13th century, numerous monasteries dotted the French countryside. Benedictine monks worked diligently, tending the vineyards and experimenting with soil conditions to improve the quality of the grapes and increase the yields. At this time, they produced still wines.
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The Champagne region of France became known for its effervescent wine about the end of the 17th century. The bubbles increased pressure in bottles, causing many to explode. Gradually, the right combination of good quality bottles, corks, and reinforcing metal wires solved the problem.
Did You Know?
If you have never opened a bottle of bubbly before and you're afraid you may have to squeegee the walls afterward, never fear. Here's how to do it safely:
Orange-Champagne SunriseBesides being delicious, this recipe makes enough for seconds (or thirds).
Cheese Fondue for TwoHow romantic can you get?
Coarsely shred cheese and toss with flour to coat evenly. Prepare fondue in a fondue pot, or in a medium stainless steel, enamel, earthenware, or nonstick saucepan. Cut garlic clove in half and rub entire inner surface of pot with cut sides.
Heat flat champagne in pot over low heat. When bubbles begin to rise to the surface, begin adding cheese, one handful at a time, to hot champagne. Stir constantly with a wire whisk until melted (it is traditional to stir in a figure-8 motion). Each handful must be completely melted before the next is added. When all of the cheese is melted, season lightly with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Taste, and adjust seasonings as desired.
Blend in kirsch or brandy. Cook gently, stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Fondue must be kept warm.
To eat, push tines of fork through soft side of bread into crust. Dip bread into fondue, stirring around bottom of the pot. Lift fork and twirl to remove without dripping. Cool slightly on plate before eating from fork. As fondue thickens, blend in small amounts of warmed flat champagne. Makes 2 servings.
Chicken VéroniqueFive-star dining that's easy to prepare.
To test doneness, press finger into thickest part of chicken breast; meat should spring back. Do not overcook. Place chicken breasts on a plate and keep warm by covering with skillet lid.
Quickly boil pan juices until syrupy. Add whipping cream and boil until lightly thickened. Stir grapes into cream and cook briefly to warm through. Stir in any juices that have drained from the chicken breasts. Arrange chicken breasts on two plates and spoon sauce over. Makes 2 servings. Serve with a green salad, some crusty French bread, and a bottle of your favorite champagne.
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