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Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Curl Up With A Cup.....Of Adagio Teas



I sent my parents a couple tins of tea from Adagio Teas a few weeks ago just to test out my new, online store and some of it's products. My mother, in particular, loves tea. In my opinion, she is a connoisseur so thought she, better than anyone, would be the one to try out this product.

Much to my pleasure, in just a few days, I received a call from my mother stating how timely, delicious and beautifully packaged the teas were. From my end, I was impressed with their above and beyond customer service. I was so impressed with the overall experience, in fact, that I felt compelled to write and thank them. I received a friendly response back the same day offering to send me some teas to try. How could I resist! My mother impressed upon me the enjoyment of tea too, so of course, I accepted their offer. I was anticipating 3 or 4 tins of teas but when the package arrived, it had 21 tins!

As you can imagine, I have been busy enjoying my teas. They came in cute, pale green tins with a simple, well presented label. My favorite one, so far, is cranberry. This surprises me as I don't necessarily claim to like cranberry. The tea is subtle, well balanced and delightful. Some of my other favorites are candy cane (mild, vanilla-mint flavor), Rooibos Vanilla Chai, and Gunpowder (slight but interesting smokiness). The most impressive attribute of these teas is the ability to have very subtle yet perfectly balanced flavors. Even my 7 year old daughter has been taste-testing with me (the best tea parties ever!) and she has enjoyed most of them. Her favorite flavor.....candy cane!

In addition to the wonderful teas, I also received a book from Adagio Teas that had some fun tea facts in it. I learned that all real tea comes from the same botanical, Camellia sinensis, and contains caffeine. Many beverages that are called "tea" are actually not tea but drinks made from infusing hot water with dried flowers, fruits, plants or herbs. These are called "Tisanes" (a French word for "herbal infusion") and are a caffeine free alternative.

One of the more significant benefits that makes tea so popular is it's prowess in relieving fatigue. This is because the caffeine in tea is water soluble which allows the body to digest it easily and pass through your system quickly. The result is a rapid, tangible feeling of relief and relaxation. By the way, caffeine in coffee is not as water soluble and stays in your system longer making you unable to sleep and leaves you feeling restless. And while we're on the subject, there is a myth out there that tea has more caffeine than coffee. While this is true when measuring coffee and tea in dry form, the relationship is reversed when comparing brewed coffee to steeped tea.

Studies show that all teas' benefits are practically equal. That is, that black tea benefits are consistent with green teas and the same seems to be true about oolongs. Slight differences may occur but while white tea may provide a few more antioxidants than black tea, the amount is negligible in relation to the benefits. This makes sense since, as stated earlier, all tea comes from the same plant.

So what does it take to brew a perfect cup of tea? Besides buying the best quality tea you can find, there are three basic steps to follow:
Amount:
The basic rule is one teaspoon of leaves per cup of water. Use too little tea and your tea will taste weak. Use too much and it will taste bitter. The exception would be light teas such as chamomile which requires two teaspoons of leaves. Keep in mind that dry tea leaves expand up to 5 times their original size so make sure you give your leaves some room to grow so you get as much flavor out of them as possible.
Temperature:
The ideal temperature depends on the tea. Black, oolong and herbal teas require boiling water at about 212 degrees Fahrenheit while more delicate teas like green, light oolong, and white require cooler water at about 180 degrees.
Time:
The standard is 5 minutes for most black teas. Dark oolong, herbal and white teas tastes best when steeped for 7 minutes. Light oolong and green teas are more delicate and can only handle 3 minutes of steeping.

One other important note to remember is the water. Good water makes good tea. Most of the water coming out of our taps is poor quality; thus, it is best to use bottled water or a filtration system.

If you wish to make your own "decaf" tea, brew a cup as normal, leaving the leaves in the hot water for about 30 seconds, then drain the leaves, and rebrew. The second brew will contain the flavor but significantly reduce the caffeine. By the way, decaffeinated tea is not really caffeine free - it still contains about 5-10 milligrams per cup.

This is the perfect time of year to brew a cup for yourself, have a tea party with your children or share the gift of tea with someone you care about. And wouldn't you know, Adagio Teas have some great holiday sampler sets! :) Happy Holidays!

Holiday Teas Sampler Set

*Written with notes used from Adagio Teas book called "A Guide To Teas"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale

***This is being re-posted due to some minor changes/updates thanks to the help and kindness of the Consorzio di Reggio Emilia***

Wine is both a passion and a business but some would argue that the most passionate job in the vineyards is not in making wine but in making Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.

The simplest explanation of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (hereafter mostly referred to as ABT) is balsamic vinegar….. but not just any kind you’d find on the shelves of your grocery store. In fact, much like Itay's DOC wine, it has it’s own consortium with strict guidelines and tasting to insure superb quality. The end result is a thick, syrupy vinegar that is both sweet and sour with a palate pleasing, velvety sensation – an experience all to it’s own.

About a year and a half ago, me, my husband and daughter took a trip to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. This is the region famous for Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. WOW, talk about having something to boast about - three of the greatest gifts a foodie could ask for from this country all in one region! We spent several days in Emilia-Romagna and toured all three productions but were most inspired by the production of ABT and in fact, ended up visiting several places that produce this extraordinary elixir.

ABT is only produced in two towns in the whole wide world. To me, that is utterly mind-boggling! But I guess when you consider the production process and that fact that it isn’t, what most would say, a lucrative business, it would make sense. And it makes even more sense, this syrupy potion comes from Italy because the beautiful people of Italy have done an outstanding job of upholding old-world tradition.

Reggio Emilia and Modena are the two towns that produce ABT and each have their own consortium (but the requirements are basically the same) and both fall under the denomination of protected origin or DOP. Ask anyone from Modena, and they'll say they produce the best ABT but ask anyone from Reggio Emilia, and they'll assure you they produce the best. To me, it’s a toss up, but I tend to agree with Reggio Emilia.

ABT is made from the must of grapes. Many different varietals can be used including: Trebbiano, Occhio di Gatto, Spergola, Berzemino and all the various Lambrusco Reggiano DOC varieties, namely Marani, Salamino, Maestri, Montericco, Sorbara, and Ancellotta. The must is aged in wooden barrels. Often, the barrels are old wine barrels that are no good for producing wine but flavorful for producing vinegar. The origin of the wood can vary - oak, cherry, chestnut, acacia, etc. Anywhere from 5-7 barrels are used varying in size from large to small. Each barrel has a small, cloth covered hole on top to access the product. The production starts by filling the barrels with the must where it remains for a year. During that time, approximately 10% of the vinegar is lost to evaporation. After one year, the smallest barrel gets topped off with vinegar from the next size up, and that barrel gets topped off with vinegar from the next size up and so on until the largest barrel is reached and gets topped off with the new production. When another year passes, the same topping off occurs again. This happens for a minimum of 12, yes….count them, TWELVE years! After 12 years, a few liters of vinegar can be extracted from the smallest barrel and sent to the consortium for tasting and approval. Once the vinegar has met all the requirements, the consortium numbers, records and brands it. Then, and only then, can the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale be sold.

In Modena, ABT has two levels of quality – a cream colored cap indicates 12 or more years of aging and a gold colored cap in addition to the wording “extravecchio” (extra mature) indicates 25 or more years. Both are individually numbered and sold in a bottle specified by the consortium. In Reggio Emilia, ABT has three levels of quality - a red label for 12 or more years of aging, a silver label for 20 or more years, and a gold label in addition to the wording of "extravecchio" for 25 or more years. These are also individually numbered and sold in a uniform bottle specified by the consortium along with a wax seal and "AB" (aceto balsamico) on the label. Generally, ABT is not aged more than 30 years.

The prices of the different levels of quality range considerably. From Reggio Emilia, we purchased a silver label ABT for about 40 euro ($52) and a gold label one for about 50 euro ($65) although, I'm told that is a very good price so maybe my memory serves me incorrectly on that price. From Modena, we stumbled on a bottle that was allegedly 56 years old - according to my calculations, the beginning of it's production occurred about the time television was being introduced into the homes of Americans! That one was a splurge at 150 euro ($195).

Of course with something this prized, the suggested consumption is to show it off as much as possible. We often just serve ours on a small spoon as an aperitif to our guests. It is also very good drizzled over Parmigiano Reggiano, a fresh salad, risotto or a good steak. For a unique twist, drizzle it over strawberries or ice cream. No matter how it is consumed, I bet the experience will seem like you've just plunged into the best condiment on the planet! If you'd like to splurge on this delicacy, click on this: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale

To learn more about ABT from Reggio Emilia, please check out the website for the Consorzio di Reggio Emila: http://www.acetobalsamicotradizionale.it/home_en.php

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Luxury Chocolate Gifts from Vosges Chocolat

To celebrate the holiday season, Vosges Haut Chocolat is offering 15% off everything until Monday 30th November!


Everything I've had from Vosges has been seductively good but I'd like to recommend one item that I can't get enough of lately...Couture Cocoa. It's rich, velvety and indulgent - the perfect drink for the holidays!


The best part, this cocoa is reasonably priced and would make a spectacular stocking stuffer. Or if you want to "woo" that someone special, try the limited edition holiday truffles.


To redeem this discount, type in code 15TG09 into the Promo Code box at checkout and 15% will be deducted from your order.


I'm so excited, I just may go chocolate shopping right now! :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Greek Wine


WineAccess.com

Had a friend recently ask if he could get wines from Greece through my blog. Well (Chip), I recently added "Wine Access" to my Deep Red Cellar affiliates.

You can buy wines directly from them. If they don't carry it directly, they offer the excellent service of finding a place that can ship it to you or where you can go pick up a bottle or two yourself!

As for the Greek wine, they have both white and red - the "Achaia Clauss Mavrodaphne of Patras" (red) has a great review. And I know from my recent trip to Santorini, they excel in white wine so the "
2005 Boutari Santorini White" would probably be a good one to try. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holiday Savings From Vosges Haut Chocolat



Luxury Chocolate Gifts from Vosges Chocolat

Last week, I was in London and made a point to go to Selfridges, a prestigious department store in the heart of downtown. It is here that Vosges has chosen to start their expansion into the European market. I couldn't resist the display of chocolate enticing me to take some home so bought my own collection of dark chocolate exotic bars and "La Parisienne Couture Cocoa." Both are sensational but I must expound on the cocoa. If you like thick, rich, cocoa like they serve in the cafes of Paris, then you must treat yourself to this! It is just like that thick, velvety drink and will make you feel like you've traveled to places beyond your kitchen.

Vosges Haut Chocolat is offering a holiday special to celebrate the launch of their limited edition holiday truffle collection. From now until December 31, 2009, you can receive 15% off $100 or more by using the promotional code "HOLIDAY15OFF" at checkout!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Proscuitto di Parma


I knew when I moved to Italy 2 1/2 years ago, one of the things I wanted to do was visit as many regions as I could. For me, one of the more important regions was Emilia-Romagna. It is the region that has the distinguished title of being famous for Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and Proscuitto di Parma.

We tracked down all three of these delicacies but this story is about just one - the ever enticing Proscuitto di Parma. We visited a plant in a neighboring town of Langhirano. Langhirano is said to be the heart of the Proscuitto di Parma region. Like many of the products in Italy, Proscuitto di Parma has it's own consortium that regulates the entire process from the precise raising of the pigs, to specific regulations on aging the meat, and everything in between. The plant we visited did not slaughter the pigs but received just the thighs - the only part of the pig used for Proscuitto di Parma.

When the meat first arrives at a plant, it is immediately salted by highly trained masters who have 10+ years of experience (just for salting a thigh!) and placed in a refrigeration holding area for one week. After a week, the salt is brushed off and the thighs are fed into a machine where they are massaged (subliminal message...book a massage). Once adequately massaged, the thighs are salted a second time by the same "salt masters."

Let me take a moment to point out my amazement at how exceptionally trained every person is for their specific tasks. The tasks all seem simple to the untrained eye but to pass consortium regulations, every single one of these jobs have precisely trained individuals working their specific task for many, many years to be considered masters of their trade.

OK, back to the star of this story......the meat is then hung and put in another refrigeration area to continue the aging process. Once successfully through this aging, the meat is moved to an area where it gets a silver tag designated by the consortium for Proscuitto di Parma. This tag states the month and year the meat was made. In 2007, these tags cost about 18 euro cents a piece. As you can imagine, producers are incredibly dedicated to the art of Proscuitto di Parma production as this particular step can be quite costly.

After the tagging, the Proscuitto di Parma is moved to another location where, again, highly trained professionals apply the protective lard on the exposed meat area. Often, the lard has black pepper in it. One would assume the black pepper would be added to enhance flavor, but in actuality, it is thought that the black pepper keeps the flies away. At this stage, the proscuitto changes from refrigeration aging to climate and humidity controlled aging for the remainder of it's aging process.

After the lard applied aging segment, a profoundly trained tester comes through to test the meat. Now, this guy essentially uses only his ability to smell to judge whether the meat is aging properly. You're probably imagining a guy with a rather large nose, right? I don't know about all of the professional "sniffers" out there, but the guy we saw definitely had a nose that looked like it had it's own profession. The "sniffer" uses a thin pick made out of horse bone to sniff the meat. Here's another example of scrupulous attention to detail. Horse bone is specifically chosen because it is very porous and it has the unique ability to take in the smell and then dissipate it very quickly. So, this tester guy goes through and pokes the proscuitto thigh in about 5 places. Each time he pokes the meat, he smells the pick. Then he uses his finger to smear the lard back over the slightly exposed area. If the tester believes the meat is acceptable, it will get branded with a 5 pronged crown that states the month and year of production. The brand is placed so that anyway a butcher slices it, the branding will always show and the consumer will always know they are getting the "real deal." This branding and the aforementioned silver tag symbolizes that the meat is, in fact, authentic Proscuitto di Parma.

Once it has passed the "sniffer" test, the meat is moved into it's last climate and humidity controlled room where it finishes out it's days aging to perfection. When all is said and done, Proscuitto di Parma is aged about 70 days and reduced by about 30% of it's original size when finished.

I can't say the process was a glamorous one to see. I mean, after all, it is a meat plant. I can say, the almost finicky attention to detail and the training the experts are required to go through guarantee that if you're eating Proscuitto di Parma, you're eating authentic Italy at it's best!







Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wine Savings For The Holidays


I've got some great news for you red wine lovers out there!

Now through November 30, 2009, you can save $12 on a combination of 6 lush red wines plus pay nothing for shipping through "My Wines Direct!" Click on the link below and use code RR12 at checkout to bring savings and bottles of wine to your doorstep or a friend's doorstep.....and just in time for the holidays.

Save $12 on the Royal Reds 6 Bottle Pack + $0 Shipping. Use code RR12 through 11/30.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep Red Cellar Store Opening!


I have just opened a store on my blog (look to your right :) ). Now you can shop for artisanal cheeses, select meats, gourmet chocolates and even books about wine and food!

There's so much to choose from and although I've not tried it all yet, I have taken the time to hand select every item. This is a work in progress so be sure to check back periodically to see what new items have popped up.

In addition to the store, you can also still shop through my affiliate stores:
JJ Buckley Fine Wines - An excellent source for worldwide wines from the everyday to the extraordinary.
The Wine Messenger - My newest affiliate. Take advantage of the special - 15% off all orders of $100 or more.
Vosges Haut Chocolat - One of my favorite chocolate shops. Not only is it unique and delicious, it is also very chic.
Thats Arte Italian Ceramics -If you're in the market for Italian ceramics, they have the largest selection I have ever seen. If you can't find it here, you probably can't find it.
Amazon - You know...you can buy anything and everything from these guys. Even if you're not in the market for gourmet food, you can still click on this link to shop Amazon.

Just a reminder, if you live at an FPO or APO address and run into problems getting an item sent, you can use http://www.apobox.com/ to get your shipment to you.

The holidays are just around the corner so whether you're shopping for yourself or someone special, I hope you enjoy looking through the delectable choices now available to you through this store!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Vosges Haut-Chocolat



Luxury Chocolate Gifts from Vosges Chocolat

If you're a gourmet chocolate connoisseur, then you'll love this promotion I'm about to tell you about....this month Vosges Haut-Chocolat is offering 10% off $50 starting October 1 and going thru October 31, 2009. I love this chocolate because not only is it very chic, it is also exquisitely delicious.

To take advantage of this great deal, all you need to do is click on this "Luxury Chocolates at Vosges Haut-Chocolat" or the Vosges banner in the Deep Red Cellar Store to start shopping then after making your delectable selection, type in code: FALL1009 in the promotion code area at checkout.

Halloween is the perfect time to treat your special someone....or yourself. :)