Articles in General

Beth Howard is embarking on a round-the-world journey, extending the theme of making and sharing pie with others to make the world a better, happier place. Credit: Kathryn Gamble

In times of tragedy, discord or disruption, there is often no more powerful message between neighbors than a shared casserole, a baked banana bread or a well-timed gift of cookies. But a new breed of food entrepreneurs are taking their empathy and altruism global, using food as a catalyst for projects that are changing the world. The idea of being a good neighbor just got a little bigger.

Beth Howard, Ms. American Pie

Beth Howard bakes pies.

Baking pies helped Beth Howard deal with grief, and now she bakes to help others. Credit: Copyright 2014 Race Point Publishing

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Beth Howard traveled with more than 60 volunteers to hand out free apple pie in front of the town’s square. Howard, who had been teaching people to make pie for the past decade, had been selling pies out of a stand in front of her home inside the historic American Gothic house in Elton, Iowa, as she grieved the sudden death of her husband. Howard’s memoir, “Making Piece,” chronicled how pie helped her heal.

Now, after the release of her second book, “Ms. American Pie,” Howard is set to take her belief that pie can solve anything global through her World Piece Project. “The idea of pie is not distinctly American,” she said. “Empanadas, samosas — all cultures have some form of filled dough, and everywhere this universal, simple, comforting food is meant to be shared.” Howard will be flying around the world and talking to the world’s best pie makers about nostalgia, love and the feeling of time spent caring for others’ happiness.

Adam Aronovitz and Alissa Bilfield of the Cookbook Project

Cookbook Project

Alissa Bilfield and Adam Aronovitz started the nonprofit Cookbook Project to combat culinary illiteracy in schools. Credit: Copyright The Cookbook Project

Adam Aronovitz was working in Boston’s public schools when he got a firsthand look of the effect of diet on children’s ability to learn. If no one at home knew how to cook, he posited, how could children be expected to eat healthy foods? He and co-founder Alissa Bilfield started the nonprofit Cookbook Project to combat the root causes of culinary illiteracy, starting by training school staff with online courses so that they would become food literacy educators, with the goal of teaching children the ways of the kitchen.

“We have a pretty lofty goal,” Aronovitz said. “We want every child to have access to food literacy.” The program, which is seeing its first successes in Boston, where 56 staff at four schools are now trained, is going global. “We see the same issues cropping up with kids abroad,” Aronovitz said. “Even in Hanoi, kids are saying their favorite foods are pizza and friend chicken.”

John Tucker of Dave’s Killer Bread

John Tucker of Dave's Killer Bread

John Tucker of Dave’s Killer Bread, left, consults with Jacob Skidmore, continuous improvement director. Tucker’s company gives former prisoners another chance by helping them find employment. Credit: Copyright Dave’s Killer Bread

John Tucker was president of Eugene, Oregon-based So Delicious, a dairy-free food company, when he got the chance to join Dave’s Killer Bread, an Oregon company known for its social activism and GMO-free, whole grain breads. Now, along with a new campaign to take the brand national, Tucker is creating a network of Second Chance employers and sharing knowledge from the company’s years of experience working with former inmates.

One out of every three employees at Dave’s Killer Bread spent time incarcerated in the American penal system. “Former inmates want to be successful in life and are looking for someone who will give them a chance,” Tucker said. The company is currently creating a playbook to share with a network of other businesses, detailing the best practices it has developed to help inmates make the transition back to society. He hopes the playbook will help potential Second Chance employers get past the stigma and presumed risk of hiring former inmates and to allow these businesses to see them as people with potential. “There really is greatness in all of us, and though some of us are called leaders, all of us need to learn how to be leaders in life,” Tucker said.

Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate

Shawn Askinosie in Tanzania.

Shawn Askinosie’s company feeds 1,600 students in Tanzania with no need for donations. Credit: Copyright Daudi Msseemmaa

Defense lawyer Shawn Askinosie was knee-deep in a grueling murder case defending a client pleading an insanity defense when he realized something had to change. “I had given the law and the courtroom some great years of my life, but I knew it was time to move on,” Askinosie said.

In the five years thereafter, the Missouri-based entrepreneur traveled to Ecuador, Honduras, the Philippines and Tanzania, developing the direct trade relationships that would form the backbone of his company, Askinosie Chocolate.

Today, Askinosie, the only chocolate company in the world doing direct trade with every cocoa-producing continent, employs 15 people, including two of his children. He returns profits to these same farmers in a program he calls “A Stake in the Outcome.” His company feeds 1,600 students in Tanzania with no need for donations. Closer to home, the company’s Chocolate University works in collaboration with Drury University to teach underprivileged children in Springfield, Missouri, about the wider world and the business of producing artisanal chocolate. “Our hope is they will all, in their own way, experience this adventure as a catalyst for their future,” Askinosie said. “We hope it gives them a dimension and a catalyst to whatever career they choose.”

Jennie Dundas and Alexis Gallivan of Blue Marble Ice Cream

Blue Marble Ice Cream

Blue Marble Dreams builds ice cream shops with women in areas recovering from conflict or natural disaster, such as in Rwanda, above, where Marie Louise Ingabire sells ice cream. Credit: Copyright Martin Kharumwa

For Jennie Dundas and Alexis Gallivan, ice cream tastes even better if the practice of creating it helps the world. In 2007, they launched Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn, New York, using cream sourced from pasture-raised cows. They developed a line of what they call elemental flavors, selecting ingredients carefully and making classic flavors in addition to offbeat varieties such as Mexican Chocolate and Pumpkin.

But when a woman from Rwanda contacted them about starting something similar in her community, they saw the potential for how ice cream could change the world. They created Blue Marble Dreams, a nonprofit that builds ice cream shops with women in areas recovering from conflict or natural disaster. Rwandans, still recovering from the 1994 genocide, were having trouble reclaiming their happiness or even feeling like they deserved it, Gallivan said. “They wanted to make a place where people could hang their problems at the door.” In 2010, Blue Marble opened its first shop with Ingoma Nshya, a cooperative of women drummers in Butare, Rwanda.

A second outpost will open in Haiti  this summer. “Most people there [in Rwanda] had never had anything cold in their mouths before,” Galilvan said. “They’ve really fallen in love with it.”

José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen

World-famous chef José Andrés

World-famous chef José Andrés launched World Central Kitchen, now operating eight projects in three countries, including Haiti, above. Credit: Copyright 2013 Egido Sanz

World-famous chef José Andrés, whose seminal D.C. restaurant Jaleo helped usher in the Age of Tapas in the United States, visited Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that devastated that country and knew he had to find a way to help. So he launched the World Central Kitchen, based on his experience working with a similar nonprofit, the D.C. Central Kitchen.

“He loved the model of helping people help themselves,” says Kevin Holst, communications director. Today, the World Central Kitchen operates eight projects in three countries, all focused on smart solutions to end poverty and hunger. For Palmiste Tampe, a rural mountain village in Haiti, that means installing a community kitchen and garden attached to the school, which is providing fresh vegetables to the town for the first time. The project has increased school enrollment 135 percent.

“With our model, we aren’t just giving rice and leaving,” Holst said. “If you give rice to people who are hungry, the people who were growing rice are out of business.”

Main photo: Beth Howard is embarking on a round-the-world journey, extending the theme of making and sharing pie with others to make the world a better, happier place. Credit: Copyright 2014 Race Point Publishing

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Stephane Riffault’s Pinot Noir comes from a parcel called La Noue which gives its name to his rosé and his red Sancerre. Credit: Copyright Denis Bomer

Sancerre’s greatest secret is its red wines made from Pinot Noir.

At the eastern border of France’s Loire Valley, Sancerre is known for its benchmark Sauvignon Blancs, but this was not always the case. Pinot Noir historically covered Sancerre’s hillsides until phylloxera began its devastation of the region’s vines sometime around 1865. (Indeed, it is said the Champenois came here in search of raw material.)

Among the many varieties planted to reconstitute the vineyards, it was Sauvignon Blanc that proved perfectly adapted to the climate and the soils of Sancerre and today accounts for roughly 80% of the volume. Pinot Noir — for either rosé or rouge — makes up the balance.

Until recently most producers treated their reds pretty much as an afterthought. Now Pinot Noir is getting serious attention. The wines may not yet plumb the depths of, say, Vôsne-Romanée, but the best ought to make Burgundy take notice. Sancerre rouge is getting better every day.

For the most part, these are seductive, light- to medium-bodied reds with vibrant flavors of cherry, plum and strawberry. Bottlings from older vines or prime parcels may be more structured, with hints of sweet spices, black tea and orange zests. They are supremely satisfying and absolute charmers. Most should be drunk slightly chilled.

Listed here are three of my favorite producers. Their grapes grow on one of Sancerre’s three soil types: “white soils,” composed of clay and limestone, also known as Kimmeridgian marl (the same soils as Chablis) on the westernmost hillsides of the zone; pebbly compact limestone, on the slopes and low hills; and flinty clay, or Silex, on the hills at the eastern limits of the appellation. All three vintners harvest by hand, keep yields low, and age their reds, at least in part, in oak barrels.

Domaine Claude & Stéphane Riffault

Thirtysomething Stéphane Riffault is one of my favorite discoveries. After studying viticulture and enology in Beaune, Riffault worked with Olivier Leflaive (Burgundy) and at Chateau Angelus (Saint Emilion) before returning to Sancerre, where he is in the process of converting the family property to organic viticulture. His reds are bottled without filtration.

Riffault’s Pinot Noir comes from a parcel called La Noue which gives its name to his rosé and his red Sancerre. Lovely balance and juicy red fruit characterized the (still too) young 2013. The 2008, however, was cool, silken and fine of grain. Wonderfully fresh, pure and fluid, it had deep flavors of cherry and black tea. (A second bottling, Les Chailloux, is not sold in the United States.)

Domaine Lucien Crochet

Lucien’s son Gilles, a Dijon-trained enologist, has long been one of Sancerre’s best ambassadors, making fine-tuned, concentrated, eco-friendly Sancerres, among them, two Sancerre rouges.

The basic bottling is La Croix du Roy. The 2011 was pale (vintage oblige) with lovely, mingled scents of small red berries. Cool, harmonious and lightly oaky, with a distinctly salty thread, it should be drinking beautifully when it arrives in the United States this fall. The 2010 is limpid and airborne, seasoned with oak, at once delicate and forceful.

Crochet’s Cuvée Prestige rouge is made from the Crochet’s oldest Pinot Noir vines and is produced only in the best vintages, most recently in 2005, 2009 and 2012 (the last won’t be released for another year or two).

The fragrant 2009 was pellucid and firm, a smooth, fresh gourmandise. The vivacious 2005 was similarly delicate but dignified, with rose petal accents, emerging flavors of oak and an appetizing bitter note in the finish.

Domaine Vincent Gaudry

Gaudry’s wines are sui generis … and downright fascinating. Gaudry says he works with his energy and his emotions and is guided by an old vigneron who “speaks the language of energy.” His mentor also provided him with great grapes, to wit, Pinot Fin, a pre-phylloxeric, pre-clonal version of today’s Pinot Noir that the old vintner planted 50 years ago by Selection Massale.

The grapes now make Gaudry’s “Les Garennes,” an unfiltered red, the 2013 of which was utterly seductive, silky, delicate and infinitely nuanced.

With the coarser, ruddier “Pinot Noir” we know today, Gaudry makes Vincengetorix, also unfiltered. The 2009 was dense, pure, cool, and lightly tannic, with flavors of spice and black tea — full of character and mesmerizing.

There are so many wonderful Sancerre rouges and so little space. Herewith, wholehearted recommendations for the following Domaines:

• Francois Crochet
• Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy
• Bailly-Reverdy
• Pierre Morin
• Dominique Roger
• Roblin, Vacheron
• Serge Laloue

Prices range from $22 to $40, and up to $66 for deluxe bottlings. And in case you’re wondering, all these winemakers also make terrific white Sancerres.

For more information about French wines, read “Earthly Delights From The Garden Of France: Wines Of The Loire,” by Jacqueline Friedrich.

Main photo: Harvest time at La Noue vineyard. Credit: Copyright 2015 Denis Bomer

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Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and James Beard were among Hazelton’s recommended cookbook authors. Credit: Emily Contois

People buy cookbooks for a variety of reasons: to inspire, impress, beautify, edify and love. For famed cookbook author and food writer, Nika (Standen) Hazelton, however, there was only one reason to purchase a cookbook: to cook from it.

The daughter of a German diplomat, Hazelton was born and grew up in Rome. In addition to international travels with her father, she attended the London School of Economics and worked as a reporter in Europe, before marrying and moving to the United States in 1940.

It was stateside that her cookbook-writing career took off. Esteemed as a specialist of European cookery, she penned cookbooks dedicated to the cuisines of Scandinavia, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, France, Denmark and Germany. At the time of Hazelton’s death in 1992, Molly O’Neill, food columnist for The New York Times Magazine, declared Hazelton’s “American Home Cooking” (Bobbs Merrill, 1967), “French Home Cooking” (Viking Penguin, 1979), “International Cookbook” (Harper & Row, 1967) and “The Italian Cookbook” (Henry Holt, 1979) standards. Hazelton published 30 cookbooks throughout her career and wrote countless articles for major food magazines and newspapers. No title better communicates her unwaveringly simple, straightforward and unpretentious perspective on food and cooking, however, than her 1974 cookbook, “I Cook As I Please.”

Conceding her “literal mindedness,” Hazelton laid out in a 1963 article in “The New York Times” exactly how one might judge a cookbook to determine whether it is not just delightfully escapist, politically radical or aesthetically pleasing, but well and simply good. Hazelton’s advice rings as true today as it did in the 1960s, at least if you are shopping for a cookbook that aligns with her functional, no-nonsense approach.

Accuracy and clarity

For Hazelton, “Accuracy is the first virtue when writing about cooking.” Recipes ought to list all ingredients at the beginning of the recipe and with accurate measurements. Authors who arrange ingredients “more coyly” do readers a disservice as they forsake clarity. Directions ought to be lucidly written, one step at a time, and in order. If recipes include misspellings or confusing instructions, beware, as these reflect poorly on the author.

Specificity

Well-written recipes notify the reader of specific details, such as the type of pan, the size of baking dish or whether a dish should be cooked covered or not. Such specifics indicate the thoroughness of the recipe writer’s testing process. A lack of specifics, on the other hand, can reveal a writer’s laziness, an unforgivable failing according to Hazelton.

Reliability

Recipes ought to turn out if followed correctly and, equally important, to work every time. Since reliability is impossible to blindly predict, Hazelton recommended purchasing cookbooks from only respected authors and publishers, remarking, “Few newcomers to cookbook writing do reliable recipes.”

Character

Hazelton not only firmly asserted that a recipe “should be correct and the best of its kind,” but also that it ought to “promote the cause of good food and not of brand names.” Further condemning the likes of packaged-food cuisine and back-of-the-box recipes, Hazelton believed, “Commercial recipes, however splendid, belong to advertising and publicity.”

Authenticity

Writing in 1963, Hazelton lamented, “Really authentic and first-class foreign cookbooks are few and far between,” as recipes were often revised for American styles, tastes and measurements, losing their magic along the way. Good cookbooks of this sort require time and investment to retest the recipes, but are worth it, processes with which Hazelton had significant experience.

With these strict criteria, Hazelton recommended an elite group of reliable authors. She “saluted” Craig Claiborne, James Beard, Julia Child, Paula Peck, Helen Evans Brown, Dione Lucas, the Chamberlains, Ann Seranne, Marian Tracy, June Platt and John Gould. She also cited the editors of the McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping cookbooks, reasoning that their quality was “reliable if not always inspired, because the editors know their business can’t afford to make their readers mad with poorly done work.”

Main photo: Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and James Beard were among Hazelton’s recommended cookbook authors. Credit: Emily Contois

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Poulet au fromage. Credit: Charles Perry

“Chicken with cheese”: The words conjure up visions of that college-student standby, the fried-chicken melt. But poulet au fromage is something quite different — something elegant and perfectly delicious.

Exemplifying the cookery of early 18th-century France, long before the famous chef Marie-Antoine Carême came along and codified haute cuisine, the recipe appears in “Nouveau Traité de la Cuisine,” Published in the 1740s by a writer who used the pen name Menon. (Note that it wasn’t until the 20th century that chefs regularly began to publish their recipes while they were still fashionable; before then, chefs typically didn’t reveal their secrets until after they’d retired. So published recipes tended to represent the cuisine of an earlier era.)

Haute cuisine standards

Anyway, poulet au fromage is a delightful dish with a family resemblance to the 19th-century haute cuisine standard veal Foyot. In both cases, meat is simmered with broth and white wine and then baked under a covering of Gruyère (or Swiss) cheese; the ingredients meld into a concoction with a savory, sophisticated flavor.

But there are differences (besides the obvious fact that veal Foyot contains veal, which is expensive and troubles some people on ethical grounds). Poulet au fromage includes a substantial amount of herbs, which was more characteristic of French food in the 18th century than it was in the 19th (and is perhaps a little more to our present-day tastes). And it does not include fried minced onions, as veal Foyot does. If you felt like discreetly sprinkling some lightly fried onions on the chicken before adding the final cheese layer, however, I would be willing to close my eyes.

Menon’s recipe calls for a whole chicken, but the chickens of his day were younger and therefore more tender than those we can conveniently get in our supermarkets. I substitute chicken breast; to make up for the slight loss of flavor due to the absence of bones, I tend to add a bit of bottled chicken base.

Properly, the herbs should be added in the form of a bouquet wrapped in cheesecloth. But if you do that, you have to transfer everything to a saucepan, because in a frying pan the liquid will nowhere near cover the bouquet. It’s therefore more convenient to add all the herbs loose; given that are no other ingredients in the cooking liquid, they’re easy enough to strain out later.

Poulet au Fromage

Prep time: About 20 minutes

Cook time: About 1 1/2 hours

Total time: About 1 hour 50 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken breast

2 ounces butter

3/4 cup dry white wine such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc

1/2 cup chicken broth

3 sprigs parsley

2 shallots, sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 whole cloves

1 bay leaf

2 small sprigs fresh thyme

3 leaves fresh basil

Salt and pepper

1 pound Swiss or French Gruyère cheese, grated

Directions

1. Remove any bones and skin from the breasts, pound them with a kitchen mallet to flatten and cut them into pieces 1 1/2- to 2-inches square. Melt the butter in a large pan and fry the pieces in two batches until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

2. Add the wine, broth, parsley, shallots, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, thyme and basil along with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, loosely covered, for 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 475 F.

3. Remove the meat from the pan. Strain the cooking liquid and transfer half of it to a 2-quart casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the cheese, add the chicken pieces and the rest of the cooking liquid, and top with the remaining cheese. Cover the baking dish tightly and bake until the cheese is entirely melted, 10 to 12 minutes.

4. Raise the temperature to 500 F, remove the cover from the casserole and return to the oven until the cheese has begun turning brown in spots, 5 to 7 minutes.

 Main photo: Poulet au fromage. Credit: Charles Perry

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Zuppa alla Frantoiana is a rich Tuscan winter soup. Credit: Aurelio Barattini

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but according to studies on diet, a bowl of soup a day can help you keep that New Year’s resolution to lose weight.

When I think of hearty, healthy soups, I think of Tuscany, so I asked chef Aurelio Barattini to share two classic soups of Lucca.

Zuppa di farro, a thick soup made with dried borlotti beans, features farro, aka spelt, a whole grain that has been popular in Italy since ancient Roman times. “The contrast between the velvety mashed beans and the chewiness of the farro has a wonderful mouthfeel and really showcases the intense natural creaminess of the beans, but without needing any dairy at all,” Barattini says.

The other soup, a rich mix of vegetables and beans, is called zuppa alla frantoiana, named for the Italian word for an olive press because it features a final finish of newly pressed Tuscan olive oil, which “is characterized by an intense flavor, spicy and pungent,” Barattini says. “This soup has all the flavors of Tuscany and we enjoy it accompanied by a local wine like our red Malolina that we make ourselves.”

Zarro di farro is a thick winter soup from Tuscany.

Zuppa di farro is a thick soup made with borlotti beans and spelt, with a drizzle of olive oil. Credit: Chef Aurelio Barattini

Tuscan Farro Soup (Zuppa di farro)

Courtesy of chef Aurelio Barattini, from the restaurant Locanda Antica de Sesto in Lucca, Italy

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours, plus overnight resting

Total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

14 ounces dried borlotti beans

4 to 6 sage leaves

6 cloves garlic

Salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, preferably from Lucca, plus more to finish

1 small onion, finely minced

1 medium carrot, finely minced

1 stalk celery, finely minced

2 rosemary stems

2 to 3 marjoram stems

2 tablespoons tomato concentrate

7 ounces farro, rinsed

Black pepper

Directions

1. Soak the beans in water overnight in a soup pot.

2. Drain water, cover the beans with clean water and add sage leaves and 2 cloves of garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer.

3. When almost tender, season to taste with salt and continue simmering until tender. Add more water as needed.

4. Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a pan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery, remaining 4 cloves of garlic, rosemary and marjoram until light golden. Add the tomato concentrate and about 1 cup of the beans’ cooking liquid. Simmer until thick, and then combine with the beans.

5. Pass the bean mixture through a food mill until smooth, then return to the soup pot and bring to a boil.

6. Add the farro and cook on low heat for about 40 minutes, until the farro is tender.

7. Serve in a bowl topped with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

Lucca’s Bean and Vegetable Soup (Zuppa alla Frantoiana)

Courtesy of chef Aurelio Barattini of Locanda Antica de Sesto in Lucca, Italy

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour, plus overnight resting

Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

21 ounces dried beans

3 cloves of unpeeled garlic, plus 1 peeled clove

2 to 3 sage leaves

Salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to finish

1 potato, peeled and diced

1 leek, thinly sliced

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 zucchini, diced

1 bunch Swiss chard, diced

1 bunch kale, diced

2 cups diced cabbage

Red pepper flakes

8 ounces pancetta, minced

1 small onion, very finely minced

2 celery stalks, very finely minced

2 carrots, very finely minced

1 cup finely minced fresh basil, thyme, parsley and rosemary, divided

2 tablespoons tomato concentrate

1 sage leaf

Toasted baguette slices

Directions

1. Soak the beans in water overnight.

2. Drain and put the beans into a soup pot with 1 gallon of water, 3 cloves of unpeeled garlic, 2 sage leaves and a pinch of salt, simmer on medium until tender.

3. Meantime, in a separate pot sauté the potato and leek in oil until half cooked. Add the zucchini, chard, kale and cabbage and cook until tender. Season to taste with red pepper flakes.

4. Put 2/3 of the cooked beans through a food mill and remove any skins. Add the pureed beans, whole beans and the vegetables into the soup pot and simmer for about a half-hour. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Meantime, in a small frying pan, sauté the pancetta with the onion, celery and carrots until tender, about 12 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup of the herbs and tomato concentrate and simmer another 5 minutes. Add this mixture to the soup pot and bring to a low boil.

6. Mince together the remaining 1/2 cup herbs, sage leaf and remaining garlic clove and stir into the soup.

7. Top the soup with a drizzle of olive oil and serve with bread.

Main photo: Zuppa alla Frantoiana is a rich mix of vegetables and beans. Credit: Chef Aurelio Barattini

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The classic Italian Negroni. Credit: Francine Segan

Gin, a crystal-clear distilled grain spirit, dates to at least the 1600s and was initially touted as a medicinal cure for everything from stomachaches to gout. Its predominant flavor comes from juniper berries, a fragrant spice that I think is especially suited to winter tastes.

An ingredient in many classic cocktails, gin is one of those spirits that is much better in mixed drinks. In fact, gin is used in more cocktails than any other spirit. It’s a key ingredient in the martini, gin and tonic, Negroni, Gimlet and dozens more.

This holiday season, try a classic Italian Negroni or one of the signature cocktails curated by celebrity mixologist Kathy Casey and the gintologists at Martin Miller’s Gin.

Negroni

Courtesy: Berkshire Mountain Distillers

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

1 ounce gin

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce sweet vermouth

Orange or lemon twist

Directions

1. Pour gin, Campari and sweet vermouth into a mixing glass. Add ice.

2. Stir well with a bar spoon for 40 to 45 revolutions.

3. Strain into a chilled martini cocktail glass.

4. Garnish with orange or lemon twist.

Snow Drift

Snow Drift is frothy and light. Credit: Martin Miller Gin licate frothiness reminiscent of fresh snow.

Perfect for après-ski, the Snow Drift is light and festive with a delicate frothiness reminiscent of fresh snow. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces (1/2 cup) gin

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cranberry ginger syrup (recipe follows)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) pasteurized egg whites

1 cup of ice

Optional garnish: candied ginger and fresh cranberry

Directions

1. Combine the gin, lemon juice, syrup and egg whites in a blender with 1 cup of ice.

2. Blend on high until ice is totally blended and drink is frothy.

3. Pour into coupe glasses. Garnish with candied ginger and a cranberry on a toothpick, if you like.

Cranberry Ginger Syrup

Yield: Makes about 20 ounces or enough for 12 cocktails

Ingredients

1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

4 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

4 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger

2 cups sugar

Directions

1. Put the cranberries, orange zest, ginger, sugar and 2 cups of water into a small sauce pan.

2. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat for 1 minute then turn off heat.

3. Let steep for 30 minutes.

4. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Citrus Sparkle

Citrus Sparkle includes clementines or tangerines. Credit: Martin Miller Gin rtin Miller Gin

Rosemary is a lovely addition to the natural juniper and other herbal flavors in gin. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

Yield:  1 serving

Ingredients

1/4 clementine, tangerine or mandarin

3 ounces (1/3 cup) Citrus Gin Pre-Mix (recipe follows)

1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) brut Champagne or sparkling wine, chilled

Small rosemary sprig as garnish

Directions

1. Squeeze the clementine and put it into a cocktail shaker.

2. Add the Citrus Gin Pre-Mix, fill with ice, and shake vigorously.

3. Strain into a champagne flute.

4. Top with champagne and garnish with a small sprig of rosemary.

Citrus Gin Pre-Mix

Yield: Makes enough for about 10 to 12 cocktails

Ingredients

1/2 cup Cointreau

1/2 cup simple syrup

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

1. Combine the Cointreau, simple syrup and lemon juice.

2. Pour into a sealable bottle or jar and store refrigerated for up to 7 days.

Gin Party Punch

This party punch is made with gin and Orange Pekoe tea. Credit: Martin Miller Gin

This punch is perfect for a large crowd and can be made up to four days in advance. Credit: Martin Miller’s Gin

Courtesy: Martin Miller’s Gin

This punch is perfect for a large crowd and can be made up to four days in advance. For a festive look, serve in a large crystal bowl over an ice mold studded with sliced mandarin oranges and pomegranate seeds.

Yield: About 16 to 20 servings

Ingredients

3 Orange Pekoe tea bags

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 bottle (750 ml) Martin Miller’s Gin

1 cup pomegranate juice

3/4 cups fresh orange juice

3/4 cups pineapple juice

1 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Angostura bitters

Optional garnishes: pomegranate seeds, sliced mandarin, oranges, lemons

Nutmeg

Directions

1. Bring 3 cups water and tea bags to a boil.

2. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.

3. Remove from heat, let steep 10 minutes, then strain and cool.

4. Add the gin, pomegranate, orange, pineapple and lemon juices, and bitters.

5. Stir and chill until ready to serve.

6. Add sliced mandarins or oranges or lemons and pomegranate seeds before serving, if desired.

7. Serve in ice-filled glasses topped with grated, fresh nutmeg.

Main photo: The classic Italian Negroni is made with gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Credit: Francine Segan

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A festive Asti Spumante Risotto. Credit: Stephen Murello

Italy is Europe’s leading rice producer. Italy produces 50 varieties of rice, each suited to a particular dish or cooking method.

Risotto is one of those dishes that seems elusive to most home cooks, but it couldn’t be easier to make. Just slowly stir it every few minutes; it’s almost a Zen-like experience. There are hundreds of ways to vary risotto once you know the basic cooking technique.

Italians tend to focus on one ingredient, to concentrate and highlight that single ingredient’s taste. Risotto alla Milanese, a dish from Milan, for example, is mainly seasoned with saffron. Risi e bisi is a Venice classic that relies on the delicate flavor of spring peas.

But one of the most festive, whimsical risottos I’ve ever had was in Piedmont, a region known for fine wines like Barolo, Barbaresco and Asti Spumante. In this northern Italy region, they make an impressive risotto seasoned with a sparkling wine like Asti Spumante or Prosecco. The bottle is placed into the risotto, which causes the wine to overflow into the dish. Although a classic in Italy, this dish is virtually unknown here. A great way to toast to the New Year!

Asti Spumante Risotto

Recipe courtesy of Wes Martin

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

A fabulously festive dish. Pop the cork and let the fun flow!

Ingredients

5 to 6 cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped, about 1 cup

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

2 split bottles (187 millileters) Asti Spumanti or Prosecco, at room temperature

3/4 cup Pecorino cheese, plus more for serving

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Directions

1. Heat the chicken broth until just below a simmer; keep warm.

2. In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter with the olive oil over medium heat; add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Increase heat to medium-high, add 1 bottle of sparkling wine and cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Continue adding a broth, a little at a time, until done, but still very firm.

4. Stir in the cheese.

5. Set the remaining bottle of unopened sparkling wine on a wide, shallow serving platter with a high rim and surround with the rice. When ready to serve, hold the bottle in place and remove the cork; the wine should bubble up over the risotto, if not, just drop a pinch of sugar into the bottle to release the wine.

6. Spoon large scoops of warm risotto with champagne onto plates and serve immediately.

Main photo: Asti Spumante Risotto is a simple dish that makes a great addition to a festive occasion. Credit: Stephen Murello

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Three easy salsas for a New Year's Eve party. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

This time of year, most of us make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. To jump-start my own plans, and to help my friends who are all making the same resolution, I host a healthy New Year’s Eve party.

For advice and inspiration, I consulted the experts at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass., one of the country’s premier spas. I asked Stephen Betti, executive chef of Canyon Ranch, what beverages to serve.

He offered up several yummy Canyon Ranch “mocktails” (recipes below) — nonalcoholic, healthy drinks. All can be made ahead of time and set out in pitchers so guests can help themselves. Among my favorites is Almosjito, with a hint of maple sugar and intense citrus tang that’s so delicious that no one will miss the tequila.

Healthy New Year’s party foods

Next onto food: What to serve that’s delicious, fun to eat and good for you? Again, Betti came to the rescue with a slew of great nibble suggestions, starting with an assortment of homemade salsas, low-calorie and low-fat sauces made with chopped veggies, and even fruits that can be served as a dip for raw veggies, tortilla chips or boiled shrimp.

“Salsas are easy to make,” Betti explained. “They are also easy on the host, as salsa ingredients can be chopped in a food processor using the pulse button.” The yellow pepper salsa is delicious and surprising because it doesn’t use tomatoes, one of the most common salsa ingredients. This is an especially good recipe to enjoy in winter when tomatoes can be rock hard and flavorless. Instead, the yellow pepper salsa calls for jicama, a root vegetable. If you’ve never tasted jicama, you’re in for a treat. Jicama’s white crunchy flesh has a sweet, nutty flavor and is delicious served raw or cooked. Use what’s left of the jicama from the salsa recipe as one of the ingredients in a crudités platter.

In addition to the simple-to-make salsas, Betti shared Canyon Ranch recipes for chicken gyoza and spicy crab cakes (recipes below). Both can be made ahead and kept frozen until the day of the event, then heated in the oven just before serving. Both are easy-to-eat two-bite finger foods perfect for a party.

The gyoza, which are effortlessly prepared with ready-made wonton wrappers, are better than any I’ve tried from a restaurant. I used chicken but also leftover turkey, which I had frozen after Thanksgiving, but both are terrific. You can adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste too. For example, I added more ginger, less wasabi and substituted cilantro for the lemongrass in one batch for excellent results. It is one of those recipes that, no matter how much you tweak, the dish is delicious.

Five party tips

OK so let’s say you cannot host your own healthy feast. What can you do to jump-start your New Year’s resolution? I asked for help in how we can avoid overindulging from Lori Reamer, nutrition director for Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires. She had these five tips for coping with holiday parties:

1. Have a healthy snack an hour before arriving to the party

2. Offer to bring a fabulously delicious but low-cal, healthy dish to the event.

3. Eat from a small plate and drink from a small glass to control portion size and avoid overindulging.

4. Select only the most special dishes. Don’t waste calories on supermarket fare!

5. Don’t focus only on the food. Embrace the entire party experience — the company, decorations, music, conversation. Food is just one small part of the fun!

If you do happen to overindulge in food and drink on New Year’s Eve, all is not lost! You can repair come of the damage on New Year’s Day. According to Canyon Ranch’s Kevin Murray, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist, “The best ways to rid your body of last night’s alcohol is by drinking lots of water the next day, eating light and getting plenty of sweat-producing exercise.”

Mocktails

Courtesy of Canyon Ranch Spas

Almosjito

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients
1/2 fresh lime

1/2 fresh orange

4 sprigs fresh mint

1/4 cup white grape juice

1/4 cup sparkling water

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

1/3 cup crushed ice

Directions

Squeeze lime and orange into cocktail shaker. Add mint, white grape juice, water, maple syrup and ice. Shake and strain into glass.

Bloody Mary

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 6

Ingredients

1 tablespoon horseradish

1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

2 teaspoons celery seed

2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Pinch black pepper

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 cups low-sodium tomato juice

Directions

Combine all ingredients except for tomato juice in a blender container. Puree briefly. Add tomato juice and blend well. Serve over ice.

Margarita

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4

Ingredients

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups water

2/3 cup lime juice

2/3 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

Combine sugar and water and allow to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve cold or over ice.

Pomatini

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 6

Ingredients

3 cups white grape juice

3/4 cup pomegranate juice

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Pinch sea salt

12 fresh mint leaves

Directions

Combine grape juice, pomegranate juice, lime juice and salt in a large pitcher. For each beverage, add 3/4 cup juice mixture to a shaker with 2 mint leaves and 3 ounces of ice. Shake and pour into a glass.

H2 Tini

Prep time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 drink

Ingredients

1 fresh lime wedge

1/2 cup fresh watermelon juice

1/4 cup sparkling pear or apple cider

4 sprigs cilantro

1/3 cup crushed ice

Directions

Squeeze lime into cocktail shaker and add peel. Add remaining ingredients and shake. Pour into martini glass. Garnish with a thin slice of watermelon.

Party Food Recipes

Adapted from “Canyon Ranch Cooks”

Yellow Pepper Salsa

Prep time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

1 large yellow bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup diced jicama

1/2 cup chopped scallions

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon minced, canned chipotle pepper

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well.

Pico de Gallo

Prep time: 20 minutes

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients

4 medium tomatoes, diced

1 1/2 cups canned, diced tomatoes

1/2 cup diced red onion

3 tablespoons chopped scallions

1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper

1 tablespoon diced jalapeño pepper

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix briefly.

Chipotle Salsa

Prep time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1/4 teaspoon minced chipotle pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Pinch chili flakes

Directions

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender container and blend until smooth.

Spicy crab cakes make for great party foods. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Spicy Crab Cakes can be made ahead and kept frozen until the day of the event. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Spicy Crab Cakes with Tomato Herb Coulis

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8

Ingredients

4 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 Roma tomatoes, about 8 ounces, chopped

1 cup diced red onion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 pound lump crabmeat

1/2 cup minced shallots

2 tablespoons diced scallions

1/4 cup minced red bell pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 large egg plus 1 egg white, beaten

2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari or soy sauce

1 cup bread crumbs

1 teaspoon canola oil

Directions

1. To make the coulis, sauté garlic with olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat for about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer,and cook about 5 minutes, until tomatoes begin to break apart. Add the red onion, basil, thyme, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, salt and pepper, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly and transfer to a blender container. Puree the coulis until smooth and reserve.

3. To make the crab cakes, combine the crabmeat, shallots, scallions, red bell pepper, 3 remaining tablespoons of parsley, cayenne pepper, eggs, tamari sauce and bread crumbs in a large bowl and mix well. Make 2-inch patties using about 1/4 cup of mix each.

4. Heat a sauté pan until hot over medium heat. Lightly coat with the canola oil. Place crab cakes in pan and cook until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and continue to cook to golden brown.

5. Serve crab cakes accompanied with the coulis.

Chicken gyoza are a terrific party good. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Chicken Gyoza are effortlessly prepared with ready-made wonton wrappers. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

Chicken Gyoza With Wasabi Soy Sauce

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Yield: 24 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 tablespoon diced lemongrass

1 tablespoon low-sodium tamari

1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon wasabi (Japanese horseradish)

1 sliced chicken breast, boned, skinned and defatted

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

1 large egg white

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pinch salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

24 4-inch wonton skins

Canola oil

Directions

1. To make the wasabi soy sauce, bring 3/4 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons of the ginger and 1 tablespoon of the garlic, reduce heat. and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the lemongrass and tamari and continue cooking until the liquid reduces to about 1/3 cup. Strain and cool.

3. Blend the sauce in a blender with the rice vinegar, lemon juice and wasabi until well combined. Reserve.

4. In a food processor, chop chicken breast at high speed, until finely minced. Add the remaining tablespoon of ginger and garlic, scallions, egg white, pepper, salt and oil and mix well.

5. Arrange wonton skins on a flat surface. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of chicken mixture in the center of each wonton. Brush edges with water. Fold into half-moons and lightly pinch edges together to ensure a good seal. (May be frozen at this time for future use.)

6. Lightly coat a large sauté pan with canola oil. Arrange wontons in a single layer in sauté pan. Sear bottoms only to a golden brown color. Transfer to steamer and steam for 3 to 5 minutes.

7. Serve the gyoza with the dipping sauce on the side.

Main photo: A trio of salsas — yellow pepper, pico de gallo and chipotle — make for easy, healthy party foods. Credit: Canyon Ranch Spa

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